How Saudi Arabia intends to become a global hub for gaming and esports

Special How Saudi Arabia intends to become a global hub for gaming and esports
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Special How Saudi Arabia intends to become a global hub for gaming and esports
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First place winner Abdulrahman Almasri receiving his champion's trophy plus SR375,000 award from Prince Faisal bin Bandar, president of the Saudi Esports Federation. (Supplied)
Special How Saudi Arabia intends to become a global hub for gaming and esports
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The players are shown online as the game begins. (Supplied)
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A view of the game the participants are about to play. (Supplied)
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Updated 19 October 2022

How Saudi Arabia intends to become a global hub for gaming and esports

How Saudi Arabia intends to become a global hub for gaming and esports
  • Investments worth $37.8 billion in Savvy Games Group will transform the Kingdom into an industry leader
  • National Gaming and eSports Strategy will create 39,000 jobs and contribute SR50 billion to GDP by 2030

JEDDAH: The gaming and electronic sports industry is growing rapidly in Saudi Arabia and the wider GCC, with major investments announced to support domestic game developers and world-class competitions taking place in the region. 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman recently announced the Kingdom’s ambition to see 30 competitive games developed by firms in the Kingdom by 2030 as part of the country’s national gaming and esports strategy. 

Last week, Savvy Games Group, a firm owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, unveiled investments worth SR142 billion ($37.8 billion) to transform the Kingdom into a global gaming hub with world-class gaming companies.

The investments will include SR70 billion to take several minority stakes in companies that support Savvy’s game development agenda and SR50 billion to acquire a leading game publisher to become a strategic development partner.

Another SR20 billion will be invested in industry partners, and SR2 billion will target industry disruptors to grow early-stage games and esports companies.

“Savvy Games Group is one part of our ambitious strategy aiming to make Saudi Arabia the ultimate global hub for the games and esports sector by 2030,” the crown prince said last week, according to the Saudi Press Agency.  

Speaking at the Next World Forum earlier in September, Prince Faisal bin Bandar, president of the Saudi Esports Federation, noted the boom in the sporting sector in the past five years, adding: “One of my favorite things about gaming is that you first introduce yourself to someone using your gaming skills, and not history, religion, color of skin, background or gender.”




Prince Faisal bin Bandar, president of the Saudi Esports Federation. (Supplied)

He said: “This young community and population are really striving to take their place on the global stage. The ultimate goal is to have Saudi Arabia move on a natural path on the global pathway for games and esports.” 

Through this initiative, the government hopes to create 39,000 jobs, establish 250 game developers, and promote a thriving in-house talent pool for esports that will raise the sector’s contribution to the Kingdom’s economy to SR50 billion by 2030.

Scores of domestic startups, as well as more established multinational developers, stand to benefit immensely from the flurry of new investment. 

Abdulrahman Al-Sulaimani, an artificial intelligence engineer and games designer who spent nine years working in Japan before returning to the Kingdom in 2020, is among them.




The triumphant Saudi e-Leaguers. (Supplied)

Over the course of his career, Al-Sulaimani has witnessed the astonishing growth of Japan’s world-renowned gaming community. Seeing the same room for potential in his home country, he returned to establish his own studio.

Earlier this year, Al-Sulaimani launched AlBuraq Wings, a games studio that adopts young gamers eager to turn their hand to design and programming. 

“I wanted to help gather them under one roof and created the studio with a vision to create games that are not only made by Saudis for Saudis but to also educate the world somehow about how extremely talented our developers are,” Al-Sulaimani told Arab News.

From designers, to developers, artists, voiceover artists and more, game development is not a one-man show. It is a community of talents that come together to try out new technology tools to come up with innovative game ideas. 




Participants compete in the recent Gamers8 event in Riyadh. (Supplied)

AlBuraq Wings recently won third place in the Gamers8 XR Gameathon, an accelerated innovation time-bound event, where game enthusiasts come together to develop a game prototype from scratch in one week.

