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October 31, 2022

Saudi Arabia: from underdog to esports leader

Saudi Arabia is aiming to become one of the top three countries in the world for esports.

By Sportcal Editorial Team

Esports has become a behemoth industry, burgeoning from a niche interest to a mainstream sport enjoyed by millions worldwide. GlobalData market forecasts predict that the global video software market will grow to a staggering $470 billion by 2030.

Saudi Arabia recognizes the opportunities, particularly financial, that esports offers. Certainly, as a petrostate, Saudi Arabia needs to diversify its economy, given that the future of fossil fuels is uncertain and the industry volatile. The kingdom is keen to expand its technological capabilities but needs to do significant work to nurture its in-house capabilities and tech industry. In terms of esports, Saudi Arabia aims to become one of the top three countries in the world.

Saudi Arabia has laid out a roadmap to becoming a leader in esports

The Saudi government has begun investing in gaming by buying stakes in existing gaming giants. A recent example of this is the Saudi state’s purchase of a $1-billion stake in Embracer Group. It also owns a 5% stake in Nintendo and a staggering 96% of SNK. This gives the Saudis a foothold in the existing global gaming market.

In addition, the country is nurturing homegrown talent. Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman aims to have 30 competitive games developed in Saudi Arabia by 2030 as part of the country’s National Gaming and Esports Strategy. Through this initiative, the Saudi state hopes to create 39,000 jobs and a thriving in-house talent pool for esports.

Prince Faisal bin Bandar, president of the Saudi Esports Federation, is spreading the message that gaming is a serious business with quality career path options for young people in Saudi Arabia. And it is clear that the interest in gaming is there in Saudi Arabia. Mohammed Saud Al-Tamimi, the governor of the Communications and Information Technology Commission, claimed that 89% of the Saudi population are gamers.

Saudi Arabia aims to be the host with the most

Esports is still not recognized as a sport in several countries, preventing organizers from hosting events there. Saudi Arabia, with its ambition and monetary capabilities, is keen to grab the opportunity, having recognized esports as a legitimate sport. The Saudis have partnered with prominent organizers like ESL, Anubis Gaming, Zain Group, and Riot Games. This allows both the Saudi government and esports investors to enter the big events.

In this sense, they are ahead of the curve. Game publishers and developers like Activision and Riot Games organize leagues, which need long-term ISP partnerships. Activision has partnered with the Saudi Telecom Company and introduced servers from Call of Duty to provide a better connection for players in the Middle East.​

Aside from reputational advantages, esports tournaments will offer significant financial boosts. Saudi authorities hope to boost the country’s economy by $13.3 billion (SAR50 billion at the time of writing) by 2030. Riyadh, the Saudi capital, will play host to next year’s Global Esports Games.

Saudi Arabia will ultimately become a leader in esports

Media commenters on Saudi Arabia’s large investment in esports view it as an expansion of the country’s sportswashing – the practice of garnering a good reputation from hosting popular sporting events to distract from human rights abuses. However, while esports may do little to mend Saudi Arabia’s poor reputation in this regard, the financial advantages are undeniable. Asia-Pacific countries like China, the Philippines, and South Korea already have a strong esports industry. They were early to legitimize it as a sport and were proactive in developing the infrastructure to foster the technologies, talent, and commercial opportunities. Saudi Arabia will undoubtedly follow in their footsteps and aim to be a leader in the global esports space by 2030. Esports will continue to grow in popularity, creating these new opportunities for revenue for countries that capitalize on the global popularity of esports.

Image: Saudi Esports Federation

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