Saudi Arabia’s esports industry looking to create ‘safe spaces’ for female gamers

Tournaments and festivals exclusively aimed at women, such as Girl Gamer, are designed to empower and create more opportunities for female gamers. (AN photos)
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Tournaments and festivals exclusively aimed at women, such as Girl Gamer, are designed to empower and create more opportunities for female gamers. (AN photos)
Saudi Arabia’s esports industry looking to create ‘safe spaces’ for female gamers
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Tournaments and festivals exclusively aimed at women, such as Girl Gamer, are designed to empower and create more opportunities for female gamers. (AN photos)
Saudi Arabia’s esports industry looking to create ‘safe spaces’ for female gamers
3 / 3
Tournaments and festivals exclusively aimed at women, such as Girl Gamer, are designed to empower and create more opportunities for female gamers. (AN photos)
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Updated 14 September 2022

Saudi Arabia’s esports industry looking to create ‘safe spaces’ for female gamers

Saudi Arabia’s esports industry looking to create ‘safe spaces’ for female gamers
  • Industry leaders and creators at The Next World Forum in Riyadh called on more protection, tournaments and promotion for women in online gaming and esports

RIYADH: The gaming and esports industry is considered one of the fastest-growing entertainment sectors globally, and especially in the Middle East.

With this increased popularity and participation and new initiatives designed to develop and enhance the industry, there is a growing awareness of the need to address some of the underlying historical issues with the sector, including inclusivity, sexism and sexual harassment.

During the inaugural Next World Forum in Riyadh last week, industry leaders and creators emphasized in particular the importance of creating safe and inclusive spaces for women.

Haya Al-Qadi, marketing manager with esports and gaming organization Galaxy Racer, told how her journey in competitive gaming began about 15 years ago playing Call of Duty with an otherwise all-male group of gamers. A lot has changed since then, she explained.

“Today it’s different because people don’t realize that there are more female mobile gamers than men and there’s a 50-50 split between console and PC gamers,” she said during a panel discussion.

“There’s no excuse that there aren’t enough tournaments for women, especially when it’s a mental game.”

Female gamers have often been forced to hide or “anonymize” their identity and conceal their gender because of the threat of online abuse and other dangers they might face in a male-dominated online-gaming field, she added.

“Here in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, and even in North America, it’s still quite a taboo,” Al-Qadi told Arab News. “We’ve hosted a lot of discussions on how to embrace women in gaming, provide female-only tournaments, so that we can help them grow and accelerate.”

Carlos “Ocelote” Rodriguez, the founding CEO of G2 Esports, said: “What I have seen over the years is that most teams and leagues and people with any power in the industry have over-nurtured women as if they were helpless, as if they didn’t have the skills on their own.

“What I do think they (women) appreciate is to be treated with dignity, as equals … it’s that simple.”

Tournaments and festivals exclusively aimed at women, such as Girl Gamer, are designed to empower and create more opportunities for female gamers, provide incentives, increase participation levels and the player base, and give them a chance potentially to profit from their skills.

“As someone who’s competed in female leagues, I think it’s a very good thing to have,” said Madiha “Maddy” Naz.

“Initially when I started competing in tournaments I’d be in mostly male-dominated scenes but when I got professionally signed, it was for female leagues only. I think what it does for females is that it provides them with competitive experience in a safe environment.”

Until a few years ago, gaming and esports were commonly regarded simply as hobbies in Saudi Arabia and the wider region. But as the industry continues to grow in the Kingdom, leaders and experts are increasingly finding ways to create sustainable job opportunities for individuals who want to build a careers out of digital sport.

As Gamers8, the world’s biggest gaming and esports festival which took place over the past eight weeks in Riyadh, showed, efforts to produce local content and opportunities are developing and growing.

“With the changes — with Vision 2030, Gamers8 and all that — I believe we’re headed to greatness,” said Ghada Al-Moqbel, CEO of GCON, a community dedicated to women with an interest in video games. “There are so many great things awaiting us as women and as gamers.”

Still, ensuring that female gamers feel safe online and are protected from harassment or abuse are important challenges for the sector. Experts define a safe space as one that feels comfortable, and which motivates and encourages women to compete with their peers in an environment that recognizes and understands their wants, needs and boundaries.

