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Saudi Arabia launches e-sports world cup

Esports gamer Unsplash/Florian Olivo
The esports market in Saudi Arabia is predicted to exceed $2.6bn by 2027
  • Part of plan for $13bn GDP lift
  • Tournament to lure summer visitors
  • ‘Global centre’ role sought

Saudi Arabia has announced the launch of the E-sports World Cup, to be held annually in Riyadh from 2024. 

The world cup is part of the kingdom’s National Gaming and E-sports Strategy, designed to increase the sector’s contribution to the country’s GDP by more than SAR50 billion ($13.3 billion) by 2030, establish 250 game developers and create 39,000 new jobs.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the Saudi Prime Minister, unveiled the new competition, which will take place in the summer months. He said the government had established the E-sports World Cup Foundation, a non-profit organisation, to drive the sector’s sustainability.

Prince Mohammed said the World Cup is the “natural next step” in Saudi Arabia’s journey to become a global centre for gaming and e-sports.

A range of activities and events will run alongside the tournament, to try to attract more tourists to the capital city during the traditionally quieter summer months, when temperatures soar. 

During the summer hotel occupancy in Saudi Arabia drops by an average 16 percent, tourism spending falls 18 percent, and restaurant and cafe spending decline 13 percent.

Nation of gamers

The consumer intelligence company Standard Insights said Saudi Arabia’s gaming industry is on a fast-paced trajectory – the market is projected to exceed $2.6 billion by 2027, an annual growth rate of 7.5 percent. 

Analysts said the country boasts a significant gamer population, with around 21 million gamers, accounting for about 58 percent of the total population. 

According to Standard Insights’ Consumer Report Saudi Arabia 2023, almost a quarter of the local population spends between one and five hours a week playing video games.

Last year, Saudi Arabia’s National Development Fund announced a SR300 million fund to provide financing through banks affiliated with the Fund, in partnership with financial institutions in the private sector.

In February, Saudi’s Public Investment Fund bought a $265 million stake in the Chinese e-sports outfit VSPO, to become the company’s single largest equity holder.

The same month, it raised its stake in the gaming giant Nintendo to 8.26 percent, and it has also invested in the Swedish video game company Embracer Group.

The wider Middle East and North Africa is the fastest-growing gaming market in the world, with an industry forecast to be worth $5 billion by 2025, up from $1.78 billion last year. Estimates for the number of gamers in the region hover around the 375 million mark.