JEDDAH: The Drone Champions League — billed as the “world championship for professional drone racing” — will hold its first Super Final in the heart of AlUla’s Old Town on Dec. 20.
AlUla will be the first location in the GCC to host a major DCL event, and although no physical drones will be flying there, the league said in a statement: “It will be a chance for drone sports enthusiasts to enjoy the stunning and diverse landscapes of AlUla, varying between golden canyons, lush green oasis or spectacular geological marvels.”
The league’s organizers describe it as a “global pioneer in professional virtual and real-life drone racing. With a mission to combine cutting-edge technology and stunning locations, it has created a one-of-a-kind racing series that has captivated millions around the world.”
The DCL has rapidly gained popularity since its launch in 2016. Originally rooted in physical drone racing, DCL has evolved into a predominantly virtual format, blending hi-tec drones with the immersive world of gaming.
The annual DCL Drone Prix season features 10 teams. The competition reaches its climax with the top six teams engaging in split finals employing an elimination-style format, culminating in the DCL Super Final.
The DCL has staged races in iconic locations worldwide, from the historic streets of Paris to the frozen landscapes of Norway, providing visual spectacles for the audience and challenging courses for the pilots.
“The convergence of technology, athleticism, and AlUla’s vision for sports and adventure will make this Super Final a truly exceptional and unforgettable experience,” the statement said.
The idea to stage the Super Final in AlUla came from Margarete Schramboeck, Austria’s former minister of economy and digital affairs and a board member of Aramco Digital. Recognizing the popularity of esports in contemporary youth culture, Schramboeck felt that Saudi Arabia, more than any other nation, exemplifies this trend.
“When the DCL team approached me, presenting their world-class drone racing league and its capabilities, I immediately saw the potential for Saudi Arabia … I envisioned it as something truly exceptional,” she told Arab News.
Drones and gaming play such an important role for our next generation — they are part of digital transformation and contribute to Saudi Vision 2030.
Margarete Schramboeck, Aramco Digital board member
Saudi Minister of Investment Khalid Al-Falih provided immediate support for the idea when it was presented to him at the French-Saudi Business Forum earlier this year, she added, and put her in touch with Amr Al-Madani, CEO of the Royal Commission for AlUla.
“I was so happy my idea was supported by both. I want to thank them for making it possible,” Schramboeck added.
With over 50 million viewers around the world in 2023, the DCL’s appearance in AlUla will attract attention from across the globe for the UNESCO World Heritage site, giving the tech-savvy younger generation the opportunity to delve into AlUla’s cultural heritage through their passion for gaming.
“Drones and gaming play such an important role for our next generation — they are part of digital transformation and contribute to Saudi Vision 2030. I only want to do projects which provide a clear value-add to the Kingdom on multiple levels,” Schramboeck said.
By choosing AlUla, we aim to bring the essence of this extraordinary location to a global audience, shining a spotlight on its cultural and historical importance.
Markus Stampfer, DCL owner
DCL owner Markus Stampfer told Arab News in an exclusive interview: “Our roots lie in physical drone racing and engineering, but, over time, we’ve evolved into a globally accessible esports title. This transformation aligns with the trend of Tourism 3.0, where cities and regions are visualized and digitized.
“This shift has allowed a young audience to be digitally close to World Heritage sites such as the remarkable example in AlUla,” he added. “We’ve achieved our development milestones during the past years to drive this transformation and are proud to be making DCL a global sensation.”
Stampfer also revealed that the league is exploring a return to real-life drone racing alongside virtual events. Several cities have already signed on for this initiative, and there are plans to introduce physical drone racing in Saudi Arabia in 2024.
“This marks a significant step toward achieving the ultimate goal of a hybrid global racing series, seamlessly integrating both digital and real-life experiences,” he said.
AlUla has been at the forefront of sustainable development in the Kingdom through its prestigious sports and adventure offerings, hosting numerous events including the AlUla Camel Cup, the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup, the Saudi Tour, and, more recently, AlUla Desert Blaze.
AlUla Old Town was recognized by the United Nations World Tourism Organization as one of the world’s Best Tourism Villages in 2022.
Stampfer emphasized that AlUla’s unique backdrop aligns perfectly with DCL’s vision: “It is a special honor to be in a place that is a World Heritage site, offering a unique backdrop that showcases the historical significance of the region. The league places great importance on cultural resonance and AlUla fits perfectly with our vision for creating a memorable and impactful event.
“By choosing AlUla, we aim to bring the essence of this extraordinary location to a global audience, shining a spotlight on its cultural and historical importance,” he added.