In a brand new location in Dubai, young people are organizing regional video game competitions sponsored by major international brands.
In this Gulf emirate, e-sport enthusiasts are no longer content to consume, they want to become players in this juicy industry.
Saad Khan set foot in the world of “gamers” four years ago by opening internet cafes.
This 45-year-old Indian expatriate, who has “always” worked in technology, saw the success of these spaces which have proliferated in Dubai in recent years as a “huge opportunity” to get started.
Taking advantage of his contacts with Intel, HP or Microsoft, he now heads Gamers Hub Media Events (GHME).
The company, which has just bought new premises, produces regional e-sport competitions.
With the aim of diversifying their oil-dependent economy, but also to assert their “soft power” on the world stage, the United Arab Emirates, and their regiment of young expatriates, have invested in various sectors, in particular that of technologies and sports. .
The video game industry grows 12% each year and grossed some $ 139.9 billion (118.9 billion euros) in 2020, according to U.S. consumer measurement firm Nielsen.
In the Gulf alone, this amount is expected to reach 821 million dollars (698 million euros) in 2021, with the Emirates and Saudi Arabia as the main consumers of international products, estimates the consulting firm Strategy &.
– “Ecosystem in training” –
“The value of sponsorship has increased, the number of players has increased. And I also see a lot of very good teams taking shape and professionalizing, which was not the case before”, observes Saad Khan, who refused to disclose the amount of its profits.
Last year, his company landed a big contract with BMW, which organizes regional competitions.
And GHME is aiming further, with the opening of offices in Barcelona, India or South Africa to cover other regions.
Passionate about video games, Ghazi Beydoun is in charge of business development at GHME.
For him, the future of esports in the Middle East is bright.
“We have a lot of talent that lacks support.”
But “this support is starting to come”, explains this 29-year-old Lebanese expatriate, referring to the Lebanese, Jordanian, Egyptian, Saudi or Emirati teams who stand out.
According to him, “an ecosystem is formed little by little and will improve and grow”.
With 25 years of experience in the sector, Geraint Bungay also wants to be part of this new ecosystem thanks to Boss Bunny Games.
The company he founded in Dubai is currently working on creating what the Emirates tout as the “first video game inspired by Gulf culture.”
Its release is scheduled for the start of the school year.
The game is based on four Emirati women: the famous characters from Freej, a popular local cartoon.
– An unsuspected regional market –
“It’s a 100% private initiative but we have enormous government support,” Bungay told AFP.
This Briton chose Dubai a year and a half ago for its appetite for this sector, its engineers from all over the world and also the important market represented by its big neighbor, Saudi Arabia.
“Saudi Arabia is fifth in the world for video games in terms of revenue, so it’s an absolutely huge market. Before I came to the region, I didn’t realize that.”
“A lot of people don’t realize the size of the video game market in the region in general,” he adds.
The Gulf States’ appetite for esports is part of a broader quest for “self-sufficiency” and “local industries,” says Robert Mogielnicki of the Washington-based think tank Arab Gulf States Institute .
“Esports and other gaming industries offer new platforms for governments and businesses in the Gulf to reach a global audience,” says the researcher.
In a permanent quest for a good image, “it is not only a question of entertaining young people”, the majority in these countries, but also of “portraying the Gulf societies as flourishing and creative poles”.
© 2021 AFP