Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and Prime Minister, Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, made a groundbreaking announcement about the country’s next significant step in the esports industry at the New Global Sport Conference in Riyadh.
The Esports World Cup: A New Beginning
In an ambitious move to further position the Kingdom as a premier global hub for gaming and esports, Saudi Arabia is set to replace the renowned Gamers8 tournament with the Esports World Cup. The first edition of this annual event is scheduled to debut in the summer of 2024. Prince Mohammed bin Salman emphasized the following:
- The Esports World Cup is a crucial catalyst for economic diversification, job creation, and world-class entertainment in line with the country’s Vision 2030 objectives.
- It will offer an unmatched esports experience, pushing the boundaries of the industry.
- While the exact prize pool hasn’t been disclosed, it is expected to be the largest in esports history.
Backing Initiatives: Esports World Cup Foundation and National Strategy
Accompanying the announcement of the Esports World Cup is the establishment of the Esports World Cup Foundation. This non-profit organization is dedicated to:
- Fostering collaboration within the esports community.
- Ensuring long-term sustainability of the sector.
- Driving the National Gaming and Esports Strategy, which targets a contribution of more than SR50 billion to the Kingdom’s GDP and aims to create 39,000 new jobs by 2030.
Beyond the Tournament: A Comprehensive Experience
The Esports World Cup isn’t just about gaming. In addition to the competition, the event will:
- Feature a diversified range of activities and events, turning Riyadh into a global gaming capital.
- Attract visitors and tourists, aiming to offset the traditional summer decline in hotel occupancy rates, tourism spending, and consumer purchasing power.
Saudi Arabia’s Esports Investment and Vision 2030
The announcement aligns with Saudi Arabia’s larger commitment to diversifying its economy away from oil. The Vision 2030 plan underscores:
- The critical role of sports, gaming, and esports.
- Formation of the Savvy Games Group, funded through the government’s public investment fund, which has already invested in or acquired numerous companies in the esports space, including ESL, FACEIT, and Chinese esports tournament operator VSPO.
- Commitment to building an “esports city” in the capital.
Controversies and Concerns
Despite the significant investments and advancements in the esports sector, Saudi Arabia has faced criticism for its association with the country’s government and its human rights record. Critics have coined the term ‘esportswashing’, suggesting that the massive investments might be an attempt to divert attention from contentious issues. The primary concerns raised revolve around:
- LGBTQ+ rights.
- Women’s rights.
- Crackdowns on dissent.
These concerns have led to questions about the protection of players, staff, and attendees at esports events in Saudi Arabia. However, prominent esports entities like G2 Esports and 100 Thieves have still participated in events like Gamers8 and the New Global Sports Conference.
What’s Next for Saudi Arabia and Esports?
As the summer of 2024 approaches, the world waits in anticipation for the inaugural Esports World Cup. Specifics regarding the games to be featured, the tournament format, and the complete list of participating teams remain undisclosed. However, given the scale of the event and the promise of the largest prize pool in esports history, announcements are expected to generate significant buzz in the global gaming community.
Big names like team owners, sponsors, and media peeps are gonna be pretty key in forming public opinion and the overall success of the Esports World Cup. Now, their choices around participating, chucking in some sponsorship, and any news coverage will become crucial to figuring out how far this event gets globally and how well-liked it is.
With the introduction of the Esports World Cup and the associated foundational and strategic moves, Saudi Arabia continues its journey to become a dominant player in the global esports landscape. It remains to be seen how the international community will react and participate in these ventures, given the underlying controversies and concerns.
While Saudi Arabia forges ahead with its strategic endeavors in the esports sector, the international esports community’s response is crucial to the success and acceptance of these initiatives. The potential economic benefits for the Kingdom are undeniable, but achieving broad-based acceptance and participation from global teams, players, and fans may be a challenge.