“These tournaments are what push many Saudis to come out and put their skills into the spotlight. I dare say it, the skills of many Saudis surpass those of the Japanese,” said Al-Sulaimani. 

“Gaming events not only attract gamers, they also attract three unique and important segments of the gaming community: programmers, designers and artists. If you get all three, you have a game. They all come full circle.”

Saudi Arabia is already fast emerging as a major gaming hub, with local competitors achieving world-class results in global esports tournaments. 

In 2018, Mosaad Al-Dossary, known online as “Msdossary,” became the first Saudi national to win the FIFA eWorld Cup — an event in which more than 20 million gamers attempted to qualify. 




Mosaad Al-Dossary, the first Saudi national to win the FIFA eWorld Cup. (Supplied)

A year later, Saudi gamers were thrilled when the Kingdom was chosen to host the region’s biggest gaming tournament to date, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) Mobile Star. 

The global esports market size was valued at $1.22 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach the valuation of $1.44 billion in 2022. Fortune Business Insights predicts the market will reach $5.48 billion by 2029.

According to a report published by Boston Consulting Group earlier this year, there are now 23.5 million gamers in Saudi Arabia, making up around 67 percent of the Kingdom’s overwhelmingly young population. 

About 90 percent of these gamers take part in esports on an amateur or semi-pro basis, while around 100 Saudi gamers are pursuing e-sports as a full-time career, the report said.




Saudi Arabia has around 23.5 million gamers, accounting for 67 percent of the Kingdom’s young population.  (Supplied)

“When it comes to the Arab countries, Saudi Arabia is the number one hotspot of gaming,” one female Saudi gamer and content creator, who goes by the online name “PikaLoli,” told Arab News. 

She, like many Saudis, has been playing games from a young age, and recently decided to pursue gaming as a career. She discovered a platform where a growing community of gamers and developers can share ideas and reviews.

“I play all sorts of games and give my feedback on my social media pages,” said PikaLoli. “The interaction and commitment you find by even young ones is outstanding.

“We’ve been waiting for this moment for a while now and the community made up of thousands has been helping each other grow for years. We have a shared platform to communicate with, share ideas, edit videos, play games for developers and give feedback, and so much more.”




Khalid Aloufi is among the top gamers in the Kingdom. (Supplied)

Recent graduate Waleed Abu Alkhayr, a game designer, found his footing soon after completing university and enrolling in the Game Development Hima bootcamp, which concentrates on game development by mastering skills and later interning for an international gaming company before landing a job at another. 

He told Arab News that IT training programs and learning courses in esport and gaming development appealed to him most, cementing the idea of becoming a game developer.

“I started playing games on Sony Playstation 1 and I haven’t stopped since. The love for games is what led me to want to select this profession, but I didn’t see enough support until very recently when the sector developed at an unprecedented rate; I knew then that this is what I wanted to do.”




With an army of 23.5 million gamers, Saudi Arabia is certain to become a dominant force in international esports. (Supplied)

Abu Alkhayr, also a member of the AlBuraq Wings, said that the boom in esports and gaming development is not simple hype, but has been brewing for years.

“Initiatives and programs launched by entities that teach game programming and development are numerous and the resources even more so, which provide opportunities and build technical competitiveness in the community. The more the participation of talent, the bigger the community will grow and help build the vision that is set for us,” he said.

For Al-Sulaimani, harnessing this energy, enthusiasm and raw talent is precisely what is needed to put Saudi Arabia on the world map of gaming.

“The Kingdom is nurturing homegrown talent; it is ripe for creating a vibrant environment for esports has long been laid out by the youth with their love and passion for gaming,” he said. 

“As game developers have found our platforms, we share our games and receive support, but the recent announcement will give more chances for the younger generation who want to delve into this fun world.” 

