eSports World Cup Could Spark Gaming Frenzy in Saudi Arabia

The first-ever eSports World Cup (EWC) kicked off in Saudi Arabia in early July and could trigger a seismic shift in how the nation is perceived on the global stage. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman wants to build Riyadh into the eSports capital of the world and views the EWC as an important step to achieving his dreams. The event has garnered the attention of professional gamers, publishers and fans worldwide for an eight-week competitive gaming spectacle.

The EWC runs from July 3 until August 25 and has $61 million in prize money up for grabs. The impact of the event could go far beyond the gaming arena. One industry that could be significantly impacted is iGaming. There are strict laws regarding online gambling in Saudi Arabia, but the EWC reopens the dialogue on the issue. 

Saudi Arabia’s Stance on Gaming

Gaming is strictly prohibited in Saudi Arabia under Islamic law. The country enforces these laws through the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Residents cannot access online gaming sites, and participation in any form of gaming carries the risk of severe penalties. Despite the current legal prohibitions, around 38.2% of people in Saudi Arabia have wagered on sports in the past 12 months, according to TGM Research.

Some Arab citizens have participated in gaming through online platforms. These offer different options for sports events such as football to more niche options like eSports. While EWC is expected to spark heightened interest in gaming, this may not bring immediate changes in Saudi Arabia’s gaming laws. However, it has opened the floor for some critical dialogue.  Stakeholders will now revisit and discuss a framework for implementing regulations that satisfy both religious authorities and the economic benefits of gaming.

The Gateway Effect

Many online bookmakers are offering odds on the eSports World Cup which could create a gateway effect to other verticals such as online games. Sportsbooks are often linked to online gaming sites which offer a wide range of games. This makes it easy for bettors to jump from an eSports wager to a quick spin in games on an online casino Saudi Arabia platform, all within the same user interface.

If Saudi Arabia lets the brakes off by creating a licensing and regulatory infrastructure for iGaming, the sector could really take off in the Middle East. The EWC undoubtedly creates a platform for re-evaluating iGaming in Saudi Arabia. The event signifies the growing importance of the gaming industry in the Gulf state.

The National Gaming and eSports Strategy focuses on growing the industry within Saudi Arabia, creating 39,000 jobs and boosting GDP by $13.3 billion by 2030. The government’s ambitious Vision 2030 economic diversification plan highlights the potential of eSports to create jobs and boost the economy.

Esports isn’t just about a few teenagers playing video games in their rooms anymore. It is a global phenomenon that attracts millions of viewers and substantial investments. Legalising and regulating gaming could create thousands of jobs for several other sectors and unlock tax revenue in Saudi.

Saudi Has a Young Population Yearning to Express Themselves

The demographic heavily invested in eSports tends to be younger and more tech-savvy. This group of people will likely be more receptive to online gaming in general. They will likely see it as a form of entertainment alongside eSports. 

Legalising eSports could expose this young audience to a wider world of online gaming, creating a new generation of players. Saudi Arabia’s entertainment options are quite restricted compared to some other countries. Gaming is a fresh and exciting avenue for them to engage with and unleash their competitive spirit. While there are cultural and ethical considerations to take into account, Saudi’s rulers must be open to change if they nation is to fulfil its global ambitions.

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