Saudi gaming sector set to gain 150 esports centers

Saudi gaming sector set to gain 150 esports centers
True Gamers has established key partnerships with industry leaders to cater to the Saudi market, ensuring their lounges feature the latest technology. (Supplied)
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Updated 28 January 2024

Saudi gaming sector set to gain 150 esports centers

Saudi gaming sector set to gain 150 esports centers
  • UAE’s True Gamers aims to make video gaming more accessible

CAIRO: Saudi Arabia’s gaming industry is poised for a major uplift with UAE-based esports network True Gamers planning to establish 150 centers in the Kingdom.

Established in 2019, the company aims to make video gaming more accessible by combining entertainment, technology, and competitive elements to offer an immersive experience to a wide range of players.

In an interview with Arab News, Vlad Belyanin, co-founder of True Gamers, discussed the strategic expansion plans for Saudi Arabia — which is expected to double the company’s current network.

“True Gamers has been closely monitoring the burgeoning esports and gaming scene in Saudi Arabia, a key player in the MENA region. Recognizing the tremendous potential of this market, we have embarked on a strategic expansion into the Kingdom, aligning with the ambitious Vision 2030 development plan,” Belyanin said. He further stated that True Gamers has reached a major achievement by signing a master franchise deal with entrepreneur Nawaf Al-Bishri, who has a background in healthcare and investment.  

This collaboration marks a $45 million investment to develop a strong esports infrastructure in Saudi Arabia. It includes launching over 150 True Gamers lounges, significantly enhancing the gaming experience for numerous fans and boosting the country’s growing esports scene.

Game on

The inaugural True Gamers lounge, a cutting-edge facility, is set to open in Jeddah in the first half of 2024. This opening marks the beginning of the company’s ambitious expansion efforts, signaling a new phase of immersive gaming experiences for gamers in Saudi Arabia.

“We are employing a franchise strategy to accelerate our expansion across Saudi Arabia,” Belyanin said, he added, “Furthermore, the True Gamers franchise is open to other market players seeking to collaborate with our proven business model and jointly propel the Kingdom’s esports industry.”

Belyanin stated that True Gamers has established key partnerships with industry leaders like Logitech and BenQ to cater to the Saudi market, ensuring their lounges feature the latest technology for an unparalleled gaming experience.  

He also emphasized the company’s openness to future collaborations with other businesses and organizations to further enhance the Kingdom’s gaming ecosystem and elevate the esports scene.

The company has set a goal to open 10 centers in the Kingdom by the end of 2024 and is optimistic about reaching its target of establishing 150 centers by 2030.

Belyanin mentioned that True Gamers is set to launch a series of local and international esports tournaments in Saudi Arabia, following their successful events in Dubai which drew over 1,500 participants.

“These tournaments aim to inspire the younger generation to develop their gaming and social skills, particularly communication and teamwork,” he added. 

These tournaments aim to inspire the younger generation to develop their gaming and social skills, particularly communication and teamwork.

Vlad Belyanin, Co-founder of True Gamers

Belyanin highlighted that True Gamers’ approach is in sync with the expected growth of Saudi Arabia’s gaming industry, projected to hit $2.8 billion by 2026.

“With an estimated 21 million active gamers, constituting a remarkable 58 percent of the country’s population, the Kingdom presents an unparalleled opportunity for True Gamers to revolutionize the gaming landscape,” he added.

To Saudi Arabia and beyond

The company has also embarked on further expansion plans beyond the Kingdom.

In the UAE, the company is independently establishing new clubs, aiming to open more than nine gaming centers this year by establishing a presence in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.

Talks are also underway for a project in Egypt, with prospects of extending to nearby nations such as Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, and Kuwait.

Business fundamentals

Belyanin noted that True Gamers’ clubs offer a variety of amenities, including automobile simulators, PlayStation lounges, and luxurious VIP capsules.  

