Leading figures from the Middle East’s growing eSports community believe that government-backing would give the Gen Z-led phenomenon the backbone it needs to “thrive” in the UAE and wider region.
Mohammad Albanna, who is on the board of the UAE eSports Federation, and Saeed Sharaf, CEO of eSport Middle East and President of the Syrian eSport Association, led an open panel discussion at the debut eSports Pavilion at CABSAT – the region’s leading event for the satellite, broadcast and filmed content media and entertainment industry.
Together, they discussed advancing eSports – a booming global industry set to be worth $2.5billion by 2020 – in the UAE and wider Middle East, and what governance, if any, would need implemented to give the region support in growing its presence and influence on the market.
The influential gamers agreed that government-backing could be key to reaching that next level.
Albanna said: “eSport federations exist around the world, positively supporting the development of eSports, encouraging growth and paving the way to host international leagues and tournaments. Having that government support leads to the development of national teams representing one’s own country to compete internationally.
“The Saudi Arabian Federation for Electronic and Intellectual Sports (SAFEIS) is key to the rise of eSports in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia now has official governmental representation and support for competitive gaming, with the Saudi team taking first prize in one competition at the 10th edition of the IESF eSports World Championship in Taiwan in 2018. The UAE is on the road to expand this industry here. We are not there yet, but we are on our way.”
Saeed Sharaf shared that opinion, saying: “An important part of the eSports ecosystem is having it backed by the government. With this, businesses can allocate sustainable resources to sponsor or fund eSports unions that will allow them to set up a facility, educate eSports enthusiasts and even financially back them up in international competitions.
“Take, for example, international brands that usually fund traditional sports events and tournaments. When you approach them with eSports, they don’t have an allocated inventory towards this specific entity to fund, which doesn’t fly with the financial audits of the company. eSport needs to be recognised on a governmental level for it to thrive.”
Keen to see the industry flourish, Saeed also called for the implementation of global gaming guidelines, led by government, to ensure eSports remain both fun and safe for participants.
He continued: “Having a set on universal rules and ethics guidelines for tournaments, discussed or set by the government or federal entity is essential to ensure that tournaments abide by the standard practices when it comes to things like player security and ensuring a safe environment for everyone at a tournament.”
eSports is the new face of competition and has created the next generation of professional “athletes”, the biggest of whom are already garnering the same superstar adoration as you would more commonly expect for the likes of Lionel Messi or LeBron James – and the sponsorship deals to go with it.
In the past two years there has been a marked shift in the industry, driving eSport gaming outside the confines of the internet and onto television screens. Audiences can now watch eSport tournaments live at gaming arenas, online through gaming broadcasters and, most recently, on commercial television – traditionally the most prized real estate of all.
It was last year announced that Dubai is to build the region’s very first stadium dedicated eSports arena – the Dubai X-Stadium. It will be aimed at making Dubai a key player in international eSports.
CABSAT’s eSports Pavilion hosted more than 20 dedicated industry sessions across two days, with discussions ranging from tournament organisation and live event production to how best to build fanbases, women and diversity in eSports, media and distribution of content, and monetising events.