Saudi adopts eSports with a gamer prince and oil billions
Saudi Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, witnessed gamers from eight nations guiding avatars armed with guns through a battle royale as applauding onlookers watched the action on a large screen while donning headphones and anti-sweat finger sleeves.
The PUBG Mobile competition was a part of Gamers8, a summer festival that highlighted Saudi Arabia’s rise as a major eSports superpower, one that organisers hope may challenge giants like China and South Korea.
The world’s largest oil exporter has recently used its enormous resources to push itself on the eSports arena, organising lavish conferences and acquiring seasoned tournament organisers, much like Formula One and professional golf.
As Saudi officials have come to expect, these actions have drawn criticism, with several eSports leaders criticising Riyadh’s human rights record.
However, observers claim that the industry is especially eager to do business with the Saudis because eSports lack long-term finance, which partly explains why the criticism has been so minimal thus far.
The eye-watering prize pools that come with Saudi Arabia’s newfound status are making gamers there very happy.
22-year-old Faisal Ghafiri, who participated in the PUBG tournament and won $3 million in prize money, stated, “In the past, there was no support.” Thank God, this is the ideal time for me to play eSports and take part in competitions.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is rumoured to be an enthusiastic “Call of Duty” player, indicating that Saudi Arabia’s interest in gaming and eSports originates from the very top.
Since the establishment of the national eSports association in 2017, the kingdom has grown from two to more than 100 eSports teams. According to survey results, 21 million Americans, or about two thirds of the population, identify as gamers.
The Savvy Gaming Group, which was established in January by the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, purchased the leading eSports organisations ESL Gaming and FACEIT in transactions allegedly worth a combined $1.5 billion.
A national eSports strategy that Prince Mohammed unveiled last week asks for the kingdom to produce more than 30 games in home studios and add 39,000 eSports-related jobs by 2030.
The Global Esports Games, marketed as the “flagship” international eSports competition, would be held in Riyadh the following year.
Chester King, CEO of British Esports, said: “I think what’s fantastic is that the government has put eSports front and centre, whereas a lot of countries are still trying to sort out a positioning.”