Their game library features over 120 titles, including popular games like Fortnite and Valorant. Since its launch, True Gamers has grown significantly, expanding to 124 clubs across the UAE and Eastern Europe, generating over $20 million in revenue, and attracting over 450,000 gamers last year.

The company’s commitment to the esports industry is demonstrated by a $13.5 million investment for expansion in the MENA region.

“Additionally, we have invested over $11 million in creating world-class cybersport infrastructure, ensuring our gamers have access to the best equipment and facilities. This dedication led to a 140 percent growth in 2023, increasing the company’s valuation from $10 million to $24 million, cementing its position as a leader in the esports industry,” Belyanin said.

As the company expands, it is focused on ensuring that both its centers and franchisees consistently achieve growth and progress.

True Gamers is dedicated to supporting offline and online franchisees. The company facilitates a smooth onboarding process through in-person meetings with representatives.  

Additionally, online educational resources provide franchisees with all the essentials, including comprehensive commercial and technical documentation, necessary equipment, training materials, marketing tools, and a detailed brand book.

“Our primary objectives are to foster a thriving gamer community, empower gamers through education, and inspire gamers to pursue professional esports aspirations,” Belyanin said.

The company has not only diversified its offerings but also its business model to secure various sustainable revenue streams.

True Gamers generates consistent income from royalties and direct sales to clients, including ticket sales and memberships. A significant part of its revenue also comes from franchise sales in the MENA and Eastern Europe regions.

Additionally, Belyanin mentioned that the company earns from additional services like marketing, equipment supply, white-label solutions, and sponsorship contracts

Currently, True Gamers is focused on securing strategic investments to support its core operations and is also exploring opportunities for funding its various projects, which encompass new technologies, innovative ideas, and potential partnerships with industry leaders.

A True Gamers emergence  

Belyanin recounted his lifelong passion for video games and esports, starting from his youth spent in internet cafes mastering games like Battlefield Hardline and Counterstrike.  

His entrepreneurial journey began with organizing entertainment events and marketing for parties, where he met his future business partner, Anton Vasilenko, the CEO of True Gamers.  

They recognized a market demand for esports lounges and embarked on the journey in 2019, starting with an $80,000 investment in their first lounge.

The success of their franchise model, especially in smaller cities, contributed significantly to their growth and social mission of providing access to professional gaming facilities for young people from diverse backgrounds.  

True Gamers is now focused on innovation, including the introduction of robotic dog waiters in their Dubai clubs, developed in collaboration with engineers and specialists from the UAE and Central and Eastern Europe region, with an investment of over $100,000.  

These robots offer accessibility and opportunities for employees with disabilities, aligning with their commitment to corporate social responsibility.

Pakistan Stock Exchange hits record high, breaks 72,000 points in intraday trade

Pakistan Stock Exchange hits record high, breaks 72,000 points in intraday trade
Updated 15 sec ago

Pakistan Stock Exchange hits record high, breaks 72,000 points in intraday trade

Pakistan Stock Exchange hits record high, breaks 72,000 points in intraday trade
  • Analysts say investors expect a significant decline in April inflation data that may lead to a cut in interest rates
  • The Pakistani bourse has recently been trading at record highs due to hopes of positive loan talks with the IMF

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s benchmark share index breached the key level of 72,000 to trade at a record high of 72,414 points during intraday trade earlier on Wednesday, according to data from the Pakistan Stock Exchange website.

The Pakistani bourse has recently been trading at record highs amid positive sentiment prevailing among investors due to hopes of the country’s successful talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a new loan program.

The country’s finance minister, Muhammad Aurangzeb, recently visited Washington to hold talks with IMF officials for a long-term bailout facility as Pakistan’s current $3 billion program is due to expire this month.

The finance minister expressed hopes the outline of the new program would soon become visible, adding that the loan would help Pakistan continue with structural economic reforms.

