With half of Saudis turning gamers, eSports to add $21bn to GDP

Exclusive With half of Saudis turning gamers, eSports to add $21bn to GDP
Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan. (Arab News)
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Updated 18 November 2021

With half of Saudis turning gamers, eSports to add $21bn to GDP

With half of Saudis turning gamers, eSports to add $21bn to GDP
  • Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan, president of the Kingdom’s esports federation, said the sector has the potential to contribute billions of dollars to the local economy
  • Analysts predict that global revenues from esports will grow to more than $1.08 billion in 2021 and will surpass $1.6 billion by 2024

RIYADH: Electronic gaming, or egaming, is an increasingly popular activity, with a recent study suggesting that 50 percent of the Saudi population consider themselves regular gamers.

A frequent criticism of electronic gaming is that it is a waste of time with little or no economic value. However Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan, president of the Saudi Arabian Federation for Electronic and Intellectual Sports, believes e-gaming and eSports, which is the term for competitive video gaming, have the potential to contribute billions of dollars to business, job creation and gross domestic product in the Kingdom.

“When you talk about the potential in the Saudi market, one of the first things that I think back to is that we did a study with the Ministry of Sports and more than 23, 24 percent of the population considers themselves avid gamers who play more than once a week,” the prince told Arab News on Tuesday at the Future Investment Initiative Forum in Riyadh.

“About 23, 24 percent-plus consider themselves regular gamers who play more than once a month. That’s almost 50, if not more than 50, percent of the population that consider themselves gamers.”

The prince predicts that the sector will contribute about 1 percent of Saudi GDP by 2030, which might seem a small proportion but the amount of money potentially involved is significant.

“Do we really want to say 1 percent?” he asked. “Is that really a number? It sounds really small. They said, ‘That is worth more than SR80 billion ($21 billion),’ and I said I’ll go with 1 percent. That sounds like a really good number to me, and that’s both from direct and indirect job creation and GDP creation through the gaming and e-sports industry.”

According to the Global Esports and Live Streaming Market Report, published in March by games and esports analyst Newzoo, global revenues from esports, or competitive video gaming, are projected to grow to more than $1.08 billion in 2021, an increase of 14 percent on the previous year.

Market and consumer data company Statista predicts that global esports revenue will surpass $1.6 billion by 2024.

Like their counterparts in other countries, a growing number of Saudis are taking part in esports and streaming their gaming activities on platforms such as YouTube and Twitch. Audience numbers are also growing.

Video gaming and esports are known for fostering creativity, collaboration and leadership, skills that are highly valued in the business world. Consequently, esports and egaming can provide a path to a range of careers and employment opportunities. And as the esports sector grows, these could increasingly include opportunities for tournament organizers.

The esports industry in Saudi Arabia has experienced impressive growth in the past few years, and the Kingdom has stepped up its efforts to support it. SAFEIS held its first esports/gaming tournaments in the Kingdom recently and more are planned. Other tournaments are hosted by platforms such as the Saudi-based KAFU Games.

Meanwhile there are plans for an esports academy as part of the NEOM smart city development. And for those interested in the development of games, Tuwaiq1000 has offered course for beginners interested in learning how to program from scratch, or for professionals who want to refine their programming skills.

Thanks to all this support that is increasingly available, “sooner rather than later Saudi Arabia will become a world leader in esports,” according to academic Ali Alshammari, a game developer and researcher from Tabuk.

Gaming and esports therefore represent an emerging opportunity for Saudi authorities to support and develop a new sector that can make a significant contribution to non-oil revenues, in keeping with the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030.

“We are a part of a global community,” said Prince Faisal, who added that it is important for this community to come together and dispel misconceptions about gaming and esports.

“There are two things I want people to always remember about gaming,” he said. “Try and be positive. And please don’t ever forget that at the end of the day, gaming is about fun and if you are not having fun then you shouldn’t be doing it.”