- It’s very easy for skeptics to disregard esports as just another fad that will eventually fade away. It’s why many countries from around the world continue to ignore this gargantuan industry. That’s why it’s so surprising that Saudi Arabia is getting involved… for noble reasons.
A brief history of Esports in the Middle East
Professional esports organizations are no stranger to Middle Eastern players, as the region is just chock-full of talent. From Dota 2’s Amer “Miracle” Al Barkawi, to CSGO’s Issa “ISSAA” Murad, fans from around the world are fully aware of just how good these players are. Despite that, there is a very small amount of actual Middle Eastern esports organizations. A noteworthy organization that comes to mind, is Team Nigma of Dota 2. Nigma’s roster migrated over from Team Liquid, after an illustrious and decorated run. The roster itself consists of majority Arabs, or half Arabs, further solidifying just how much potential the region may have. Although the team hasn’t had too much success in recent months, it’s still very much a contender for the top spots in every tournament.
Outside of esports, the Middle East is no stranger to gaming in general. Many online games companies are aware of this and set up servers near the region to improve playing conditions for the fans. Also, similar to Southeast Asian countries, the region has a rich Lan Cafe ecosystem. In almost every major city in the Middle East, you will find a handful of clubs and cafes that give you access to top of the line equipment and internet connections. There is no doubt a ton of younger and more casual players all over the Arab world. And within this casual fanbase, are some of the most passionate and dedicated gamers around. A prince from Saudi Arabia is speculated to have contributed approximately $86,000 to the TI7 and TI8 (The International) prize pools via the in-game Battlepass as of 2018.
A Plan, a Vision
To be very blunt, the Middle Eastern fanbase has proven to be incredibly important and valuable to gaming, and more attention is warranted towards the region. And this is where Saudi Arabia comes in to play. A few years ago, the Saudi Arabian government has pushed for a project known as Vision 2030. This project aims to diversify the Saudi Arabian economy to more than just oil. Currently, the countries biggest sources of revenue lie in Oil and religious tourism (pilgrimage). Saudi Arabia is aware that oil is finite, so it’s pushing for investments in a bunch of markets that have more long term economic and financial security.
And it was pretty inevitable if you ask me. The gaming industry as a whole has generated $119.6 billion in revenue during 2018. Major competitive games host tournaments sporting multi-million dollar prize pools. It’s speculated that the industry will continue to face exponential growth in the coming years. All of these factors point to one fact; there is a ton of money in gaming, and people are beginning to notice. Back to Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030. The country is trying to diversify it’s revenue streams, and the most recent ones that come to mind is the country’s recent acquisition of Newcastle United, a British soccer club, and hosting the Gamers Without Borders tournament.
There is an interesting and obvious trend going on here, Saudi Arabia is investing in sports. Now, sports have proven to be an extremely valuable market over the last few- I don’t know… millennia. And this is due to their instant appeal to general audiences while providing an excellent platform for branding and sponsorships. Although esports isn’t quite there yet, it’s rapidly becoming so. So Saudi Arabia has launched a brand new branch of government, known as SAFEIS (Saudi Arabian Federation of Electronic and Intellectual Sport) in 2017. This branch has but one simple goal, to put Saudi Arabia in the forefront of world tier gaming and esports.
What is Gamers Without Borders?
SAFEIS has been around for a while, and apart from a few advertisement campaigns, and some local tournaments, not much movement was seen from them, until recently. The brand new tournament called Gamers Without Borders (GWB) is Saudi Arabia’s first true attempt at entering the esports landscape, and they’ve come in guns blazing. Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the tournament is in online format, but that does not bring down the quality it provides. In terms of a standard tournament, it checks all the boxes that need to be checked. High-quality broadcasts, top tier teams, excellent format, and of course, massive prize pools. This comes to no surprise as the tournaments were organized in conjunction with ESL. ESL is incredibly competent in tournament organizing in all sorts of games from different esports.
GWB is holding a 7-week marathon of esports tournaments and leagues, from a variety of different games. Each of these tournaments host their own prize pools and production, making them seem exclusive to the games they cater to. Dota 2 is currently wrapping up their tournament as we speak, and so far it has been an incredible event for the game. It has brought top Dota 2 personalities together in a community-wide effort to combating COVID. This comes at a time where just a few days ago there was some controversy regarding the streaming rights of the WePlay! tournament. Long story short, some community figures argue that big streamers covering the tournament hurts that tournaments bottom line as well as the game in general.
Nurturing a small, yet a resilient seed
Many local companies have also benefited greatly from the exposure and receipt of this event. Kafu Games, which is one of the largest tournament organizers in Saudi Arabia, have received a massive surge in popularity and momentum at the cause of GWB. Their work has single-handedly kept the gaming scene alive in Saudi Arabia in the past years, as they have constantly pushed to create local tournaments, opportunities, and hopes for Saudi gamers. They also are able to conform to a massive variety of games, from Fortnite to FIFA and Clash of Clans to Baloot (a growing Arab card game)
When the stars align
The point is, that the theme of this event, is just how damn efficient it is. Right off the bat, we get an excellent tournament to watch. Then, we know that the efforts of every participating team go towards funding COVID research (to a charity organization of their choosing). And finally, the tournament provides an example to other tournament organizers. That it is possible to incorporate a whole community to the event you are creating, thus minimizing conflicts of interests between all parties. A tournament that embraces the entire community involvement to absolutely any event. Even daring to invite them to stream the tournaments themselves. We get all of this, off of one measly tournament!
We. Want. More.
From a Dota fans perspective, I absolutely cannot wait for whats next for Gamers Without Borders. The tournament we were treated with was absolutely excellent. I yearn for the untapped potential that the Middle East as a whole has to offer to the esports ecosystem. Time and time again, professionals and casuals from the Middle East prove that they are absolutely no pushover. I am anticipating a whole new development of the effect esports has on a humanitarian level, where it can be an absolute positive force on society as a whole. A selfless venture into untapped potential on all fronts!