“After a record current account surplus, investors are now expecting a big fall in April inflation data that may result in a cut in interest rates in the coming months,” Sohail Mohammed, CEO of Karachi-based brokerage company Topline Securities, told Reuters.

Pakistan’s benchmark KSE100 index has surged 75.5 percent over the past year and is up 11.5 percent year-to-date.

The equity market is expected to surge further as an IMF delegation arrives in Pakistan next month to determine the contours of the new loan facility.

“We are still hoping that we can get into a staff-level agreement [with the IMF] by the time June is done or early July so that we can move on,” the finance minister said on Tuesday while addressing a news conference in Islamabad.

With input from Reuters

Saudi Arabia’s non-oil exports surge by 4.4% in February: GASTAT 

Saudi Arabia’s non-oil exports surge by 4.4% in February: GASTAT 
Updated 9 min 28 sec ago

Saudi Arabia’s non-oil exports surge by 4.4% in February: GASTAT 

Saudi Arabia’s non-oil exports surge by 4.4% in February: GASTAT 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s non-oil exports, including re-exports, saw a surge of 4.4 percent in February compared to the same period the previous year, official data showed. 

According to the General Authority for Statistics, the total value of non-oil exports in February reached SR21.86 billion ($5.83 billion), marking a rise from SR20.93 billion in the corresponding period of the preceding year. 

The increase in non-oil shipments was driven by an 8.3 percent surge in the exports of rubber and plastic products in February, constituting 24.1 percent of the total exports.  

Strengthening the non-oil private sector remains pivotal for Saudi Arabia, as the Kingdom continues its economic diversification efforts aimed at reducing reliance on oil. 

The report unveiled a 4.1 percent year-on-year decrease in the Kingdom’s non-oil exports, excluding re-exports, in February. Conversely, the value of re-exported goods surged by 32.3 percent during the same period. 

However, GASTAT noted that Saudi Arabia’s overall merchandise shipments decreased by 2 percent in February compared to the year-ago period.  

This decline was primarily attributed to a 3.8 percent decrease in oil exports in February compared to the same month in 2023, according to the report.

UBS gets green light to open Saudi branch for banking operations

UBS gets green light to open Saudi branch for banking operations
Updated 23 April 2024

UBS gets green light to open Saudi branch for banking operations

UBS gets green light to open Saudi branch for banking operations

RIYADH: In a move aimed at enhancing Saudi Arabia’s financial landscape, the Kingdom has granted permission for a branch of the Swiss bank UBS to operate within the nation. 

According to the Saudi Press Agency, the approval was granted during a session chaired by the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, held by the Cabinet in Jeddah on April 23.

The session commenced with King Salman briefing the Cabinet on the recent communications and discussions held between the Kingdom and several countries regarding shared relations, regional issues, and global developments, as reported by SPA.

In this context, the Cabinet reaffirmed Saudi Arabia’s steadfast stance toward promoting security and stability in the region and the world. 

The Minister of Media, Salman bin Yousef Al-Dossary, stated in a press release following the session that the Cabinet praised the outcomes of the second ministerial meeting of the dialogue between the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and Central Asian countries. 

He emphasized the Kingdom’s commitment to continue strengthening communication channels with various countries worldwide and supporting areas of joint coordination, including multilateral efforts.

Additionally, the Cabinet expressed its appreciation for the participants of the forthcoming World Economic Forum special meeting, set to take place in Riyadh in the upcoming week, highlighting the Kingdom’s dedication to encouraging global collaboration and tackling shared challenges.

Moreover, the Cabinet announced that the World Bank had selected Saudi Arabia as a center for knowledge dissemination to promote worldwide awareness of economic reforms, underscoring its leadership in achieving significant progress in global competitiveness indicators.

Al-Dossary further highlighted that the Cabinet applauded the achievement of five Saudi cities in obtaining advanced positions in the 2024 Smart Cities Index.

