$3B Mena eSports attracts more audience than ever before
The industry expected to generate $1.5B in annual revenues by 2020
Remember when your parents would caution you against playing too many video games when you were little? Well, chances are that they had no idea that the industry would evolve to form electronic sports (eSports) tournaments, that today boast millions of dollars in prize money, and are watched by more than 400 million people globally.
Though the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region is a relatively young market for eSports, the regional industry has been valued at nearly $3 billion, and experts predict that there is a huge potential for growth in the coming years.
Saeed Sharaf, board member at the World eSports Consortium and regional manager at World Cyber Arena, noted that the video games industry is now bigger than the film and music industries combined. "The push for more interactive, entertaining and engaging content that is accessible anywhere, at any time has opened the door for a boom in eSports. E-sports is the next big revenue growth engine for entertainment entities. This is particularly true in the Mena region, with its high internet penetration and young demographics."
Led by multiplayer video gaming, eSports is developing its own professional player celebrities and filling traditional sports arenas as fans show out to support their favourite gaming athletes. Sponsorship and advertising is set to drive this new market to generate $1.5 billion in annual revenues by 2020. According to Statista, in 2018, the number of frequent eSports viewers and enthusiasts amounted to 173 million. This number is projected to reach 201 million in 2019, which is nearly double than the Super Bowl 2018 final. The 2018 League of Legends World Championship was the most viewed event of the year, with over 200 million fans tuning in to watch the finals taking place in South Korea.
It is estimated that eSports fans spend around 100 minutes per spectating session on platforms like Twitch and YouTube Gaming, which led to 260 million hours of eSports watched on these platforms in the first quarter of 2018 alone. Newzoo reporter that in October of 2018, 46 million hours were spent by users watching League of Legends competitions on Twitch. Counter-Strike, Dota 2, Fortnite, and PUBG are also among the top five most popular games over the last few months.
"Data has shown that a quarter of the world's population will be aware of eSports by 2021," Sharaf said. "We predict that the world's 10 biggest capital cities will each have a dedicated stadium for eSports in the years to come. Dubai already has plans to have its very own stadium that will be dedicated entirely to eSports, called Dubai X-Stadium, which will position the city as a hub for global eSoprts in the region. As prize pools for eSports tournaments, and viewership numbers, continue to increase, brands across the world and in different sectors are beginning to notice."
Last year, Mastercard announced a multi-year partnership with Riot Games to become the first global sponsor for League of Legends eSports. Today, many brands are the main contributors to eSports revenues; in 2018, they invested close to $700 million into eSports - 77 per cent of total revenue in 2018.
"The eSports sector in the Middle East is growing at a phenomenal rate due to high Internet and smartphone penetration rates, a large young population and a strong affinity for digital technologies," said Beatrice Cornacchia, senior vice president, Marketing and Communications, Middle East and Africa at Mastercard. "The video games industry in the Middle East is estimated to be worth more than $1 billion annually and is expected to rise to $4.4 billion by 2022. As an exciting combination of sports and technology, eSports represents a highly popular passion point for people around the world. As the first global sponsor for League of Legends eSports, Mastercard is committed to supporting the growth of this industry by turning the passion of eSports fans into priceless experiences for the millions of League of Legends fans that watch and attend the tournaments each year."
Anish Krishnan, head of Products, Gaming and Emerging Technologies at FlamingoSkies, also noted that the GCC and the UAE, in particular, are primed for a growth in eSports, mainly due to the young population of gamers that are present in the region. "What we need to ensure is that these young pro gamers are given the right incentive in order for them to take it up as a career."
Mohammad Albanna, board member of the UAE eSports Federation, highlighted the increasingly important role of eSport federations in positively supporting the development of the industry, encouraging growth, and paving the way to host international leagues and tournaments. Having the support of the government, he said, leads to the development of national teams that will represent the country when competing on the international stage.
As an example, he pointed to the Saudi Arabian Federation for Electronic and Intellectual Sports. "Saudi Arabia now has official governmental representation and support for competitive gaming, with the Saudi team taking first prize in one competition at the 10th edition of the IESF eSports World Championship in Taiwan in 2018. The UAE is on the road to expand this industry here. We are not there yet, but we are on our way."
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