Any male-dominated field naturally comes with its own set of issues. In gaming and esports, female gamers can experience verbal, and sometimes sexual, harassment, stalking, a lack of opportunities, and gaps in skill sets.

Given that events primarily take place online, the anonymity this provides is a significant contributory factor to problems within the wider gaming community such as harassment, sexism and racism. It creates an environment where toxicity and lack of accountability are common.

“Toxicity and harassment, unfortunately, is not something alien to women when it comes to gaming,” Al-Qadi told Arab News.

“It can really discourage some women from continuing. Or they hide their identity, which is also a problem because it means they can never show their face and build a brand identity (for sponsorship purposes).”

According to Al-Moqbel, 46 percent of video gamers in the Kingdom are women. Raising awareness of the industry and creating safer and more supportive spaces in which they can develop skills and compete are seen as important aims to increase participation.

Experts say that a great way to address these issues is to build on the success of existing gaming communities and start conversations about problems that need to be addressed.

Sylvia “QueenArrow” Gathoni, a professional gamer from Kenya, told Arab News that she made peace with the fact that no matter her achievements, she will always face criticism and contempt from some quarters simply because she is a woman. She decided to take steps to address this situation.

“I found my own community where I felt welcomed and loved and I know that I can lean on them for the support that I need,” she said. “That’s been what’s been keeping me strong as one of the pioneers in this space.”

 

 


Frankfurt come back to beat Darmstadt 4-2 in German Cup

Frankfurt come back to beat Darmstadt 4-2 in German Cup
Updated 14 sec ago

Frankfurt come back to beat Darmstadt 4-2 in German Cup

Frankfurt come back to beat Darmstadt 4-2 in German Cup
  • Kolo Muani made sure of the win for Frankfurt, surging down the left flank before placing a shot just inside the far post

FRANKFURT: Randal Kolo Muani scored twice as Eintracht Frankfurt came back from a goal down to beat local rivals Darmstadt 4-2 and seal a place in the German Cup quarterfinals on Tuesday.

Frankfurt took an early lead when Kolo Muani leaped to head in a cross and missed two clear-cut chances soon after but was stunned when Mathias Honsak scored twice in the space of three minutes on counterattacks to put second-division leader Darmstadt ahead.

Rafael Borre was left unmarked in the penalty area just before halftime and capitalized to score and send Frankfurt into the break on level terms.

A powerful shot from Daichi Kamada put Frankfurt back in front in the 62nd minute but Darmstadt were not done yet and nearly leveled again when Phillip Tietz hit the post. Kolo Muani made sure of the win for Frankfurt late on, surging down the left flank before placing a shot just inside the far post.

Last season’s cup runner-up Freiburg left it late for the third cup game in a row to win 2-0 at second-division Sandhausen. Freiburg took the lead with an 87th-minute header from Philipp Lienhart and Nils Petersen added a second deep into added time after a goalkeeping error.

Freiburg’s first two German Cup games this season both went to extra time and none of its six goals in the competition have been scored earlier than the 82nd minute.


Vlahovic inspires Juventus to 3-0 win at Salernitana

Vlahovic inspires Juventus to 3-0 win at Salernitana
Updated 08 February 2023

Vlahovic inspires Juventus to 3-0 win at Salernitana

Vlahovic inspires Juventus to 3-0 win at Salernitana
  • The result also meant the match was a surprise relegation battle with Salernitana just two points further back

SALERNO, Italy: Dusan Vlahovic proved he is back on form with two goals and an assist to help Juventus win 3-0 at Salernitana in Serie A on Tuesday.

That snapped a run of three league matches without a win for Juventus. The streak had left the Bianconeri just nine points above the relegation zone coming into the match at Salerno following a 15-point penalty for false accounting.

It also meant the match was a surprise relegation battle with Salernitana just two points further back.

But Vlahovic helped Juventus push away from the bottom three.

He scored his first goal for the club since October in the 26th minute with a penalty after Fabio Miretti had been fouled by Salernitana midfielder Nicolussi Caviglia, who is on loan from Juventus.

Juventus doubled their tally on the stroke of halftime when the Salernitana defense failed to clear a cross and Vlahovic’s wayward shot came through to Filip Kostic to bundle in.

