Musaed Al Dossary was relatively unknown when he took part in his first international gaming competition in 2017.
After qualifying for the Fifa 17 Ultimate Team Championship in Vancouver, Canada — an event that brought together some of the world's best Fifa 17 players — he registered himself as “Msdossary" in the tournament and had stunning unbeaten run to clinch the prestigious trophy.
The event marked the beginning of a successful career for Al Dossary, who went on to win various other esports events, including the FIFA eWorld Cup 2018. He also launched his own esports organisation Team Falcons in 2018.
More than the accolades, though, Al Dossary says his biggest satisfaction lies in seeing the international esports industry becoming more aware of Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning gaming scene.
"It is a great time to be in gaming in Saudi Arabia and the growth has been bigger and bigger," he tells The National.
"Over the past five years, we have seen more young Saudi players getting involved and the establishment of the Saudi Esports Federation.
We have now reached a stage where it has evolved from being a hobby to a thriving industry."
A low-key beginning
That message was underlined at the recent Next World Forum in Riyadh, which gathered leaders from the gaming world to discuss the future of the industry and the opportunities offered by Saudi Arabia.
As one of the country's leading esports athletes, Al Dossary, 22, spoke at the forum, tracing his career and sharing some of the lessons he has learnt along the way.
Al Dossary was born in Al Khobar in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province. His passion for football began as a bit of weekly fun with family and friends.
“I am a big fan of football generally and I would play it outside since I was a child,” he recalls. “I love the passion, competition and strategy that comes with it.”
Al Dossary also managed to transfer those abilities to the PlayStation console as a teenager, playing Fifa with his cousins.
“It was really just a way to hang out and catch up,” he says.
“A few of them were great players at the time and I managed to beat them. It is really from there and their encouragement that I thought maybe I should compete.”
That said, Al Dossary began as a low-key competitor and kept his public profile scarce of personal information.
"These were especially during the first events and I made sure there was nothing in the database connecting to me personally," he says.
"This was because I didn't know that it was a career that I wanted to follow.”
However, relishing the competitive spirit, Al Dossary signed himself up for an international online league dedicated to Fifa 17 and racked up more than 40 wins during the qualification rounds to earn a seat in the aforementioned Fifa 17 Ultimate Team Championship.
In it to win it
While the wins came thick and fast, changing the mindset of fellow Saudis when it came to the value of a career in esports was a more laboured affair.
“I also had to change my own attitude,” he says.
“I was lucky enough to have a very supportive family but I also had doubts about whether I should just focus on this full time.
“What also helped encourage me and so many Saudis was the Esports Federation because they provided encouragement and direction. It shows there is a career in this and we should do our best.”
Al Dossary's career path is an example of the economic opportunities gaming offers today, from lucrative sponsorship deals to launching his own Esports side Team Falcons.
While the core mission is to develop a new generation of Saudi players, Al Dossary also wants to build a formidable team to compete internationally in various competitions.
"It is a different responsibility because as the founder of Team Falcons, you are a chief executive and you are hiring employees as well," he says.
"So far we have 85 players at the time and are competing across 9 different games. We have nearly 150 employees, including managers and coaches."
With Al Dossary and fellow Saudis competing against the world's best gamers throughout the year, the kingdom’s potential as a future global gaming hub is closer to realisation.
“There are still so many things to achieve here and everything is moving in the right direction,” he says.
“Personally, I want to win a few more major events and another world championship before I really feel that great sense of achievement.”