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.”

 

 


Yankees agree to record $360m MLB deal with Judge: reports

Yankees agree to record $360m MLB deal with Judge: reports
Updated 08 December 2022

Yankees agree to record $360m MLB deal with Judge: reports

Yankees agree to record $360m MLB deal with Judge: reports
  • Judge’s contract is the richest in MLB history for any non-pitcher

NEW YORK: Superstar slugger Aaron Judge has agreed to a Major League Baseball record nine-year deal worth $360 million to return to the New York Yankees, according to multiple reports on Wednesday.
The 30-year-old US free agent outfielder, who smashed an American League record 62 home runs last season, had rejected a seven-year Yankees offer worth $213.5 million before the 2022 campaign.
His new deal, according to ESPN and MLB’s website plus multiple New York media outlets, means Judge made $150 million by betting on himself in the 2022 campaign, when he led MLB in homers, runs scored with 133 and runs batted in with 131.
Judge, who batted .311, was named the 2022 American League Most Valuable Player.
At an average of $40 million per season, Judge’s contract is the richest in MLB history for any non-pitcher, $4 million more per season than Mike Trout’s 12-year deal worth $426.5 million.
The only MLB players with richer per-year deals are pitchers Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander.
The National League’s San Francisco Giants and San Diego Padres were also pitching offers at Judge, according to reports.
In the 2022 season, Judge chased the AL and Yankees one-season homer record of 61 set by Roger Maris in 1961. The late-season drama of his quest extended to October 4, when he smashed his 62nd homer against the Texas Rangers.
Judge, the 2017 AL Rookie of the Year, sparked the Yankees to 99 wins and their sixth consecutive playoff appearance since his arrival. New York was swept by eventual World Series champion Houston in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series.


Dutch, Argentines meet again with World Cup history in the air

Dutch, Argentines meet again with World Cup history in the air
Updated 08 December 2022

Dutch, Argentines meet again with World Cup history in the air

Dutch, Argentines meet again with World Cup history in the air
  • Argentina have the pride that comes from being two-times world champions
  • Netherlands carry the baggage of being three-times beaten finalists

DOHA: Merely a glance at their iconic orange or blue and white striped shirts is enough to evoke memories of World Cups past and more history will surely be written on Friday when the Netherlands face Argentina in their quarterfinal.

Argentina have the pride that comes from being two-times world champions while the Netherlands carry the baggage of being three-times beaten finalists.

The game is far from being a nostalgia-fest, however, pitting one of the greatest forward of all time against one of the finest defenders of the modern era, with Lionel Messi trying to unpick a defense marshalled by Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk.

The game also pits the youngest manager in the tournament against the oldest.

Argentina’s 44-year-old coach Lionel Scaloni, in his first major tournament, will have to out-think the wily 71-year-old Louis van Gaal, whose resume includes league titles with Barcelona and Bayern Munich as well as a Champions League victory with Ajax.

The South Americans came into the tournament, as always, with high hopes in their homeland of a victory to match those celebrated in 1978 and 1986, while the Dutch had more tempered expectations given their failure to qualify four years ago.

It has been smooth progress in Qatar for the Dutch though, who topped their group and then beat the US in the last 16 with some comfort and style, looking solid at the back and — despite critics labelling them dull — — increasingly effective in their attacking play.

With Memphis Depay’s fitness gradually improving and Cody Gakpo having enjoyed a good tournament, the Dutch have a punch to their attack that many feared would be missing.

Argentina began the tournament with a shock loss to Saudi Arabia, one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history, but recovered to finish first in the group. Messi then turned on the style as they overcame Australia to book their place in the last eight.

Van Gaal unsurprisingly sees Messi’s creativity as a serious threat but he raised some eyebrows when he also hinted at the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner’s lack of defensive work-rate.

“Messi is the most dangerous creative player, he is able to create a lot and to score goals himself. But when they lose the ball he doesn’t participate much, this gives us chances,” he said.

Surprisingly, given their pedigree, Argentina have never beaten the Netherlands inside 90 minutes in their nine meetings in World Cup and friendly encounters.

But it is their victory on penalties in Sao Paulo in the semifinal in 2014 that lingers in the mind for Van Gaal, who was in charge of the Netherlands at the time.

Van Gaal noted that while Messi was neutralized by the Netherlands in that game it counted for little given that the Argentines advanced after a shootout to end the Dutch dream of finally celebrating a World Cup title.

A fonder memory for Dutch fans is of the 1998 World Cup where Dennis Bergkamp secured a place in the last eight with a wonderful last-minute finish in a 2-1 victory.

