eSports in Dubai - a quick guide
The eSports industry is booming worldwide, with projections by Newzoo suggesting its global value could reach Â£1.2bn by the year 2020. Compared to countries such as the US, the UK and China, Dubai's eSports gaming scene is just starting out and is expected to flourish in forthcoming years. Reports have suggested that the entire games industry in the Middle East is worth around Â£1bn annually, a figure that could rise to Â£4.4bn by 2022.
So what infrastructure does Dubai's eSports industry already have, and what about the future? Let's take a whistle-stop tour to Dubai's booming eSports industry.
Dubai's tournament offerings are relatively insignificant in comparison to the enormous, arena-filling tournaments taking place in the US, Asia and Europe, with prize pools unable to attract the global superstars of the eSports world at the moment. The first mainstream tournament in the emirate took place in 2015, admittedly before the upward curve of the industry began to skyrocket, with the ESL ESEA Pro League invitational offering a $250k prize pool. While this was well received, it failed to make much traction on a global stage, and attempts since have also fallen admittedly flat.
That the ESL has taken an interest in the Dubai market is interesting in itself, and represents an acknowledgement that the biggest organisations in eSports believe the Middle East is a market worth investing in. Even mainstream brands, whose products and services are not video game or tech-related have taken an active interest in eSports, including Red Bull and Audi. Among the 600 eSports sponsors that have been seduced by this emerging market we also find Coca-Cola, which - in addition to other initiatives - recently signed a "virtual sponsorship deal" with EA for the FIFA 18 football game, and Betway, a bookmaker that sponsors the ESL Pro League but also offers eSports betting markets, which collectively rake in an estimated Â£450m per year. On platforms such as Twitter, Twitch and beyond, eSports matches were screened to upwards of 46 million people in 2016 alone, these events reach far beyond the venue of the event. Big business indeed.
In terms of more grassroots eSports tournaments, Dubai hosts an annual tournament that is open for registration by all gamers, professional or otherwise. The Dubai E-Sports Championship pits DOTA2 players against one another and is perhaps the city's most well know foray into gaming events, with a $150,000 first prize attracting hundreds of entrants. Other tournaments include the 32-team MEG, a small-scale pop-up tournament that offers players of FIFA and Overwatch the chance to win goods rather than cash.
Power League Gaming has been the driving force behind eSports in the Middle East for many years, and they've teamed up with PlayStation and Vox Cinemas to launch PLG Nationals, a forward-thinking initiative that they say will lead to an increase in the interest of eSports by creating a number of PS4 eSports leagues. These will run across the Middle East and North Africa.
Where Vox Cinemas come in, of course, is to allow eSports enthusiasts to enjoy the excitement of these leagues to watch their heroes from the comfort of a seat in a cinema theatre. There are a number of these cinemas sprawled throughout the Middle East, with the Al Ittihad Road outlet in Deira showcasing eSports regularly. Indeed, these cinemas play host to the competitors themselves, too, something PLG Nationals are hoping to utilise more as the popularity of eSports increases.
The Dubai World Trade Centre is a venue that hosts many of the large-scale tournaments hosted in the city from time to time, including the Dubai E-Sports Championship, while the hip and trendy Warehouse Four plays regular host to the pop-up MEG events. If the Dubai eSports scene booms as it is supposed to it is likely a permanent base will be built.
Organisations governing eSports
Aside from the increasingly powerful PLG Nationals, there are a number of organisations championing eSports across the Middle East, and many are unsurprisingly focussing much of their energy on Dubai. AFKG.com is a startup firm built with the mission statement of increasing the number of online and LAN tournaments in the Middle East and eventually the number of professional players from the region.
Indeed, eSports Middle East boasts offices in both Dubai and London and claims to be the fastest-growing eSports company in the MENA region. ESME, as they are better known, hosted 15 LAN and online tournaments in six countries last year alone. What's more, ESME provides specialist eSports content for a host of media outlets throughout the world. They have joined up with similar organisations across the world to form ESIC, a cross-continental firm that is seeking to govern international eSports.
ESME's position at the head of this organisation can only be good for the future of eSports in the Middle East, and Dubai in particular.
Dubai's eSports Professionals
Although the Middle Eastern eSports scene is in its infancy compared to many regions, the rise and rise of the PLG network has given birth to a number of gamers well-known to the growing eSports audience, who are sponsored by soft drinks manufacturer Fanta and are collectively known as the Middle East Fanta Masters, hailing from countries all over the region, including the UAE.
As with any emerging sport, the grassroots need elite level role models in order for the industry to grow, and these, along with a greater infrastructure, specialist venues and ambitious organisations driving it forward, will no doubt lead to Dubai joining the world's major forces in eSports gaming.
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