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Does Esports Have a Bright Future in the Middle East?

In the third and final part of our conversation, Arena Consultancy’s Ben Akroyd shares his thoughts on the long-term sustainability of esports events in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries. He also offers his expert advice to other professionals in the gaming and esports space for how to pivot during this moment of change.


If you haven’t yet, make sure to read the first part of the interview, which serves as an introduction to video games and esports in the Middle East, and the second part, which explores the concept of authenticity in modern corporate esports business ventures.


How should professionals in the esports industry be pivoting in response to these changes?


Now that three of the biggest esports tournament organisers in the world have been acquired by Savvy Games Group and major brands have begun to invest financially in the Middle Eastern gaming market, ignoring this evolution of the industry is no longer an option.


While several years ago, a lot of companies and individuals were hesitant about getting involved in that corner of the world due to various understandable social and political reasons, that boat has now sailed and the hesitancy barely registers.


An esports gaming event in Saudi Arabia in the Middle East.

Globally with online streaming, Middle Eastern events are something that need to be analysed on an event-by-event basis going off of the viewership numbers, target demographics, etc.

Locally, the story’s much more definite. For example, we’ve run an esports event for Saudi Arabia in the past and we sold out. This is far from a niche struggling market that’s just starting out. It’s a similar story in Dubai, which is admittedly fairly different from Riyadh, where they had the Insomnia Gaming Festival a few years back. It was a massive success because the organisers of that festival realized that there’s a swelling mass of young people in the Middle East who are gamers, who maybe haven't had the opportunities that those in the Western world have had over the last 10 years or so. And now they're catching up.


Do you think these Middle East changes in the industry will negatively affect other regions?


It’s hard to say though it’s important to emphasise that it’s incredibly unlikely that any company would demand that every single tournament for a game they own or have a stake in should be held in a single location such as Riyadh. That wouldn’t work because the gaming community is global and having local and offline events at different locations is important.


Having every esports tournament in the Middle East would be, to be honest, an incredibly stupid move. It would saturate that single market while also destroying the numerous other markets around the world.


One big benefit to consider is the amount of capital the Saudi PIF is putting into their gaming and esports effort that has the potential to create something way larger and truly global than what the previous status quo offered. We could be seeing events on par with the Super Bowl.

One good example of where things are headed is Gamers8, a gaming and esports event headed by the Saudi Esports Federation. It has a really impressive list of partners ranging from KFC, Aramco, and Spotify to LG, Pepsi, and Doritos plus agreements with Hilton, Adidas, and Mastercard. If the behaviour of those global partners in that one context is a reflection of things to come from a commercial standpoint, it’s likely that the future for these initiatives is going to be pretty bright.


Do you think Saudi Arabia has long-term potential as an esports hub or is there the possibility of it drying up once the initial cash injection dries up? Is it sustainable?


Personally, I’m looking at the NFL coming to London for comparison.


When the NFL Commissioner had that first discussion about having one or two games a season outside of America, the American public, who are big fans of the Bengals in Cincinnati, were outraged. They didn’t want to fly five or six hours to London to watch their team play in the Spur’s Stadium. That’s money talking, right?


But from the NFL’s perspective, from a financial perspective, they’d now proven that there’s a huge market for the NFL brand in the UK. It all depends on who's answered the question, and whose money is doing the talking.


With two games a season taking place outside of the US, they were selling tens of thousands of tickets. There’s the temptation there to hold three or four games abroad because the brand is now growing in profitability through international expansion. The NFL though is thinking that, to stay authentic, they should have as many games in the US as possible. For long-term prosperity though? It makes all the sense in the world to expand the brand globally into other regions.

Bringing it back to esports in Saudi Arabia, with the level of financing they have, I think they can absolutely establish their proposed esports hub by 2030.


Will it last until 3030? Who knows?


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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