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Authentic Gaming Careers in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East

In this second part of our three-part interview, I spoke with Arena Consultancy’s Ben Akroyd about the concept of authenticity and how it ties into esports increasing presence in the Middle East region. What is authenticity in games? What does a true gamer look like? And why is authenticity a problem? We explore it all.


If you haven’t yet, make sure to read the first part of the interview where Akroyd provides an incredibly solid introduction to gaming and esports in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East as a whole.


What are the gaming demographics like in Saudi Arabia?


The Middle East region as a whole is home to 14% of the global population of gamers which might surprise some people with gaming being particularly massive in North Africa, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt.


Two male and one female esports players playing video games on PCs.

In Saudi Arabia, 90% of their population owns a smartphone and the mobile gaming sector has seen some dramatic growth in recent years, growing 25% between 2015 and 2020, actually surpassing console and PC gaming. Some of the most-popular games there are Counterstrike, God of War, FIFA, Fortnite, League of Legends, and Dota 2.


Has there been much pushback from players in regards to the pivot to the Middle East?


The involvement of so much money has naturally had a lot of gamers questioning the authenticity of such esports events held in the Middle East. Some think that because some organisations are acquiring publishers and developers and spending a lot to attract business partners and popular players to invest time and resources in the region that the whole thing feels a bit phoney or artificial.


But what’s inauthentic to one person may seem totally authentic to someone else. It’s not as if a lot of money isn’t involved in Western esports and gaming events. Also, if these events are creating genuine excitement and enthusiasm within the Saudi Arabian and international gaming communities, doesn’t that make it authentic? If one of these esports tournaments inspires even just one person to pursue a career within the games industry, does that check the authenticity box? It’s really subjective.


Imagine being an aspiring esports player in Saudi Arabia who’s wondering how they’re ever going to be scouted by companies like G2, Cloud9, Astralis when they don’t even come to your country? Why would that player care about supposed authenticity then? Likely their main takeaway from the recent esports boom in Saudi Arabia is that they now have a stronger pathway towards becoming a pro because all of the talent’s coming over. Their cameras are coming here. And now major esports tournaments are happening domestically.


From an authenticity perspective, I doubt the locals could care any less about it. Whether or not the cash injection is a good or bad thing, local gamers and esports enthusiasts love the situation they’re in right now.


It does remind me a bit of Facebook Gaming and how that was very much a strategic corporate attempt to create a video game streaming platform that ultimately failed to connect with gamers due to a perceived inauthenticity.


Yeah, there’s a similar story with Caffeine which also failed to connect with streaming communities.


Though I guess authenticity can be accepted sometimes like with Netflix’s movies which weren’t considered “real films” a few years ago but are now winning awards.


It's the same thing. Which is to say that money and quality talk. If you’re a movie publisher, you could drop a film in theatres and hope people see it or you could sell it to Netflix for some guaranteed revenue and a chance of the platform’s almost 240 million viewers watching it.

Sure, the process is about making money and making sure that the film’s successful, especially if a company has pumped a hundred million dollars or more into it, but the audience no longer questions that a production is authentic or not simply based on who made it or how it’s distributed.


Maybe capitalism and market forces eradicate authenticity. Or maybe it's just a turn of phrase which is only relevant in certain contexts.


Who does authenticity affect in the world of esports?


Authenticity plays a role in four main sectors of the esports industry;

  • The local community.

  • The global community.

  • The video game publishers.

  • And the commercial entities looking to connect with Gen Z.


Ben Akroyd is an award-winning event director with over 25 years of experience in the esports and gaming space. He’s organised events for major brands such as SEGA, Ubisoft, Red Bull Gaming, and numerous others in Mexico and all across North America and Europe. Ben prides himself on his industry knowledge and close relationships with numerous national venues from the SEC and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to ExCeL London and Twickenham Stadium.

Work with Ben when planning your next esports event by sending an email to hello@arenaconsultancy.com or calling +44 7899 962 423 today.

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