 


Viktor Hovland shoots 64 in the sun and mud of Bahamas for 3-shot lead

Viktor Hovland shoots 64 in the sun and mud of Bahamas for 3-shot lead
Updated 04 December 2022

Viktor Hovland shoots 64 in the sun and mud of Bahamas for 3-shot lead

Viktor Hovland shoots 64 in the sun and mud of Bahamas for 3-shot lead
  • Hovland was at 13-under 203, and he made it look easy

NASSAU, Bahamas: The warm sun in the Bahamas brought out plenty of mud on the rain-soaked fairways and created some wild shots for just about everyone but Viktor Hovland. He made 10 birdies Saturday to build a three-shot lead in the Hero World Challenge.

Hovland ran off six birdies on the back nine at Albany and finished with a bogey from a mud-shot on the 18th for an 8-under 64, putting him in position to join tournament host Tiger Woods as the only back-to-back winners of this tournament.

“I hit a lot of just good quality iron shots to give myself 7 to 12 feet. It wasn’t like I hit one just incredible shot and stuff it or make it like I did the other days, but it was just kind of consistently giving myself looks,” Hovland said.

He was at 13-under 203, and he made it look easy. It wasn’t that way for the rest of the 20-man field, even with some of the best scoring of the week.

Scottie Scheffler, who can go to No. 1 in the world with a win, dropped only one shot and had an eagle on the par-5 15th for a 66 that put him in the final group with Hovland. It was a good day on his card. It was tough on the emotions seeing so much mud on his ball that he had no idea where it was going.

“Who’s good at those? You pretty much have no idea what the golf ball’s going to do,” Scheffler said. “It’s not something that I would practice at home just because it’s not something that I believe should happen on the golf course.”

The Masters champion’s best work was not so much his five birdies and his eagle, rather not letting the mud balls get in his head.

Everyone had to deal with it, some worse than others. Justin Thomas figures the one guy who caught a break was PGA Tour official Rick Wild, who records all the scores at the end of the day. Good thing it’s a small field.

“Only 20 people coming in and complaining versus 120. I think that’s probably a little easier on him,” Thomas said. “It’s unfortunate. And you can get some really, really unlucky breaks and unfortunate situations. But like I said, everybody has to deal with it and the more you let it get to you, probably the worse off you are.”

Thomas was bogey-free for a 66, tied for third with Cameron Young (68).

Young, the PGA Tour rookie of the year, handled his misfortune well. With a 31 on the front nine and his sixth birdie of the round on No. 10, he was leading by two and in the middle of the fairway on the par-5 11th.

He went to lay up with a 4-iron and saw the ball shoot straight out to the right and into the bush, leading to a penalty shot before playing the next one and making bogey. He had another bogey on a par 5 and had to settle for a 68, leaving him five shots behind.

“The one that really hurt me was on 11,” Young said. “I feel like I made a pretty good swing and it was into the weeds. It just takes a mediocre shot there to give yourself a pretty good look at birdie. So that definitely, definitely hurt. Yeah, there were a few.”

Kevin Kisner had a hole-in-one on the 12th hole with a 6-iron, the lone bright spot on a day when he shot 77.

“I was putting probably the worst of my career today so I decided just to make it from 189 yards,” Kisner said. “But it was a lot easier on par 3s because you got to hit a clean golf ball.”

Because a majority of the course was in reasonable shape, the PGA Tour decided to play the ball down. Officials were concerned about four or five fairways, but the mud made its presence felt from fairways that were deluged with rain on Wednesday.

Hovland carded three straight birdies early on the front nine, all from 15 feet or longer, and then he really took off on the back nine. He twice two-putted for birdie. He hit 6-iron to 12 feet on the par-3 12th, hit 9-iron to 7 feet on the next hole and then got some separation with an 8-iron to 15 feet on the 16th and a 7-iron to 8 feet on the par-3 17th.

“He played so good I almost felt bad about my round,” Xander Schauffele said after a 69 left him six back. “It was clean. It was so good I didn’t even realize what he was doing until he got to the end.”

