Esports Around The World is a series of profiles outlining the esports ecosystem in various countries globally. The series ties into ESI’s international esports business events, which take place around the world.
Saudi Arabia, a regional powerhouse in the Middle East, has invested heavily in esports in an attempt to position itself as a global hub for esports and gaming. Saudi Arabia has diven headfirst into esports, with its government sovereign wealth fund, Public Investment Fund (PIF), buying up ownership stakes in major video game developers including Activision Blizzard, Tencent, Nintendo, Take-Two Interactive and EA. Saudi Arabia’s gaming and esports ambitions form part of the country’s Vision 2030 initiative, a strategic framework to diversify the Saudi economy.
In January 2022, Savvy Games Group, an investment group fully owned by Saudi Arabia’s PIF, bought ESL Gaming and FACEIT for $1.5bn (~£1.1bn) and merged them into ESL FACEIT Group, a conglomarate with vast martket share in the Western esports ecosystem. It bolstered that conglomorate further in March 2023 with the Group’s acquisition of Vindex.
In September 2022, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud announced the launch of a ‘National Gaming and Esports Strategy’ that aims to turn the country into a ‘global hub’ for both sectors by 2030.
Shortly after, Savvy Games Group unveiled a sweeping ~£34.5bn (~$37.9bn) investment strategy, which included plans to acquire a leading game publisher as well as invest in ‘key companies’, industry disruptors and mature industry partners.
The country does not have a long history in gaming or esports, but its scene has started growing rapidly in recent years as a result of its investment. Saudi Arabia’s gaming industry was worth $1bn (~£762m) in 2021, according to research by market research firm Niko Partners. A Boston Consulting Group report estimated this figure would reach $6.8bn (~£5.18bn) by 2030. As part of its Vision 2030, plan, Saudi Arabia wants gaming and esports to account for 0.8% to 1% of the economy by 2030, according to Wired.
However, Saudi Arabia’s ambitions in esports have been met by widespread controversy. The country’s human rights record has led to criticism of its involvement in esports by stakeholders and community members, particularly around LGBTQ+ and women’s rights. Some industry analysts and commentators have branded the country’s activities as ‘esportswashing’ — an attempt to distract from oppressive practices domestically.
In August 2020, tournament organiser BLAST was forced to cancel its deal with Saudi Arabian city project NEOM due to community backlash, and in July 2022 Moist Esports declined an invite to Saudi Arabia’s high-prize pool Gamers8 festival in protest at the Saudi Arabian government’s anti-LGBTQ+ stance.
Nonetheless, the country’s aggressive growth efforts and ambitious plans have positioned Saudi Arabia as an important figure in esports. The country has seen some competitive success, most notably in Rocket League, where MENA regional competitions were added to the official RLCS circuit largely thanks to the dominance of Saudi Arabian teams and players like Khalid ‘oKhaliD’ Qasim and Ahmad ‘Ahmad’ Abdullah. Saudi Arabian players also enjoy success in FIFA, for example Team Falcons player Mossad ‘Msdossary’ Aldossary.
Saudi Arabia’s government has given official and high-profile backing to esports through a variety of investment plans and schemes to bolster its gaming and esports industries, though the government has not issued an official stance on esports’ status as a sport.
The government’s sovereign wealth fund launched Savvy Gaming Group as a wholly-owned subsidiary in early 2022. The region aims to use the group to develop gaming and esports at all levels. The kingdom has also launched the $1.1bn Ignite initiative, which is expected to include funding for gaming infrastructure, studios and arenas.
Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud, a Saudi royal in the Kingdom’s ruling royal family, was appointed Vice President of the Global Esports Federation (GEF) in December 2021. He was already GEF’s Chairman of Education, Culture and Youth Commission.
Notable Tournaments & Leagues
Alongside its ownership of ESL FACEIT Group, and thus the vast majority of market share over Western esports events, Saudi Arabia also has domestic tournaments that feature some of the largest prize pools in esports history, such as its $45m (~£38m) Gamers8 festival (split across multiple titles).
Notable Esports Organisations
Note that this is a non-exhaustive list and exclusion does not signify an org is not notable.
National Associations / Federations
Note that inclusion in this list does not suggest any acknowledgement from ESI of its authority, works or official capacity.
Alongside his role in the Global Esports Federation, Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud is additionally President of the Saudi Esports Federation and the Arab Esports Federation, the two biggest relevant bodies for esports in the Kingdom.
Saudi Arabia does not appear to have made a concerted effort to incorporate esports into curriculums. However, the JSRK League is a tournament for university students held in cooperation with the Saudi Federation of University Sports to develop esports amongst Saudi students. Held for the first time in 2021, the JSRK League has seperate editions for male and female students.
This is a preliminary country profile and will be augmented with additional information over time. If you have any suggestions or feedback for this profile, please get in touch at [email protected].
First published: March 31st 2022. Last updated: May 23rd 2023.