The rise of eSports in the Middle East and North Africa
eSports, a form of competitive gaming recognized as a professional sport, enjoys a broad fanbase and viewership, with numerous brands and businesses making significant investments in the industry. While China and South Korea remain major players, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have recently emerged as significant revenue generators. As professional players and teams earn substantial sums from playing video games, funds are infused into the industry, resulting in yearly growth. According to Arabicbet.org, the MENA region’s eSports market is projected to generate an extra $2.8 billion in video game revenue by 2026.
The surge in viewership, sponsorships, investments, eSports leagues, and tournaments has propelled the industry’s growth. As a result, questions arise regarding the factors driving the rising popularity of eSports, the hurdles it confronts, and its future trajectory.
The beginnings of eSports in the MENA region
Initially a hobby, eSports gained broad recognition in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in the 2000s, following in the footsteps of South Korea and China. The competitive sport was originally adopted by Russia, Europe, Canada, the United States, and India, followed by a slow introduction into the Middle East and North Africa, where media played a critical role in swiftly developing the sector and advertising aided in its expansion. The region’s growing youth population and internet availability also had an impact on the video gaming sector.
Governments in the MENA region play a crucial role in eSports development, investing in software businesses for game development, infrastructure like high-speed internet, and training programs for young gamers. They have a strategic interest to support the eSports industry evolution and reap the benefits.
The rise of eSports
According to Statista, the total eSports revenue was about $1,8 billion for the whole MENA region in 2022. It is predicted that the numbers will go up to 2,8 billion by 2026, which is an outstanding eSports growth in the region and a fast-rising one. This boost in the eSports gaming industry is a result of several factors. Primarily, it is the rising number of gamers in MENA countries which is expected to reach the 88 million mark by 2026, the tech-driven young demographics, and the widespread use of smartphones and mobile gaming.
The most influential factor is the scope of investments in the gaming industry and the emergence of new gaming companies. The Saudi Government plans to invest $488 million in the gaming and eSports market in 2023 and a further $3.3 billion in the next 5 years.
Some of the biggest eSports tournaments are now staged by the Arab eSports Federation thanks to this financial boost. These tournaments have attracted large numbers of participants and viewers, and have also contributed to the rise in eSports betting in the region.
The benefits and challenges of eSports in the Region
Besides the evident financial benefit from the development of the eSports market, there are many other positive effects on the economy. One of them is the creation of new jobs. Outside of professional gaming, there is a wide range of careers in marketing, sales, event management, and game design. Moreover, eSports events provide high-quality entertainment that draws international audiences and bolsters local economies. Professional gamers and teams compete in global tournaments, raising the profile of eSports in the public eye.
Notwithstanding the significant growth and potential of the eSports industry, it confronts various challenges that require attention. One significant hurdle is the cultural attitudes towards gaming in MENA countries, which hinder widespread acceptance among the general public, particularly with regard to young female gamers. Additionally, video games must be localized to cater to local customs and worldviews, which includes adjusting for attitudes towards alcohol and violence in games, in addition to language and writing styles.
Furthermore, the lack of a unified regulatory system across the region creates difficulties for teams and players to compete and reap the financial benefits of professional tournament rewards.
The future of eSports
The future of the eSports market in the Middle East and North Africa is very promising. The region has seen a stable rise in the number of professional gamers, tournaments, and supporters over the years. The quick industry growth is a result of the availability of high-speed internet and the rising popularity of gaming amongst the tech-savvy youth in the region. This trend is expected to continue due to media interest and brand sponsorships that increase the visibility of eSports.