Woods won the World Challenge in 2006 and 2007 when it was at Sherwood Country Club in California. He is not playing this week because of plantar fasciitis in his right foot that caused him to withdraw on Monday.


Big day at World Cup looms for France, Poland goalkeepers

Big day at World Cup looms for France, Poland goalkeepers
Updated 04 December 2022

Big day at World Cup looms for France, Poland goalkeepers

Big day at World Cup looms for France, Poland goalkeepers
  • Lloris is a naturally quiet and courteous leader of this talented France team
  • Szczęsny is the only goalkeeper at this World Cup to have saved two spot kicks — one against Saudi Arabia and the second against Lionel Messi

DOHA: It’s a huge day for goalkeepers with big reputations when defending champion France face Poland in the round of 16 at the World Cup on Sunday.

Hugo Lloris will tie a national team record for Les Bleus four years after lifting the trophy as captain. Opposite number Wojciech Szczęsny is a penalty-saving, wise-cracking No. 1 who seems to be enjoying the tournament more than any other player.

Both get a stage to shine at Al Thumama Stadium trying to deny two of the most feared forward in Qatar — Kylian Mbappe and two-time FIFA player of the year Robert Lewandowski.

“The key to stopping Mbappe? It’s me,” Szczęsny quipped when Poland’s place in the knockout bracket was confirmed.

Lloris will face Lewandowski in an international game for the first time when he matches France’s record of 142 appearances held by Lilian Thuram, the right back in the 1998 world champion team.

“It’s quite something and I’m very honored,” Lloris said Saturday. He was in the same France squad as Thuram as an uncapped 21-year-old in 2008 though was never played with him.

France coach Didier Deschamps, who played often with Thuram and was captain in the 1998 final in Paris, paid tribute to them.

“They have shown exemplary professionalism for the national team,” Deschamps said Saturday.

Lloris is a naturally quiet and courteous leader of this talented France team and he praised Szczęsny, who he previously faced at opposite ends of the north London rivalry between Tottenham and Arsenal.

“He’s playing a magnificent tournament,” Lloris said. “Poland deserve to be here at this stage and they’ve got a great goalkeeper as well.”

Szczęsny is the only goalkeeper at this World Cup to have saved two spot kicks — one against Saudi Arabia and the second against Lionel Messi. Szczęsny himself conceded the latter one for brushing the Argentina great’s face with his glove when stretching for a cross. It was scoreless at the time in a game Argentina won 2-0 on Wednesday.

Szczęsny’s told the story of how he bet Messi during a lengthy video review that the penalty wouldn’t be awarded, only adding to his quirky time in Qatar.

The character of the 32-year-old Juventus goalkeeper, who is set to play his 70th game for Poland, is no surprise to long-time teammates.

“It’s not that Wojciech Szczęsny started to be such a great goalkeeper in this tournament — he’s been a great goalkeeper for years,” forward Arkadiusz Milik said Saturday through an interpreter. “It’s not a coincidence that in his career he played for wonderful clubs.”

Poland likely will need Szczęsny and Lewandowski to excel in their first knockout game at a World Cup since 1986. Since that 4-0 loss to Brazil, France won both their world titles and also was a beaten finalist.

Deschamps highlighted Lewandowski’s qualities as clever, technically gifted and knows how to use his body intelligently against defenders.

“He didn’t get a lot of the ball in the group stage, but with just one chance he can be very dangerous,” the France coach said.

Giving Poland some hope is that France lost in the round of 16 last year at the European Championship against Switzerland. Mbappé had the decisive penalty saved in a shootout after a 3-3 draw.

“We talked about that a lot,” said Lloris, who couldn’t stop any of the five Swiss spot kicks that night in Bucharest. “You have to be confident, but if a penalty is well taken, then the goalkeeper has no chance of stopping it.”

In Qatar, Szczęsny might be just the one to prove that wrong.


