Video game fanatics looking to turn professional are being snapped up by an eSports company based in the UAE.
Galaxy Racer eSports has provided a platform for gamers to compete in tournaments and has signed eight international and local teams so far.
The opportunity has helped gamers pursue eSports as a profession, even offering a fixed salary along with a percentage of prizes earned from tournaments.
Mohammed Abdulaziz Almatrooshi, 19, is an Emirati gamer who was signed by the firm to play a battle arena game League of Legends.
"I used to go to internet cafes everyday with my friends after school just to play League of Legends," Mr Almatrooshi, from Abu Dhabi, told The National.
He has been gaming since he was nine-years-old, but said he started taking it more seriously after he noticed his performance improve in tournaments.
In May, he was signed by Galaxy Racer because of his high game ranking.
Shortly after, his team won the Intel Arabian Cup UAE tournament and qualified to the regional stages, where they will have a chance to prove they are the Middle East's best League of Legends team.
“The challenges that I faced were with my family,” said Mr Almatrooshi.
“They didn’t agree with the idea that I play video games. I was skipping a lot of classes for it. They took my computer to stop me playing for weeks. I tried to convince them to give me a chance to show them that eSports was a big thing.”
Once his team won the tournament with a prize of Dh18,000, his family started showing their support for his new profession.
eSports is estimated to be a $1 billion industry, with some players who earn millions in streaming their games online on platforms such as Twitch, as well as competing professionally.
Some international tournaments have millions of dollars as prizes. In 2019, Kyle Giersdorf, 16, won $3 million in a Fortnite competition.
The Middle East’s industry is also rapidly growing and some tournaments offer prizes of up to Dh1 million.
Ksenia Klyuenkova, 29, is a Counter-Strike: Global Offensive player based in Russia. Galaxy Racer recently signed her as member of a all-girl team.
"In the beginning it was just a hobby for me," she said. "I played Counter-Strike with friends after school. Gradually, I got better and was asked to join a female team in Russia."
In 2015, Ms Klyuenkova quit her job to pursue her hobby as a full-time profession. She was with another international team at the time.
Now, with Galaxy Racer, she is part of a team that has five women from four different countries.
They won the GirlGamer Festival that took place in Dubai in February and came second at the Dreamback Showdown in June.
But there were challenges she had to face as a female gamer.
“It’s pretty hard to resist and ignore all the negative comments that girls get from other players throughout different gaming platforms," said Ms Klyuenkova.
“Verbal abuse isn’t uncommon online once people figure out it’s a girl playing. There’s also a huge misconception that when a girl receives a certain rank in the game, she’s not getting it on her own and has someone helping her.”
Mia Stellberg, a sports psychologist based in Finland, was hired to work with Galazy Racer's gamers on mental well-being, performance, team spirit and managing pressure.
"Some players thrive under pressure and some underachieve massively," said Ms Stellberg.
"Overall being a pro player is extremely demanding and stressful. An ability to cope with everything that comes with the career is a crucial factor when we are analysing exceptional players.
"Gladly, one can learn to cope with that and grow stronger under good guidance and support. Good balanced personality, maturity and resilience is something I’m trying to teach and reach with my clients."
Galaxy Racer is trying to grow its reach in the Arab world and has hired a Jordanian social media influencer Naji Elqaq to live stream and handle gaming content.
It is estimated that more than 32 million people globally watch live streams of online games.
Paul Roy, chief executive of the organisation, said their goal was to provide gamers with facilities, a platform and bring tournaments here.
“Around the same time last year when we launched Galaxy Racer, I promised that we would build a world-class organisation that is headquartered in Dubai and take it all over the world,” he said.
“And I feel we’ve done quite a bit of that. We’ve got players in 21 countries, eight teams around the world, the very best of coaching, psychologists and all of the support staff.
“We’ve extended that to our players in the Middle East, as well. Both the male and female teams are playing with the best international counterparts."