RIYADH: The world of eSports is evolving in Saudi Arabia, and its youthful audience means it could become an industry leader, according to the president of the Saudi Arabian Federation for Electronics and Intellectual Sports (SAFEIS).
“We are a population of youth; 70 percent of the population is under the age of 30. Everybody hears these numbers, but that means 70 percent of our population is my target audience,” Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan, SAFEIS president, told Arab News on the sidelines of the Future Investment Initiative (FII).
SAFEIS was founded in 2017, and in what is considered a young industry no one has yet taken a leadership role, he said. “We have the opportunity, we have the community and we have the skills. Both our young men and women, who are some of the best competitors, have the ability to take the bull by the horns.”
The industry behind electronic and intellectual sports is vast, covering not only competitions and video gaming, but coders and inventors, he said. “We can become the leader, not just in competitions and events, but in the actual technology and in the integration between male and female athletes, which we are well ahead in.”
How ahead? In most countries the world of eSports is male-dominated, with 70 percent of males participating, but the Kingdom is different. “In Saudi Arabia, when we’ve done our surveys and talked to our community, it’s about 52 percent male and 48 percent female.”
The first eSports cup, which was a government-sanctioned event, had both male and female participants, he said. “Which rarely happens internationally, let alone in Saudi. That was one of the first movers.”
However, it was not done with the idea that “we have to have women involved.” Every participant qualified on their own merits and in the lens of competition and that was what was “great” about it, he said.
“There wasn’t any awkwardness, it was very natural, and everyone was there to have fun,” he said of the first mixed-gender competition.
There is a strong community of gamers in Saudi Arabia and support from the government, but the difficulties SAFEIS faces lie in convincing the private sector to invest in the sector.
“The only way this is sustainable is if the private sector gets involved. If we as a federation are growing and paying and doing everything for 10 years to come, nothing is going to happen. It’s not going to grow.”
However, things are slowly changing with the private sector taking more of a lead in events and licensing.
“As people start to see that it makes money, they are going to do it at a business level.” This will bring in revenues and build a stronger community of eSports enthusiasts, he said.
With all the new technologies, including cloud gaming and 5G networks, being introduced into Saudi Arabia, Prince Faisal added: “This is the time for people to start moving and get gaming.”