Fury stops Chisora to retain WBC heavyweight title

Fury stops Chisora to retain WBC heavyweight title
Updated 04 December 2022

Fury stops Chisora to retain WBC heavyweight title

Fury stops Chisora to retain WBC heavyweight title

LONDON: Tyson Fury retained his World Boxing Council heavyweight title with a decisive stoppage win over British rival Derek Chisora on Saturday.
Fury, still unbeaten as a professional, dominated from the start, and with Chisora's eyes starting to close, referee Victor Loughlin stopped the fight shortly before the end of the 10th round at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
The 34-year-old now boasts a record of 33 wins from 34 fights with one draw.
Fury's latest win also paved the way for a unification bout with Oleksandr Usyk, the IBF, WBA and WBO heavyweight champion.
Usyk was at ringside on Saturday as he returned to the venue where he deprived Britain's Anthony Joshua of all those titles in September last year before defeating him again in Jeddah this July.
Soon after Fury's hand was raised in victory, he was involved in a ringside face-off with Usyk with only the ropes separating him from the Ukrainian.


Messi stars as Argentina set up World Cup quarter-final date with Netherlands

Messi stars as Argentina set up World Cup quarter-final date with Netherlands
Updated 04 December 2022

Messi stars as Argentina set up World Cup quarter-final date with Netherlands

Messi stars as Argentina set up World Cup quarter-final date with Netherlands

DOHA: Lionel Messi finally scored a goal in the knockout rounds of the World Cup on Saturday as he inspired Argentina to a 2-1 win over Australia that sets up a mouthwatering quarter-final showdown with the Netherlands, who proved too strong for the United States earlier.
The Argentina captain marked his 1,000th career appearance with his 789th goal to open the scoring in the first half at Doha’s Ahmad bin Ali Stadium.
It was a classy finish from a player appearing at his fifth World Cup but who had never previously found the net in a knockout tie at the tournament he is looking to win for the first time at the age of 35.
It looked like Argentina were going to run away with the game when Julian Alvarez took advantage of a goalkeeping mistake to double their lead just before the hour mark.
Yet an Australia team who had already defied all expectations in Qatar just in reaching the last 16 went down fighting.
They pulled one back when a Craig Goodwin shot deflected in off Enzo Fernandez for an own goal and only a last-ditch challenge from Lisandro Martinez prevented Aziz Behich, of Dundee United in Scotland, from scoring a remarkable late equalizer.
“It was a really physical game but I am very happy with the victory and that we have taken another little step forward,” Messi told Argentine television.
Argentina were one of the pre-tournament favorites and have since bounced back from losing to Saudi Arabia in their opening game to progress to the last eight.
Australia, meanwhile, go home after failing in their quest to reach the quarter-finals for the first time, but it has been a memorable campaign for Graham Arnold’s Socceroos.
“It’s all about making the nation proud and I’m pretty sure we did that,” Arnold said.
“Everyone said we were the worst Socceroos to ever qualify for the World Cup and the worst Socceroos ever.
“That’s gone now.”
Argentina can now look forward to a last-eight tie next Friday against the Netherlands, a pairing that evokes memories of some classic World Cup contests, including the 1978 final won by the South Americans and a 1998 quarter-final decided by a brilliant Dennis Bergkamp goal.
Louis van Gaal’s Dutch side also started slowly in Qatar but they still topped their group and on Saturday they produced their best performance yet to beat the United States 3-1.
Their victory was set up by a wonderful early opening goal at the Khalifa International Stadium, with Memphis Depay finishing at the end of a 20-pass move.
Daley Blind got their second goal just before half-time and a late strike from Denzel Dumfries sealed a deserved victory after Hajji Wright had pulled one back.
“We always want to improve and, since the start of the tournament, it’s been getting better and better with each game,” Van Gaal said.
For the United States it was a familiar story — they enjoyed plenty of the ball but were hampered by the lack of a cutting edge.
USA coach Gregg Berhalter’s men head home after scoring just three goals in their four matches.
“When you look at the difference of the two teams, there was some offensive finishing quality that Holland had that we were lacking,” said Berhalter.
“We don’t have a Memphis Depay right now, who’s scoring in the Champions League, playing for Barcelona, experienced at scoring at this level.”
The last-16 action continues on Sunday as holders France take on Poland before England meet Africa Cup of Nations winners Senegal.
While Kylian Mbappe and Robert Lewandowski will attract most of the attention when the French and Poland face off, the game will also be significant for France captain Hugo Lloris as he equals Lilian Thuram’s national record of 142 caps.
“It is no small achievement. I am really honored at the figures and very proud, even if it is very much secondary to the fact that we are on the eve of the last 16 of the World Cup,” Lloris said.
England are expected to see off Senegal at Al Bayt Stadium but their manager Gareth Southgate has no intention of underestimating Aliou Cisse’s men.
“They have some excellent individual players who can cause problems, but a good structure as well,” he said.


