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Visas on offer as Esports World Cup hits Saudi Arabia

Boulevard City, Riyadh, where the first Esports World Cup will take place Alamy via Reuters
Boulevard City, Riyadh, where the first Esports World Cup will take place
  • First gaming event of its kind
  • 1,500 players, 500 clubs
  • Major investment from PIF

Saudi Arabia is offering electronic visas for ticket holders for the first Esports World Cup, which starts next week at an entertainment district in Riyadh called Boulevard City.

The event is being held over eight weeks from July 3. Around 1,500 players from 500 international clubs will compete for this year’s record total prize money of $60 million, which will be spread over 22 separate tournaments. 

The streamlining of entry procedures for visitors to the tournament, who will be given 90-day single entry visas, is part of the kingdom’s drive to dominate the global e-sports and gaming scene. 

The Saudi Esports Federation launched an annual gamer festival in 2022 called Gamers8 but it has been revamped this year as the Esports World Cup by the Public Investment Fund, which is leading Saudi Arabia’s economic transformation plan. 

Saudi Arabia is on a drive to become the leading player in e-sports, or competitive video gaming, after it became a global phenomenon over the past two decades. 

PIF-owned sports and entertainment city Qiddiya is building a dedicated e-sports and gaming district, and PIF’s Savvy Games Group is targeting Japan’s Nintendo and South Korea’s Kakao to set up in the kingdom to make products aimed at local consumers.

The projects are underpinned by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s personal interest in gaming, which is also reflected in some of the futuristic designs that characterise many of the giga-projects such as Neom and New Murabba. 

“E-sports is one of the most important things happening globally,” the prince said last year in an interview with Fox News.

“It grows by 30 percent every year. So PIF Investment – every year we have 15 to 25 percent of profit, so it’s really amazing and we don’t want to miss that.” 

E-sports are part of a broader strategy to invest in sports, entertainment and tourism, which the country hopes will form 10 percent of GDP by 2030. 

The strategy seems to be making an impact globally. The sports investments, especially in football, are winning a global audience as the kingdom tries to overcome charges of “sport washing”, a major survey of media coverage said this month

Tournament players will be clad in sportswear from official merchandise sponsor Adidas, which has a chance to build brand connection with “a passionate and dedicated fanbase”, said Saudi Esports World Cup sales director Mohammed Al Nimer.

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