eSports is the gateway to the future and one of the forms of competition that emerged from homes to state-of-the-art stadiums, which is what Saudi Arabia hoped for more than five years ago, specifically with the launch of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, that aims to make eSports one of the national income.

From an economic point of view, this plan is very smart, as the gaming industry was able to overtake all of the movie, music, and American football industries combined in 2020, and this growth is expected to double over the next few years, bringing the size of the eSports market to $200 billion.

It is not limited to Saudi Arabia alone, in the Arab region and nearly, many countries are developing a special interest in this industry. For example, the number of registrants at Casino Turkey, also known as, كازينو تركيا, has quadrupled over the past ten years.

In this context, Omar Batterjee, Director of Communications at the Saudi Federation for Electronic Sports, said: “The Saudi Federation for Electronic Sports started was founded in 2017. During the next 5 years, the focus was on individual events, but now, Saudi Arabia found its way to sustainable investment through Focusing on tournaments, acquiring large gaming companies, hosting the most prominent eSports events, and raising the level of competitiveness in the Saudi Electronic League.”

Supporting Saudi Talents

“In fact, it was not limited to that, as we worked to promote electronic eSports among all segments of society, including girls, because they are the least participating percentage,” Omar Batterjee stated.

Omar continued, saying: “Although we have directed billions of dollars in investments to acquire game studios and create startups, talent discovery remains, in the end, everything in eSports, so we developed a strategy to support talents and push them to international forums. The first axis that we have worked on is to provide strong tournaments with huge prizes for professional players and to recognize electronic sports as an academic discipline to change the players’ families’ view of it.

The second axis is to work on qualifying beginners and pushing them to participate in local tournaments that are held in Saudi Arabia in a fun atmosphere away from the tension of international tournaments. This strategy is already working because we see thousands of new competitors in every new tournament.”

According to a newly published study, 50% of Saudis consider themselves professional gamers, meaning they play at least once a month.

Another study published by the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington states that Saudi Arabia currently has 23.5 enthusiastic players (67% of the total population). Although the majority tend to play games as a pastime, there is a small number of professional gamers in Saudi Arabia, up to 100 savvy players.

Saudi Arabia’s Investments in the eSports Industry

Since 2014, Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been trying to diversify the sources of national income for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, given that the world is taking rapid steps towards renewable sources of energy, which threatens the Saudi economy, which depends solely on hydrocarbon revenues.

Therefore, Prince Mohammed bin Salman established the Public Investment Fund, which is one of the largest wealth funds in the world and aims to acquire 10% of the investment assets of the planet. It mainly focuses on investing in promising opportunities locally and internationally to push the Kingdom’s economy into a post-oil era.

The electronic games industry is one of the most prominent areas on the agenda of the Saudi Wealth Fund, which has allocated a huge budget estimated at 142 billion riyals ($38 billion) in the electronic games sector until 2030.

With this huge budget, the Kingdom is seeking to establish 250 game studios to produce 50 games over the next five years to be the most popular on the state scene, to qualify Saudi players/teams to participate in international tournaments, and to host the most powerful electronic game events.

The Kingdom aims, by 2030, for the contribution of electronic media to reach 50 million riyals (13.3 billion dollars) in the gross domestic product.

The participation of the Saudi Wealth Fund in the gaming industry proves the great importance that the Kingdom attaches to this industry. At the end of January last year, the Saudi Public Investment Fund launched the Savi gaming group. Within a very short period of time, this fund acquired ESL Games, a German company for the production and organization of electronic sports. In addition, the fund also acquired FACEIT, a British e-sports platform. Moreover, the fund also acquired Capcom and also acquired Japanese online gaming provider Nexon.

In addition, the Saudi Public Investment Fund has significant stakes in many games. Over the past two years, the fund has acquired stakes in three of the largest companies operating in the gaming industry:

  • Electronic Arts
  • Take-Two Interactive Software
  • Activision Blizzard

These investments are encouraged by the increasing popularity of eSports in the Kingdom and the world, as well as due to the huge revenues that the industry generates annually and from which the Kingdom seeks to take a good bite.

Is Saudi Arabia’s Focus on the eSports Industry an Attempt to “Sportswash”?

Although many view the kingdom’s focus on the electronic gaming industry as an attempt to distract the international community from its distasteful human rights record, Saudi Arabia ranks first in the Middle East in all entertainment industries.

During the past twenty years, the Rotana audio-visual company was the largest in the Arab world and produced almost all singers, and the MBC channel group was always the most watched, and now the Shahid application has become the only competitor to Netflix in the Arab world.

With the Kingdom’s current direction toward the sports industry, it is expected to achieve more success and obtain huge returns from this industry.

About the Author

Daniel Klink has been the Director of Online Marketing at Arab Casino Hex since 2019. Daniel has a special passion for electronic games, eSports, and iGaming. Also, he loves to share his experiences with the Arab audience through his website, Arab Casino Hex.

By Punit