RIYADH: The Next World Forum, a major global industry gathering created to shape the future of the rapidly evolving gaming and esports sector, opened here this week with a host of top international participants.
High-profile guests from the worlds of gaming, entertainment, technology, sports and government, led discussions on an industry worth around $170 billion — more than Hollywood and the music industry combined. The two-day event, which concludes on Thursday, is being held at the Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh at Kingdom Center.
Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan, chairman of the Saudi Esports Federation, the organizers of the Next World Forum, was one of several speakers on the opening day on Wednesday. He shared his expertise on a panel titled “Creating the Gold Standard of the Competitive Gaming Scene.”
“The esports industry is one that changes on a daily basis, let alone a monthly or yearly basis. People always ask, ‘what’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ — but never ask ‘what’s going to stay the same over the next 10 years?’ And that might be the more important of the two. For us, that constant is the community and the gamers,” he said. “If we can keep focus on the fact that everything we’re doing is for our community then we set ourselves up to be in the best position for what’s coming up next.”
“Saudi Arabia’s aim is to become a global hub for gaming and esports, and hosting events such as Next World Forum are a key part on the journey to fulfilling that quest,” Prince Faisal added.
More than 2,500 delegates are attending the two days of the Next World Forum.
Gareth Bale, former star footballer, esports investor and enthusiast, and director of Primesure Ltd., appeared on a celebrity panel alongside Michael Bay, the director and producer of Bay Films, and Gary Vaynerchuk, the CEO of Vaynermedia.
Bale, a five-time Champions League winner with Real Madrid, said the growth of esports could see gamers become more popular than footballers with sponsors and the public.
“Never say never. The scope is so big,” he said. “Esports is definitely catching up with real football, and that’s not a bad thing. It gives kids a lot more opportunities to do what they want. Even my kids now, they’re growing up enjoying their consoles and have the opportunity to interact with their friends in another country.
“It’s a nice way to keep in touch — we’ve been in Spain, America, and obviously Wales and England, and they play games online and keep in touch. From where gaming has gone from when I started playing to now is incredible — just look at the facial hair and the acrobatics in celebrations.”
Bale added: “Since I’ve had the opportunity to invest in esports, it’s been really good. It’s been nice to invest and give opportunities to others.
“Virtual reality is becoming the next best thing to the real thing.”
The Next World Forum saw an agreement signed between the Saudi Esports Federation, represented by CEO Turki Alfawzan, and the Qatar Esports Federation, represented by Secretary-General Faisal Al-Khalid.
Omar Batterjee, director of corporate communications and public relations at the Saudi Esports Federation, and program director for the Next World Forum, said: “(The) Next World Forum is our unified commitment for the gaming and esports movement and what we are discussing here will lay the foundations and framework for many years to come.”