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.” 

 


Juventus board of directors and president Agnelli resign

Juventus board of directors and president Agnelli resign
Updated 29 November 2022

Juventus board of directors and president Agnelli resign

Juventus board of directors and president Agnelli resign
  • The stunning move follows a preliminary investigation by the Turin Public Prosecutor’s Office into fraudulent accounting

TURIN, Italy: Juventus’ board of directors and president Andrea Agnelli resigned en masse on Monday.

The stunning move follows a preliminary investigation by the Turin Public Prosecutor’s Office into fraudulent accounting, of alleged hidden payments to players.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Juventus said 23 players agreed to reduce their salary for four months to help the club through the crisis. But its claimed the players gave up only one month’s salary.

A shareholders meeting rescheduled for Dec. 27 was postponed again to Jan. 18 to choose a new board.
 


Tiger Woods withdraws from his tournament with foot injury

Tiger Woods withdraws from his tournament with foot injury
Updated 29 November 2022

Tiger Woods withdraws from his tournament with foot injury

Tiger Woods withdraws from his tournament with foot injury
  • The Hero World Challenge was to be the start of a December in golf ruled by Woods

NASSAU, Bahamas: Tiger Woods was out before he was officially back, withdrawing Monday from his Hero World Challenge with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.

The Hero World Challenge was to be the start of a December in golf ruled by Woods, who also has a made-for-television match next weekend, followed by the PNC Championship with his 13-year-old son on Dec. 17-18.

Two of those are still on his schedule. The foot injury was a surprise and is a big setback for those who haven’t seen Woods play since July at St. Andrews. The Hero World Challenge has network coverage on NBC for the weekend.

“In preparation and practice for this week’s Hero World Challenge, I’ve developed plantar fasciitis in my right foot, which is making it difficult to walk,” Woods said on Twitter. “After consulting with my doctors and trainers, I have decided to withdraw this week and focus on my hosting duties. My plan is still to compete in The Match and the PNC Championship.”

The Match is Dec. 10 with Rory McIlroy as his partner competing in a 12-hole match against Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas.

Woods has played only three tournaments this year because of a right leg weakened by a February 2021 car crash outside Los Angeles that shattered so many bones that Woods said doctors contemplated amputation.

A year ago in the Bahamas, he hit drivers on the back end of the range at Albany Golf Club, sparking speculation he might return. He played the PNC Championship with son Charlie and they finished second by one shot.

Woods then played the Masters, where he finished all four rounds at Augusta National, a tough walk with healthy legs. He made the cut in the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, only to withdraw after the third round.

His last appearance was the British Open at St. Andrews, where he missed the cut.

Woods has said he would have a limited schedule going forward, and this year was an example of what to expect. The World Challenge would have been one of the easier walks on the flat terrain of Albany.

The 20-man field features 15 of the top 20 players in the world. Woods was replaced by Austria-born Sepp Straka, who went to Georgia. Earlier, Hideki Matsuyama withdrew with injury and was replaced by Corey Conners.

Woods is No. 1,277 in the world ranking and is exempt as the tournament host. Being replaced by Straka (No. 29) means the entire 20-man field is among the top 33 in the ranking. The strength of field increases even as TV ratings are sure to take a hit.


Fernandes double sends Portugal into World Cup knock-outs

Fernandes double sends Portugal into World Cup knock-outs
Updated 29 November 2022

Fernandes double sends Portugal into World Cup knock-outs

Fernandes double sends Portugal into World Cup knock-outs
  • Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes scored a cross-cum-shot nine minutes into the second half and then added an injury-time penalty
  • The match also featured the first pitch invader of the Qatar tournament — the man carried messages of support for Ukraine and Iranian women and had a rainbow flag