Vlahovic did double his tally two minutes after the break with a precise shot into the bottom right corner following a Nicolo Fagioli through ball.

Angel Di Maria hit the crossbar for Juventus five minutes later, while Moise Kean saw an effort come off the post late on.


FA Cup dream over for Wrexham and their Hollywood owners

FA Cup dream over for Wrexham and their Hollywood owners
Updated 08 February 2023

FA Cup dream over for Wrexham and their Hollywood owners

FA Cup dream over for Wrexham and their Hollywood owners
  • The Welsh soccer club lost their FA Cup replay with Sheffield United 3-1 on Tuesday, conceding two goals deep into stoppage time

SHEFFIELD: For Wrexham’s Hollywood owners, the sequel proved to be a heartbreaker.

The Welsh soccer club owned by celebrities Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney lost their FA Cup replay with Sheffield United 3-1 on Tuesday, conceding two goals deep into stoppage time.

A win for Wrexham, the lowest-ranked team remaining in the famous old competition, would have set up a match in the fifth round — or the last 16 — with Tottenham and star striker Harry Kane.

Instead, it was despair for the team from the fifth tier of English soccer which has hit the headlines over the last two years after it was bought by Reynolds and McElhenney for $2.5 million in November 2020 on the recommendation of one of their writers.

Sheffield United forced a replay by scoring an equalizer in the fifth minute of stoppage time in the first game between the teams, which ended 3-3 at Wrexham’s Racecourse Ground. Reynolds attended that game but wasn’t at the replay at Bramall Lane.

“So proud of these boys,” Reynolds posted to his 21.1 million followers on Twitter. “And the 4000 plus away supporters who gave it all.”


South American 2030 World Cup bid seeks final in Montevideo

South American 2030 World Cup bid seeks final in Montevideo
Updated 08 February 2023

South American 2030 World Cup bid seeks final in Montevideo

South American 2030 World Cup bid seeks final in Montevideo
  • Argentine President Alberto Fernández also said he wants to add Bolivia to the group
  • Alejandro Domínguez, the president of South American soccer body CONMEBOL, highlighted the historical links

BUENOS AIRES: Members of the South American candidacy for the centennial 2030 World Cup want to host the opening match in Buenos Aires and the final in Montevideo, where Uruguay won the first edition of the tournament.
Government and soccer officials representing the joint bid of Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay held their first organizing committee meeting Tuesday. Argentine President Alberto Fernández also said he wants to add Bolivia to the group.
One other bid has already been formalized: Spain-Portugal-Ukraine. Morocco and another joint bid of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Greece are moving ahead.
Alejandro Domínguez, the president of South American soccer body CONMEBOL, highlighted the historical links. Uruguay hosted the first tournament in 1930 and won the first title by beating Argentina 4-2 in the final.
“FIFA has the obligation of honoring the memory of those who came before us and made the first World Cup,” he said. “At the end, the ones who want it more win it. And in that Argentina and all of our countries have a tradition.”
FIFA will make the decision in 2024, two years before the next edition of the tournament takes place in the United States, Mexico and Canada with 48 teams for the first time.
Chile sports minister Alexandra Benado Vergara said Argentina’s World Cup title in Qatar gives an extra push to the South American bid, which she sees as stronger since other nations joined Uruguay’s initially single-nation candidacy.
“Argentina’s victory is also the victory of our region,” Vergara said. “We can totally say we will have a bid that is sustainable, clear, austere during these times of our region and the world.”
Vergara’s Uruguayan counterpart Sebastián Bauzá said South America “feels we have the right to organize that World Cup.”
Argentina’s Fernández said on his social media channels he wanted to add Bolivia to the bid because “this is the candidacy of the entire continent. That is why I will propose that Bolivia become a part of this dream.”


Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal stun Flamengo of Brazil to reach Club World Cup final

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal stun Flamengo of Brazil to reach Club World Cup final
Updated 08 February 2023

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal stun Flamengo of Brazil to reach Club World Cup final

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal stun Flamengo of Brazil to reach Club World Cup final
  • Two first-half goals by World Cup hero Salem Al-Dawsari and a third by Luciano Vietto after the break stunned the Brazilians
  • The Riyadh side will face Real Madrid or Egyptian side Al-Ahly, who play on Wednesday, in the final on Saturday

TANGIER: Al-Hilal are just 90 minutes from being crowned world champions, after a stunning 3-2 victory on Tuesday over Brazilian giants, and Copa Libertadores title holders, Flamengo in the semi-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup in the Moroccan city of Tangier.