Bergkamp is one of many superb talents that the Netherlands has produced since they made the world take notice of them in the 1970s with a team inspired by the brilliant Johan Cruyff.

Widely considered to be one of the best teams never to win the World Cup, the Dutch finished runners-up in 1974 and 1978 — in the latter final losing 3-1 to hosts Argentina.

Top technical skills and clever tactics have been part of the Dutch game ever since but World Cup success has evaded them, with only the 1988 European Championship title offering some consolation.

There is no player of the level of Bergkamp, Cruyff or Marco van Basten in this current version of the team in orange, with perhaps only the towering center-half Van Dijk meriting comparison in terms of class.

But the Argentines, who know their football history and their struggles with the Netherlands, expect to face a well-drilled team which so far in this tournament has not looked in much trouble.

“It’s not as brilliant as previous Dutch teams, but they are very clear on what they do,” said Scaloni. “This is going to be a great match between two historic teams.”


Miedema fires Arsenal closer to Women's Champions League last eight

Miedema fires Arsenal closer to Women's Champions League last eight
Updated 08 December 2022

Miedema fires Arsenal closer to Women's Champions League last eight

Miedema fires Arsenal closer to Women's Champions League last eight
  • Miedema found the net after 16 minutes as the London side opened a three-point lead over defending champions Lyon

PARIS: Dutch international Vivianne Miedema scored the only goal as Arsenal defeated Juventus 1-0 on Wednesday to move to the brink of the Women’s Champions League quarter-finals.

Miedema found the net after 16 minutes from a Stina Blackstenius cross as the London side opened a three-point lead over defending champions Lyon.

They also have a five-point advantage on Juventus with just two group games left later this month.

Earlier, Lyon romped past Zurich 4-0 in their Group C clash with striker Melvine Malard scoring twice.

American international Lindsey Horan put Lyon 1-0 up on 14 minutes before Malard made it 2-0 with a towering header on the six-yard line after 65 minutes.

Malard nodded home again with 10 minutes remaining before Delphine Cascarino’s long range shot deep into injury-time made it 4-0.

“We’re back in it,” said Lyon coach Sonia Bompastor. “Now we have to win our last two games... our destiny is in our hands.”

In Group D, Bayern Munich defeated Barcelona for the first time in four attempts as a 3-1 win took them level on nine points with the Spanish side at the top of the table.

Klara Buehl, on her 22nd birthday, and Lina Magull put the German side 2-0 up inside the opening 10 minutes in front of a crowd of 24,000 at the Allianz Arena.

Lea Schueller added a third on the hour mark before Brazilian forward Geyse hit a consolation for the Spanish vistors five minutes later.

Benfica are third with six points after coming from behind to defeat Swedish outfit Rosengard 3-1.

The home side took an early lead through Olivia Schough after 30 minutes.

But Benfica’s Canadian striker Cloe Lacasse scored twice in three minutes just before halftime with Nycole Raysla making it 3-1 shortly after the restart.


Vinícius Júnior thanks Ancelotti for success at World Cup

Vinícius Júnior thanks Ancelotti for success at World Cup
Updated 07 December 2022

Vinícius Júnior thanks Ancelotti for success at World Cup

Vinícius Júnior thanks Ancelotti for success at World Cup
  • Vinícius Júnior arrived in Qatar without knowing if he was going to get a chance to start for Brazil
  • He said Ancelotti was one of the people who gave him guidance ahead of soccer’s biggest tournament

