Saudi esports president says gaming is good for both mental health and the economy

The gaming community in the kingdom is growing, as leaders unveil plans to level up the industry

Prince Faisal bin Bandar, president of Saudi Esports Federation, says gaming can be a big income generator. Photo: Gamers Without Borders
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Gaming is a serious business with quality career path options for young people in Saudi Arabia. That’s the message Prince Faisal bin Bandar, president of the Saudi Esports Federation, wants to get across.

He was speaking at the Next World Forum in Riyadh, which gathers leaders from the gaming world to discuss the future of the industry and opportunities provided in Saudi Arabia.

Prince Faisal describes the two-day event as part of the federation’s ongoing strategy to build and promote esports, with a key focus on gaming within the kingdom.

"We do want to evolve some of the conversation surrounding gaming," he tells The National. "This is why we are working hard and trying to bridge these gaps and bring various communities together, such as the business and education sector, to showcase that there is a career path within the esports industry.

"And, that is not just being a top player, but there are roles in production, finance and investment as well. Whatever you are passionate about, there is an opportunity."

The federation has been promoting these possibilities through various initiatives aimed at the public and private sector.

The Next World Forum comes after the successful staging of Gamers8, one of the world’s largest esports festivals, which ran for eight weeks at Riyadh’s Boulevard district.

In addition to hosting a number of tournaments featuring international teams, the festival boasted a vibrant cultural programme of music performances, art showcases and information booths on all things gaming.

"What is interesting to me is that you now have this phrase going around about wanting to 'gamify' things, like meetings for example, but no one wants to 'gamify' gaming," Prince Faisal says.

"By that I mean providing an interactive experience that people can enjoy. It is not just about showing up, watching the screen and going home.

“It's about creating that experience where everyone, from esports athletes to families, can enjoy themselves."

As well as launching the online Saudi Esports Academy, the federation has also teamed up with Saudi universities to shed light on employment opportunities.

"At the academy, we are teaching classes both in esports and coding among others," Prince Fasial says.

"Our work with universities is not only an outreach to the youth but ultimately to the parents as well. It's about breaking some of the misconceptions that it isn't a waste of time and that it's an income generator with plenty of opportunities."

As part of his Next World Forum address on Wednesday, Mohammed bin Saud Altamimi, governor of the Communications and Information Technology Commission, estimated the value of the gaming industry to be $700 million with expected growth of 250 per cent by 2030.

Nadhmi Al Nasr, chief executive of Neom, was also at the forum and declared that a gaming district will feature within the Saudi megaproject.

While pleased with the developments, ultimate satisfaction for Prince Faisal will arrive when the gaming community is fully accepted and integrated within Saudi society and culture.

"We are in a situation now where we do have to rise up and take our place in the global stage and change that image of gaming," he says. "We are talking about a community that's not only local or regional but now a global one."

“People are learning new languages through gaming, making friendships, building self-esteem and mental health.

“These are the kinds of interactions that are sorely missed by people who are not gamers and only observing the community from afar.

“We are very social and we want everyone to join us and be a part of it.”

Coming soon: Abu Dhabi's esports and virtual-reality hub Pixoul Gaming — in pictures

Updated: September 13, 2022, 6:40 AM
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