DOHA: Bruno Fernandes scored twice to give Portugal a 2-0 victory over Uruguay on Monday and send them into the knock-out stages of the World Cup alongside France and Brazil.
The Manchester United midfielder scored a cross-cum-shot nine minutes into the second half and then added an injury-time penalty following a handball by Jose Maria Gimenez.
The match at Doha’s spectacular 89,000-capacity Lusail Stadium also featured the first pitch invader of the Qatar tournament — the man carried messages of support for Ukraine and Iranian women and had a rainbow flag.
With Portugal already through, Uruguay must now beat Ghana in their final Group H match to stand any chance of also progressing.
Both sides made three changes from their opening matches, with Portugal bringing in veteran Pepe for the injured Danilo Pereira, who suffered cracked ribs in training.
Pepe became the third-oldest outfield player in World Cup history.
Portugal dominated the first half, hogging the ball and creating several chances, but without ever testing Uruguay goalkeeper Sergio Rochet.
Uruguay’s forward, Edinson Cavani and Darwin Nunez were starved of the ball but the South Americans still had the best opportunity of the first period.
Rodrigo Bentancur picked the ball up in his own half and surged forward, slipping between two defenders to find himself one-on-one with goalkeeper Diogo Costa, who spread himself well to save the midfielder’s shot.
Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo was largely anonymous in the first 45 minutes but did delight fans with a shoulder pass to pick out William Carvalho, who volleyed over.
The main drama came after the break.
Moments after a pitch invader ran onto the pitch carrying an LGBTQ rainbow flag and with a message supporting Ukraine and Iranian women on his T-shirt, only to be spectacularly tackled by security, Portugal went in front.
Fernandes created space for himself on the left and curled an inswinging cross into the mixer, with Ronaldo breaking the offside trap to attempt a glancing header.
As the ball nestled in the goal, Ronaldo wheeled away in celebration but FIFA decided he had not touched the ball, thus denying him a ninth World Cup goal, which would have put him level with Portuguese great Eusebio.
Uruguay coach Diego Alonso threw on forward Maxi Gomez and Luis Suarez as the South Americans belatedly began to exert some pressure, and both came close to an equalizer.
Gomez’s rasping drive from 20 yards came back off the post with Costa beaten, while Suarez hit the side netting from close range.
With the 90 minutes almost up, Fernandes nutmegged Gimenez, whose trailing hand diverted the ball away from the midfielder and prevented him from finding himself one-on-one with Rochet.
Iranian referee Alireza Faghani awarded the spot-kick after a VAR check and Fernandes sent Rochet the wrong way after his signature hop, skip run-up.
He then almost completed a hat-trick but hit the post from 20 yards.


Kudus double for Ghana sinks South Korea 3-2

Kudus double for Ghana sinks South Korea 3-2
Updated 28 November 2022

Kudus double for Ghana sinks South Korea 3-2

Kudus double for Ghana sinks South Korea 3-2
  • Despite their efforts, South Korea look likely to crash out of the tournament at the group stage for the third straight World Cup

DOHA: Mohammed Kudus scored twice as Ghana beat South Korea 3-2 in a pulsating World Cup encounter on Monday to keep their World Cup hopes alive and leave Paulo Bento’s side facing an early exit.

Mohammed Salisu opened the scoring against the run of play midway through the first half at Education City Stadium and Ajax midfielder Kudus doubled the Black Stars’ lead.

But the Asian side, who looked toothless in the first half, roared back after the break, pulling level through a quickfire double from forward Cho Gue-sung either side of the hour mark.

Ghana looked shell-shocked as the Korean fans celebrated wildly but they were back in front in the 68th minute when Kudus finished calmly at the back post after Iñaki Williams failed to connect with a cross from the left.

The result takes Ghana into second in Group H on three points.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal will have six points and secure qualification for the last 16 if they beat Uruguay in the later kickoff in Qatar.

Despite their efforts, South Korea look likely to crash out of the tournament at the group stage for the third straight World Cup.

The Asian side, captained by Son Heung-min, were quicker to settle, forcing a succession of corners as they dominated possession but they were unable to fashion a shot on target in the entire first half.

Son looked uncomfortable in the black face mask he is wearing after having surgery for a facial injury he suffered while playing for Spurs, constantly readjusting it.

Ghana, who lost their opener 3-2 to Portugal, struggled to gain a foothold in the game.

But the match totally changed complexion in the 24th minute when the impressive Jordan Ayew, playing down the left for Ghana, swung in a cross following a free kick.

South Korea failed to clear and Southampton center-back Salisu finished with his left foot, sparking wild scenes of celebration among the Ghana fans decked out in red, white and green.

The goal revitalized the African nation, who reached the quarterfinals in 2010, with South Korea struggling to deal with their physicality and direct approach.

Now playing with flair and confidence, Ghana poured forward and doubled their lead in the 34th minute when Kudus powered a header home after a pin-point Jordan Ayew cross from the left.

Captain Andre Ayew — the brother of Jordan — called his men into a team huddle on the pitch and the players got soaked by the sprinklers before they went off for their halftime beak.

The Koreans at last produced an effort on target in the 53rd minute, when goalkeeper Lawrence Ati Zigi punched away a header from Cho.

