Improve Middle Eastern esports infrastructure to beat competitors, experts say

Culture Summit Abu Dhabi panel looks at future of gaming and how to take advantage of its massive potential

Abu Dhabi gamer Amjad 'AngryBird' Al Shalabi celebrates his win at Evo 2023. Photo: Evo
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If the Middle East wants to be more competitive globally in esports, gaming infrastructure needs to be vastly improved, according to industry leaders.

Speaking at Culture Summit Abu Dhabi on Monday, three esports team founders said increasing the strength and speed of internet services and cultivating a strong community are the most urgent factors if regional players want to beat the best in the world.

"More governments and investment in the region can improve the quality, and you can see that happening quite quickly," said Lalit Vase, founder of Nasr Esports.

He joined a panel including Hicham Chahine, chief executive and founder of Ninjas in Pyjamas Group; and Christoph Timm, co-founder of Team Nigma Galaxy. The discussion, titled What’s the next step for Esports in the UAE and the Middle East?, was moderated by Sultan Al Riyami, the section head of gaming and esports at AD Gaming.

The event also highlighted recent international wins by regional talents.

Abu Dhabi resident Amjad Al Shalabi, who goes by the name AngryBird, won the Street Fighter 6 tournament at Evo, the most prestigious fighting game tournament, in August. The three-day competition held in Las Vegas, US, had more than 9,000 competitors from around the world.

The previous month, Al Shalabi's teammate from Nasr Esports, Adel Anouche, won the Red Bull Kumite tournament, another prestigious gaming competition, held in Pretoria, South Africa. Anouche, who goes by the name Big Bird, was also playing Street Fighter 6.

Al Shalabi and Anouche are also known in fighting game circles as The Birds.

Vase credits their success to their dedication, saying that they continue to travel around the world to play against the best players to become better.

Timm spoke of having a team almost entirely comprised of players from the Middle East, apart from one player from Bulgaria.

"That’s why they call us the 80 per cent halal team," he joked.

Chahine spoke of the difficulty in getting local governments to recognise esports as a legitimate competition, saying that he was part of the effort that took 16 years to convince the Swedish government to do so.

One of the biggest hurdles of growing esports is convincing parents of its viability as a career choice, the panel said.

“There's a huge opportunity, but nobody really looks at that opportunity. I think that’s a role that a government should play," Vase said.

Al Riyami added: "No one wants to see their kid playing games all day, but I’ve never seen a parent complain when their kid comes home from an esports event and they’ve paid off the mortgage.”

But Chahine is optimistic of the huge potential for esports in the region.

"It’s just a question of time and focus that we give it," he said.

Updated: March 05, 2024, 12:55 PM