Following today’s session, the Cabinet approved cooperation agreements with Qatar, the Dominican Republic and the UK as well as Turkey, Chad, Portugal, Hong Kong, and Yemen.

Additionally, the body authorized discussions regarding statistical collaboration with Australia and maritime cooperation with Egypt. It also endorsed anti-corruption agreements with South Korea, archival partnerships with Greece, and financial technology collaboration with Singapore.

Authorization was granted for negotiations on science and technology cooperation with the Bahamas. A unified law for international road transport within GCC countries was approved, and additional compensation was granted to Tabah village’s affected families in the Hail region. 

Furthermore, final accounts for various government entities were approved.

UAE and Oman establish $35bn investment partnerships across multiple sectors 

UAE and Oman establish $35bn investment partnerships across multiple sectors 
Updated 23 April 2024

UAE and Oman establish $35bn investment partnerships across multiple sectors 

UAE and Oman establish $35bn investment partnerships across multiple sectors 

RIYADH: Trade and economic ties between the UAE and Oman are set to further strengthen thanks to the signing of investment deals worth 129 billion dirhams ($35.12 billion).  

According to a press statement, these agreements cover multiple sectors, including renewable energy, green metals, railway, digital infrastructure, and technology investments. 

Economic ties between the UAE and Oman have remained robust in recent years, with non-oil trade volumes reaching approximately 50 billion dirhams in 2023. 

“The UAE and Oman have strong historical relations that are founded on shared values, goals and principles. The agreements represent a major milestone in our bilateral ties, as they pave the way for us to leverage our collective strength to realize our shared vision of advancement and prosperity,” said Mohamed Hassan Al-Suwaidi, UAE’s minister of investment.  

One of the major agreements signed by both countries was an industrial and energy megaproject valued at 117 billion dirhams. This project encompasses renewable energy initiatives, including solar and wind projects, alongside green metals production facilities. 

The deal’s signatories included Abu Dhabi National Energy Co., Abu Dhabi Future Energy Co., and Emirates Global Aluminium, as well as Emirates Steel Arkan, OQ Alternative Energy, and Oman Electricity Transmission Co. 

Another agreement, valued at 660 million dirhams, was signed between Abu Dhabi Developmental Holding Co. and Oman Investment Authority to establish a technology-focused fund. 

A UAE-Oman rail connectivity project, valued at 11 billion dirhams, was also inked by both countries. 

Additionally, UAE’s Ministry of Investment and the Ministry of Commerce and Trade signed another deal with Oman’s Ministry of Investment Promotion to cooperate in multiple sectors, including digital infrastructure, food security, and energy. 

Etihad Rail, Mubadala, and Omani Asyad Group Co. signed a shareholding partnership valued at 3 billion dirhams. 

Both countries also announced the formation of a UAE-Oman alliance to enhance bilateral economic and trade relations. 

The UAE’s Ministry of Investment, in the press statement, further noted that the signing of these agreements will serve to bolster relations across key sectors and foster socio-economic benefits, contributing toward a stable and prosperous future for both countries. 

Influx of Chinese models to drive Mideast EV sales amid global surge

 Influx of Chinese models to drive Mideast EV sales amid global surge
Updated 23 April 2024

Influx of Chinese models to drive Mideast EV sales amid global surge

 Influx of Chinese models to drive Mideast EV sales amid global surge
  • The IEA report disclosed that global EV sales grew by approximately 25 percent in Q1 of 2024

RIYADH: The entry of Chinese car models in the Middle East could drive regional electric vehicle sales, as global figures are projected to reach 17 million units by 2024. 

According to the latest International Energy Agency report, this marks a 21.42 percent increase from the previous year, with nearly 60 percent of new electric car registrations in 2023 occurring in China, followed by 10 percent in the US and 25 percent in Europe. 

“The continued momentum behind electric cars is clear in our data, although it is stronger in some markets than others. Rather than tapering off, the global EV revolution appears to be gearing up for a new phase of growth,” said Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA. 