Al-Hilal, the most successful club in Saudi Arabia and Asia, already have dozens of trophies in their cabinet back home but have never come so close to a prize such as this.

Riyadh rivals Al-Nassr might have secured the services of high-profile signing Cristiano Ronaldo but Al-Hilal are now just one win away from a level of international glory unprecedented in the Kingdom. Coming just a few months after the national team’s victory over Argentina at the Qatar World Cup, these are heady times for Saudi football indeed.

Success in the final on Saturday would be the crowning achievement for Al-Hilal, though they are likely to find Real Madrid, arguably the biggest club on the planet, determined to block their path to glory.

Should the 14-time European champions lose their semi-final on Wednesday, Al-Hilal’s opposition will be Egyptian side Al-Ahly in what would be the ultimate dream match-up for fans in the Arab region.

The most successful club in Saudi Arabia and Asia have dozens of trophies in their cabinet back home but have never come close to a prize such as the FIFA Club World Cup. (Twitter/@AlHilal_FC)

Either way, it will be a huge occasion for Al-Hilal who, at the very least, have already improved upon two fourth-place finishes in their previous appearances in the tournament.

After coming through a grueling last-eight test against local favorites Wydad AC just three days previously, Ramon Diaz’s men delivered more than simply a battling performance on Tuesday, it was an intelligent and controlled one as well.

Just as Salem Al-Dawsari stunned Argentina with the winning goal for Saudi Arabia at the World Cup in November, so he stunned the Brazilian side with two first-half goals at the Ibn Batouta Stadium.

Both came from the spot, with a Pedro equalizer in between, and the second came after Gerson was sent off. Luciano Vietto sealed the victory after the break, despite a late consolation goal from Pedro.

The drama began in the fourth minute when the referee pointed to the spot after Matheuzinho brought down Vietto. Al-Dawsari had a penalty at the World Cup saved by Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny — a moment that, had it gone differently, might have made the difference in the Green Falcons progressing to the second round — but this time he made no mistake, shooting low into the bottom corner past the diving Santos.

The Brazilians were rattled on a cold and windy night on Morocco’s northwestern coast and gave coach Vitor Pereira, who took the job just over a month ago, much to ponder.

His frown turned upside down after 20 minutes when the Rio club equalized in smart fashion. Matheuzinho slipped the ball to Pedro just inside the right-hand corner of the area and his first-time shot flew low into the opposite corner past Abdullah Al-Mayouf. Seconds later, the Brazilians almost scored a second when the goalkeeper came out and missed a left-sided cross.

But it was Al-Hilal who finished the first half asking questions of the opposition defense and they were rewarded with a second penalty, their third of the tournament, on the stroke of half-time. Vietto went down in the area and after a video review, Gerson, already booked, was shown a second yellow. Once again, Al-Dawsari stepped up and, once again, scored.

The win was a mature, hard-working and composed performance from the Asian champions. (Twitter/@Alhilal_EN)

With a one-goal and one-man advantage, the Saudis were just 45 minutes from dreamland. They started the second half with composure, holding onto the ball and moving it around sharply and with growing confidence. The game began to open up as Flamengo were forced to attack and, as a result, leave bigger and bigger gaps at the back.

The South Americans were finally punished with 20 minutes remaining. The ball was fed to Vietto inside the area and he fired home into the roof of the net to spark wild celebrations among the visiting Saudi fans and on the Al-Hilal bench.

To their credit, Flamengo continued to push forward and there were nerves on display as Pedro bundled the ball home from close range in the first minute of stoppage time. But overall, this was a mature, hard-working and composed performance from the Asian champions.

Now, a team that came close to crashing out of the competition against Wydad on Saturday, eventually winning 5-3 on penalties after the game ended 1-1, have a chance to make magnificent history. Just getting to the final is a fine achievement but a return to Riyadh as world champions would never be forgotten.

After the national team’s World Cup victory over Argentina in November, and now Al-Hilal’s triumph over the South American champions, even Real Madrid will not be feared. Anything is possible for Saudi football at the moment, it seems.