But the Korean found the net just minutes later, heading home a cross from substitute Lee Kang-in, who had just been brought on by Bento.

And they were level just three minutes later when Cho headed home Kim Jin-su’s ball from the left, sparking scenes of delirium among the Korean fans.

Now Ghana were rocking but they restored their lead midway through the second half through Kudus.

South Korea came back again. Zigi was forced into a scrambling save to push away a free kick while Salisu cleared off the line.

The fourth official held up a board for 10 minutes of added time. South Korea continued to pour forward but they could not find the net and a number of their players collapsed to the turf at the final whistle.

Bento was sent off for protesting at the end of the match.


Casemiro goal downs Switzerland to take Brazil into World Cup last 16

Casemiro goal downs Switzerland to take Brazil into World Cup last 16
Updated 28 November 2022

Casemiro goal downs Switzerland to take Brazil into World Cup last 16

Casemiro goal downs Switzerland to take Brazil into World Cup last 16
  • Rodrygo flicked the ball on to Casemiro just inside the box and the Man United midfielder’s volley flew into the net with the help of a slight but significant deflection off Manuel Akanji
  • Tite’s side are just the second team to qualify for the last 16 after France and the only side apart from the holders to have won both group matches so far in Qatar

DOHA: A Brazil side lacking spark without the injured Neymar needed a late strike from Casemiro to edge out Switzerland 1-0 on Monday as the five-time winners secured their place in the World Cup last 16 with one game to spare.
The Brazilians had been frustrated by an obdurate Swiss side at Doha’s Stadium 974 and it looked as if they would have to settle for a point after a Vinicius Junior strike in the second half was disallowed for offside following a VAR check.
But then, with seven minutes remaining, Rodrygo flicked the ball on to Casemiro just inside the box and the Manchester United midfielder’s volley flew into the net with the help of a slight but significant deflection off Manuel Akanji.
Tite’s side are just the second team to qualify for the last 16 after France and the only side apart from the holders to have won both group matches so far in Qatar.
“The first aim was to qualify. That was really important in a group as difficult as ours,” the 30-year-old Casemiro told Brazilian broadcaster Sportv.
“We had to be patient against an experienced side who know how to play the game. It was always going to be decided by little details but we knew we would have plenty of possession and thankfully we managed to get the goal.”
With six points, Brazil will be tempted to rest players for their final Group G game against Cameroon on Friday, when a draw will secure top spot.
Switzerland, meanwhile, failed to muster a shot on target but remain on course to qualify too, knowing a win against Serbia in their last game will take Murat Yakin’s side through and a draw may also suffice.
“We are competitive against bigger teams. I think we have proven that time and time again,” said Yakin, who was missing one of his main creative sparks in Xherdan Shaqiri.
“We lacked a bit of courage going forward but there are a lot of good things to take from this.”
They have made a habit of making at least the first knockout round at major tournaments, while Brazil are in Qatar to win a sixth World Cup and nothing less will do.
The Selecao were always going to miss Neymar, although coach Tite has said he is confident the Paris Saint-Germain superstar will recover from his ankle injury to play a part again at the finals.
After the class of Richarlison made the difference in their opening win over Serbia, this was a reminder for the Brazilians of the strength in depth in the European game.
Four years ago, before losing to Belgium in the quarter-finals, they were also held by Switzerland in the group stage.
Yakin’s side therefore had no reason to fear Brazil, who introduced Manchester United midfielder Fred into their line-up in place of Neymar.
As a result they were set up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Fred and Lucas Paqueta either side of Casemiro, while Eder Militao stood in for the injured Danilo at right-back.
There were only flashes of what Brazil could do in a frustrating first half, with the loudest cheers from the masses of supporters in yellow and green coming when the big screen showed two-time World Cup-winning striker Ronaldo in the stands.
Vinicius had the best chance of the opening period when he connected with a Raphinha cross at the back post in the 27th minute, but Yann Sommer tipped his effort behind.
That Tite was not satisfied with Brazil’s first-half showing was clear when he hooked Paqueta at half-time and sent on Rodrygo.
The 21-year-old was involved when Brazil thought they had taken the lead just after the hour mark, helping gain possession before Casemiro released Vinicius to run through and score.
But the celebrations were cut shot as the goal was disallowed by VAR for an offside against Richarlison.
Tite turned to his bench and sent on more attackers in Gabriel Jesus and Antony, but the goal finally arrived from a less likely sources in Casemiro and Brazil saw out a deserved victory.