The Global EV Outlook 2024 stated that the electric car market in Africa, Eurasia, and the Middle East is still in its nascent stage, with such vehicles representing just under 1 percent of total sales in these regions. 

However, the decision of Chinese carmakers to explore these regions, along with producing vehicles domestically, could change this trend, allowing the market to expand in the coming years. 

“In Uzbekistan, BYD (Chinese automaker) set up a joint venture with UzAuto Motors in 2023 to produce 50,000 electric cars annually, and Chery International established a partnership with ADM Jizzakh,” stated the IEA in the report.  

This partnership has already led to a steep increase in electric car sales in Uzbekistan, reaching around 10,000 in 2023. 

It added: “In the Middle East, Jordan boasts the highest electric car sales share, at more than 45 percent, supported by much lower import duties relative to ICE (internal combustion engine) cars, followed by the UAE, with 13 percent.” 

Moreover, in July last year, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Investment signed a $5.6 billion deal with Chinese electric car maker Human Horizons to collaborate on the development, manufacture, and sale of vehicles. 

Steady growth  

The IEA report disclosed that global sales of electric cars grew by approximately 25 percent in the first quarter of this year compared to the same quarter in 2023. 

Highlighting the growth of the EV market, the report revealed that the number of electric cars sold globally in the first three months of this year is roughly equivalent to the total units sold in 2020. 

The steady growth in the first quarter of this year was driven by China, with 1.9 million EVs sold, marking a 35 percent rise compared to the same period in 2023. 

In Europe, the first quarter of 2024 witnessed year-on-year growth of over 5 percent, slightly surpassing the growth in overall car sales and thus maintaining the EV sales share at a similar level to that of last year. 

The US also experienced a 15 percent increase in sales in this segment during the first three months of this year, compared to the same period in 2023. 

According to Birol, the rise in investments in the electric battery sector is a strong indication of the rise of the EV appetite globally. 

“The wave of investment in battery manufacturing suggests the EV supply chain is advancing to meet automakers’ ambitious plans for expansion. As a result, the share of EVs on the roads is expected to continue to climb rapidly,” said the executive director of IEA. 

He added: “Based on today’s policy settings alone, almost one in three cars on the roads in China by 2030 is set to be electric, and almost one in five in both the US and the EU. This shift will have major ramifications for both the auto industry and the energy sector.” 

EV prices to fall  

The report highlighted that the pace of the transition to EVs may not be consistent and will hinge on affordability. 

IEA added that manufacturers have taken significant steps to deliver on the strengthening EV ambitions of governments by making significant financial commitments. 

“Thanks to high levels of investment over the past five years, the world’s capacity to produce batteries for EVs is well positioned to keep up with demand, even as it rises sharply over the next decade,” said the report. 

According to the intergovernmental organization, more than 60 percent of electric cars sold in 2023 were already less expensive to buy than their conventional equivalents in China. 

However, the purchase prices for cars with internal combustion engines remained cheaper on average compared to EVs in the US and the EU. 

The report suggested that intensifying market competition and improving battery technologies are expected to reduce the prices of electric cars in the coming years. 

“Even where upfront prices are high, the lower operating costs of EVs mean the initial investment pays back over time,” said IEA. 

Moreover, growing electric car exports from Chinese automakers, which accounted for more than half of all electric car sales in 2023, could add to downward pressure on purchase prices. 

IEA also underscored the vitality of ensuring the availability of public charging slots to maintain the steady growth of the electric car market globally. 

According to the report, the number of public charging points installed globally was up 40 percent in 2023 compared to 2022, and growth for fast chargers outpaced that of slower ones. 

However, IEA added that charging networks globally need to grow sixfold by 2035 to meet the level of electric vehicle deployment in line with the pledges made by governments. 

“At the same time, policy support and careful planning are essential to make sure greater demand for electricity from charging does not overstretch electricity grids,” concluded the report.