Dumfries gets kissed as Oranje reach World Cup quarterfinals

Dumfries gets kissed as Oranje reach World Cup quarterfinals
Updated 04 December 2022

Dumfries gets kissed as Oranje reach World Cup quarterfinals

Dumfries gets kissed as Oranje reach World Cup quarterfinals

DOHA, Qatar: Louis van Gaal leaned to his left, wrapped his arm around Denzel Dumfries, and planted a kiss on the player’s cheek.
Dumfries probably deserved even more smooches from his coach on Saturday after leading the Netherlands into the World Cup quarterfinals with a goal and two assists in the 3-1 victory over the United States.
“Yesterday, or a day before yesterday, I gave him a big fat kiss,” Van Gaal said at the post-match news conference. “I am going to give him another big fat kiss so everybody can see.”
And so he did.
“There you go,” Van Gaal said, showing his affection for the right back, who plays for Italian club Inter Milan.
Dumfries did it all against the Americans as the Netherlands extended its unbeaten run to 19 games as it pursues an elusive World Cup title.
The Dutch national team carries the burden of probably being best soccer country to never have won the World Cup. The Netherlands has been the runner-up three times — 1974, 1978 and 2010 — and was third in 2014 after losing to Argentina on penalties in the semifinals.
However, the team failed to qualify in 2018, probably providing more motivation this time.
Dumfries scored Oranje’s final goal in the 81st minute on a volley after second-half substitute Hajji Wright scored in the 76th to briefly get the Americans back into the match. He also added assists on the other two goals at Khalifa International Stadium — Memphis Depay’s in the 10th, and Daley Blind’s in first-half stoppage time.
“It was a great game and I’m happy I can be important for the team,” said Dumfries, who is named for American actor Denzel Washington.
“I’m proud to have his name,” he said. “I am incredibly proud of Denzel Washington. He is a really strong personality who voices his views and I see that as an example.”
Dumfries said Oranje was “more focused” than it was in lackluster group games — a 1-1 draw with Ecuador and 2-0 victories over Senegal and Qatar.
“We knew that we could play better than we did in the first three matches,” he said.
The United States had more possession of the ball, and more attempts at goal — 16 to 12. But the Dutch dealt with that just fine.
“In Holland we’re used to having the ball, to having possession,” Dumfries said. “This is a different way of playing. I also understand the criticism in Holland because we can play much better with the ball.”
United States goalkeeper Matt Turner and the American defense were under constant pressure handling crosses into the 6-yard box.
“It was like they had a little bit of extra patience and cut the ball back, and we didn’t track well,” Turner said. “I felt like every time they crossed the ball they got a head on it or they got a piece of it.”
Cody Gakpo, who has scored three goals in the tournament, said what Van Gaal has been talking up: The Netherlands can finally win the title, though few think this is one of the nation’s best teams.
“We’ve believed in ourselves from the start and we’ve come here with a goal,” Gakpo said. “And that’s to try and become world champions. We believe in that.”