The BLAST Premier World Final, taking place from December 14-18, will be hosted in Abu Dhabi - and will take place against a backdrop of esports’ huge growth in the region.
BLAST will be bringing the World Finals to Abu Dhabi for the first time, in partnership with AD Gaming (Abu Dhabi Gaming), an initiative that aims to build a self-sustaining gaming and esports ecosystem in the country, as well as attracting the wider games industry to the UAE.
AD Gaming is a government-led initiative, powered by a collaboration between Abu Dhabi-based government and commercial organisations, showcasing the level of investment that middle eastern countries are making in the industry.
Back in 2020, AD Gaming worked with media production company twofour54, in collaboration with Unity, to set up a dedicated Yas Creative Hub. The Hub, the first of its kind in the country, was designed to attract companies from across the industry to set up shop in Abu Dhabi. The hub offers 0% income tax, 100% business ownership, and fully waived license and registration fees for the first two years.
It’s a serious investment, one that gives credence to AD Gaming’s head of gaming and esports Sultan Al Riyami’s remarks that they see gaming and esports as the “next frontier,” as they seek to grow UAE’s $288 million gaming industry.
“Abu Dhabi has been prolific and successful in the film and TV space,” said Al Riyami. “We see gaming and esports as the next frontier. That’s where we’re heading next.”
And with Newzoo predicting that esports will generate revenues of around $1.4bn globally, and $1.9bn by 2025, there’s no surprise that much of this investment has been centered around esports.
It’s for this reason that Nigma Galaxy (then Team Nigma), one of the most successful DOTA 2 teams in the world, relocated to Abu Dhabi back in 2020. The team, which was later the first team to be sponsored by a major airline (Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways), signed a five year deal to make their home on Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island - where they have their own dedicated training facility.
It’s a trend that’s seen elsewhere in the Middle East too - Saudi Arabia is similarly making big moves into esports, as part of the country’s National Gaming and Esports Strategy, as unveiled by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.
“The National Gaming and Esports Strategy is driven by the creativity and energy of our citizens and gamers, who are at the heart of the strategy,” said the Crown Prince.
The strategy has three main objectives: to provide new entertainment opportunities, improving the experience of players and to contribute an estimated 50 billion riyals to the country’s GDP. Additionally, Saudi Arabia aims to be in the top three for countries with the highest number of professional esports players in the world.
And they’re well on their way to that last goal at the very least, with the Saudi Esports Federation’s (SEF) COO Ahmed AlBishri stated at this year’s The Next World Forum in Riyadh.
“In 2018, we only had two teams,” said AlBishri. “Today, we have over 100 teams signed under the Federation, with over 500 professional players signed under official contracts. Even on the level of creating opportunities and jobs, we’re dealing with bigger and bigger numbers that we’re seeing, and we’re expecting that these numbers will multiply greatly in upcoming years”
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More than just building up their esports teams, with SEF President Prince Faisal bin Bandar expressing a desire to both host more regular tournaments, as well as attend a wider range of international esports events.
As a result, Saudi Arabia is projected to invest $38 billion in esports by 2030, seeking to capitalise on statistics that suggest the country is home to 23.5 million gamers, roughly 67% of the country's population. That investment has already begun, with Savvy Gaming Group’s (owned by Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund) acquisition of esports organisations ESL Gaming earlier this year - in a deal that valued the company at $1.05 billion.
That level of investment has seen a number of esports tournaments taking place in Saudi Arabia, with the Gamers8 Rocket League, Gamers8 Fortnite, Gamers8 Rainbow Six Siege and perhaps most notably, the Dota 2 Riyadh Masters 2022 all taking place within recent memory.
And not content with just hosting the World Cup this year, Qatar is getting in on the esports action too. Qatar’s Esports Federation (QESF) was founded earlier this year, with a core mission to develop the country’s esports capabilities. It’s an important milestone in the country’s esports scene, with previous events in the country having been run independently by the local gaming community.
Although, just as with the World Cup, these investments have come with their fair share of controversies and speed bumps. Neom, which is owned by the Saudi Public Investment Fund, entered a partnership with the LEC and BLAST Premier.
However, these partnerships were short-lived, with both the LEC and BLAST Premier pulling out in the face of mounting backlash in the CS:GO and League of Legends communities.
Still, incidents like that are likely to be minor obstacles in the face of esports’ growth - as well as the increasing involvement of Saudi Arabia and other middle eastern countries. Saudi Arabia in particular is one of the richest countries in the world, and is bound to continue to invest in esports companies and teams in the years ahead.
While there’s still some time to go before the BLAST Premier World Final, the Fall Finals are just around the corner, beginning on November 23 - here’s everything you need to know about this week’s tournament.
And remember, you can follow the action right here on Luckbox - be sure to sign up to claim your 100% bonus!