The Gulf is getting serious about gaming. Following successful new esports and gaming events in Saudi Arabia, the UAE has launched and announced several of its own.
Here's a round-up of the region's best so far, and what's still in store.
The Mena Gaming and eSports Summit
The Mena Gaming and Esports Summit concluded in Dubai on Thursday, the second major event of its kind to be held in the GCC this month alone.
Organised by Verve Management, in association with the UAE's Emirates Esports Federation, the two-day event saw speakers from across the world descend on Dubai's Conrad Hotel to discuss the latest trends in global esports.
Among the event's guest speakers was Matthew Pickering, who joined as chief executive of Power League Gaming in 2020 — overseeing a period of rapid growth for the company. Pickering said: “Esports and gaming are the fastest growing media verticals in the world; within this, the Mena region is the most rapidly growing geography globally."
The summit brought together developers, publishers, distributors, sports organisations, influencers, media outlets, leagues and competitions, to discuss the region's esports ecosystem. Asides from trends in programming and the impact of cloud-based and AI-powered technologies, participants explored the future of esports in the region.
The international gaming industry is forecasted to become a $340bn heavyweight by 2027, and Mena's gaming market is projected to increase by almost a fifth to more than $5bn. The region is home to more than 100 million gamers, and the world's fastest gaming market, thanks to a young, tech-savvy population.
Next World Forum
Mena Gaming and eSports Summit followed on from the Next World Forum, an event by the Saudi Esports Federation, which took place in Riyadh last week. The event brought together leaders from the gaming world to discuss future opportunities provided by the industry in Saudi Arabia. Like the Mena Gaming and eSports Summit, the event highlighted the young population in Saudi Arabia as a major driving force for the sector.
“We have a population of 34-odd million in Saudi Arabia and 63 per cent, or approximately 21 million, consider themselves gamers," Federation president Prince Faisal bin Bandar said. "So this is a community of gamers and what we are doing is something that they've been looking for and striving towards. This is not just a passion, but it's also a work path and it is what they want to do on a daily basis.
“They want the opportunity to work hand in hand with government organisations and the private sector to really build something that will showcase their skills on a global stage."
Saudi mega projects, including Neom and Qiddiya, have also recognised the potential of gaming not just in entertainment but as a social tool — with Qiddiya's managing director Abdullah Aldawood saying the entertainment destination would have a neighbourhood "designed by gamers for gamers".
Games for Change
Building on the momentum, another major gaming conference is slated to take place next month, this time in Abu Dhabi.
The first Games for Change summit in the Middle East and North Africa will be held on October 11. The two-day event is organised by Games for Change and Abu Dhabi Gaming. It aims to connect 300 figures from Abu Dhabi’s gaming industry with international experts, to discuss best practices and innovations in gaming.
Held in partnership with the US Mission to the UAE and twofour54, the summit will include a series of talks, panels, workshops, networking events and an interactive arcade — exploring the business trends driving the gaming industry.
Participants will also hear independent game developers and entrepreneurs from around the globe share their experiences of the industry, as well as how games have been used to address social issues surrounding education, healthcare and climate change.
The Games for Change Summit is part of a partnership between Games for Change, the UAE and the US. This year, G4C teamed up with Aldar Education and Abu Dhabi Gaming to launch a virtual exchange programme connecting young people in the US and Mena, called Game Exchange.
Students around the world are designing games together that will address the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals under the themes of human rights, sustainable societies and a healthy planet. Some of these titles will be exhibited as part of the G4C Summit in Abu Dhabi.
Abu Dhabi Blast World Premiere Final
Abu Dhabi Gaming has also partnered with international esports brand Blast to bring the Premier World Final to Abu Dhabi — where the world's elite Counter-Strike: Global Offensive teams will battle one another for their slice of a $1 million prize pool.
Running from December 14 to 18, the tournament will see eight of the best teams go head-to-head at Yas Island's Etihad Arena. It is the seventh and final event on the annual Blast Premier tournament calendar.
Abu Dhabi's first Blast World Final will involve the FaZe Clan, who rose to the top of the ESL Pro League Season 15 and PGL Antwerp Major, face down NAVI, who won the Spring Final in Lisbon — with six more teams set to be confirmed later in the year.
Charlotte Kenny, managing director of Blast Premier, said the Counter-Strike World Final was the "ultimate" fan experience in esports and will bring its "electrifying, adrenaline-pumped" atmosphere to the city.
Anime & Gaming Festival, Al Ain
The Anime and Gaming Festival will be held in Al Ain Mall from October 7 to 9. The three-day event will celebrate several aspects of pop culture. It will include activities, exhibitions, cosplay parades as well gaming and esports tournaments.
Organised in partnership with Uprizing, the event is the first anime convention in Al Ain. It is free and will include performances by local musicians as well as panel discussions on anime and gaming. Esports tournaments will challenge players in Fifa 23, Super Smash Bros Ultimate, Valorant and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
Dubai Esports Festival
The inaugural Dubai Esports Festival will take place from November 9 to 20 — and will be the first international leisure event to be held at the Dubai Exhibition Centre following the end of Expo 2020 Dubai.
It will include a gaming competition that will pit some of the world’s best players against each other. The Initiate Summit, meanwhile, will bring together industry experts, esports stars and investors.
At the GameExpo, visitors can experience a range of video games, from retro classics to the latest big-budget releases. The events are organised by Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism and Dubai World Trade Centre.
Gamers8 festival in Saudi Arabia featured a range of events and concerts every weekend for eight weeks and a prize fund of up to $15 million. The event was hosted by the Saudi Esports Federation in the entertainment district Boulevard of Riyadh, alongside concerts by international and regional artists, including Lil Pump, Balquees, Russ, DJ Snake, Nancy Ajram, Hamaki, Disco Misr, Alan Walker and DJ Axwell.
"The goal of Gamers8 is to bring the virtual world of esports and gaming out into the physical realm of Riyadh,” Prince Faisal said of the event. “With that in mind, the capital city of our country renowned for its enthusiasm and huge fervour for gaming is the ideal setting for Gamers8."
Scroll through images of Abu Dhabi's esports and virtual-reality hub Pixoul Gaming below