DOHA: Brazil forward Vinícius Júnior praised Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti for his success at the World Cup.
Vinícius Júnior arrived in Qatar without knowing if he was going to get a chance to start for Brazil, but heading into Friday’s quarterfinal match against Croatia, no one questions his spot in the lineup or his importance for the team.
He said Ancelotti was one of the people who gave him guidance ahead of soccer’s biggest tournament.
“I talked with Ancelotti and he gave me a lot of advice to help me become a starter with Brazil. He gave me a lot of confidence,” the 22-year-old Vinícius Júnior said Wednesday. “He was always was tough with me when he needed to be. He is like a father to me.”
Vinícius Júnior was often questioned at Madrid while Zinedine Zidane was the coach, but quickly established himself as a starter with Ancelotti in command. The Brazil forward said the Italian coach is always sending him messages.
“He is good not only with the technical aspects of the game, but also with how he deals with his players,” Vinícius Júnior said. “I have been improving a lot and Ancelotti has helped me with that. He and (Brazil coach) Tite are very similar and they talk to each other a lot.”
Vinícius Júnior, who has a goal and two assists in the three World Cup games, said he also learned from Madrid midfielder Luka Modric, who will be one of his opponents on Friday at Education City Stadium.
Vinícius Júnior said the pass he gave for Lucas Paquetá’s goal in the round of 16 against South Korea, using the outside of his foot, was something he learned from Modric at Madrid.
“He is always teaching me things, on and off the field,” Vinícius Júnior said. “He helps me every day, making sure I’m always improving. He is a reference to me, playing at a high level at 37 years old, that is something rare. I’m happy that I’ll be playing against him, and let the best team win.”
Within Brazil’s national team, Vinícius Júnior said he also gets advice from Neymar.
“He told me how the World Cup is different than anything else,” Vinícius Júnior said. “He told me that, and I always remember it. And when the national anthem played, I realized what it all meant.”
Vinícius Júnior was among the Brazilian players criticized for their dance celebrations at the World Cup. He had already been targeted because of that while with Madrid. But he promised even more dancing if Brazil keeps succeeding in Qatar.
“The goal is the most important moment in soccer, not only for those who score them but for the entire country,” he said. “We still have many celebrations left, and hopefully we can keep scoring and dancing like this until the final.”


Hansi Flick staying as Germany coach despite World Cup flop

Hansi Flick staying as Germany coach despite World Cup flop
Updated 07 December 2022

Hansi Flick staying as Germany coach despite World Cup flop

Hansi Flick staying as Germany coach despite World Cup flop
  • Flick was under pressure going into Wednesday’s meeting with Neuendorf and federation vice president Hans-Joachim Watzke
  • “We as a team can achieve much more than we showed in Qatar,” Flick said in the statement

BERLIN: The German soccer federation maintained its trust in Hansi Flick as national team coach on Wednesday despite the disappointing World Cup performance.
Federation president Bernd Neuendorf said the body has “full confidence” in Flick to lead the team through the 2024 European Championship, which Germany is scheduled to host and which Neuendorf described as a “great opportunity” for the future of soccer in the country.
Flick was under pressure going into Wednesday’s meeting with Neuendorf and federation vice president Hans-Joachim Watzke following Germany’s early World Cup exit, their third straight disappointing performance at a major tournament.
Flick left the meeting without a word, but was quoted in a statement from the federation.
“We as a team can achieve much more than we showed in Qatar,” Flick said in the statement. “We missed a big opportunity there. We’ll learn our lessons from it.”
Flick said he was optimistic about Euro 2024 and that he has confidence in the path Neuendorf and Watzke agreed to.
“We want all of Germany to rally behind the national team again at the 2024 European Championship at home,” said Flick, who faced criticism for his team selection and tactics against group rivals Japan, Spain and Costa Rica in Qatar.
Mistakes in defense, where Flick was unable to settle on his preferred back four, and an inability to put away chances cost Germany a place in the knockout round.
Germany’s record under Flick was also poor before the tournament. The former Bayern Munich coach took over from Joachim Löw last year after Germany’s second-round exit from the European Championship and has a contract through Euro 2024.
The federation still needs a replacement for Oliver Bierhoff, who ended an 18-year stint Monday when he agreed to resign as managing director of Germany’s national soccer teams and academy.
Bierhoff is the only casualty so far from Germany’s group-stage exit from the World Cup in Qatar, the team’s second straight embarrassing failure in soccer’s biggest tournament. Germany also was eliminated from the same stage at the 2018 World Cup as defending champion.
Hertha Berlin general manager Fredi Bobic is a reported candidate to take over from Bierhoff, though he said Wednesday he was “very comfortable at Hertha.” Bobic, who has a contract through 2024 with the Berlin club, did not rule himself out, however.
Flick appeared to criticize the federation for Bierhoff’s exit on Tuesday, when he said both he and his coaching staff “are having a hard time imagining how the gap left by Oliver’s departure can be closed.”
The German soccer league was to meet separately later Wednesday when the future of chief executive Donata Hopfen was to be discussed.
Confirmation of Hopfen’s departure after less than a year in charge was expected amid simmering issues of discontent among Bundesliga clubs and teams from the second division.
Hopfen took over from Christian Seifert in January as the first female chief executive of Germany’s top two soccer divisions but has struggled to impose her vision or resolve long-standing questions on issues such as the league’s 50+1 rule limiting the role of outside investors, marketing at home and abroad, and the sale of media rights.
Hopfen’s contract runs through 2024. Asked in October how much support she was getting from league members, she told Kicker magazine, “there’s always room for more.”