Esports Around The World is a series of profiles outlining the esports ecosystem in various countries globally. The series ties into our ESI Washington DC event taking place 16-18th May 2022, which will focus on esports’ growth around the world. The event will include a first-of-its-kind embassies tour alongside ESI’s trademark combination of networking, education and debate. Find out more here.
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Saudi Arabia is currently undergoing efforts to become a major player in both the sporting and esports world. After the Saudi Arabian government-backed Public Investment Fund acquired English football club Newcastle United in late 2021, the group bought ESL Gaming and FACEIT in January 2022 before merging the entities into the ESL FACEIT Group.
The country doesn’t have a long history in gaming or esports, but its scene has started growing rapidly in recent years. Saudi Arabia’s gaming industry was worth $1bn (~£762m) in 2021, according to research by Niko Partners. However, a Boston Consulting Group report states this figure is expected to reach $6.8bn (~£5.18bn) by 2030. As part of its long-term strategic reform plan, Vision 2030, Saudi Arabia wants the gaming industry — including esports — to account for 0.8 to one per cent of the economy by 2030, according to Wired.
Nevertheless, the growth of Saudi Arabia in the world of esports hasn’t come without controversy. The country’s poor human rights record has led to criticism surrounding its acquisition of ESL and FACEIT. Accusations have also been made that the country is using so-called ‘sportswashing’ — or more accurately esportswashing — in an attempt to distract from oppressive practices domestically.
Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia’s recent gaming growth, and its high-profile acquisitions, is positioning the region to become an important figure in esports. The country has seen some competitive success, most notably in FIFA with Mossad ‘Msdossary’ Aldossary and in Rocket League with Khalid ‘oKhaliD’ Qasim as well as Ahmad ‘Ahmad’ Abdullah.
Saudi Arabia is backing esports in numerous ways, though the government has not issued an official stance on esports’ status as a sport. The government’s sovereign wealth fund launched Savvy Gaming Group as a wholly-owned subsidiary in early 2022. The region aims to use the group to develop gaming and esports at all levels. The kingdom also launched the $1.1bn Ignite initiative, which is expected to include funding for gaming infrastructure, studios and arenas.
Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud, a Saudi royal in the Kingdom’s ruling royal family, was appointed Vice President of the Global Esports Federation (GEF) in December 2021. He was already GEF’s Chairman of Education, Culture and Youth Commission.
Notable Tournaments & Leagues
The Saudi Savvy Gaming Group now owns ESL Gaming, esports’ biggest tournament operator, as well as tournament organiser and platform FACEIT. The companies have been merged into the ESL FACEIT Group.
Notable Esports Organisations
Note that this is a non-exhaustive list and exclusion does not signify an org is not notable.
National Associations / Federations
Note that inclusion in this list does not suggest any acknowledgement from ESI of its authority, works or official capacity.
Alongside his role in the Global Esports Federation, Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud is additionally President of the Saudi Esports Federation and the Arab Esports Federation, the two biggest bodies for esports in the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia has not yet made any efforts to incorporate esports into curriculums. However, the JSRK League is a tournament for university students held in cooperation with the Saudi Federation of University Sports to develop esports amongst Saudi students. Held for the first time in 2021, the JSRK League has seperate editions for male and female students.
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This is a preliminary country profile and will be augmented with additional information over time. If you have any suggestions or feedback for this profile, please get in touch at [email protected]
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