Esports has seen increased interest in recent years, with its global market value expected to reach billions of dollars .
Qatar is vying for a leading position in esports as the Middle East becomes a rapidly growing hotspot for the industry, experts say.
While neighbouring Saudi Arabia has already set the pace with its $38 billion strategy to turn the country into an esports hub, Qatar has made strides in building up its own esports scene.
“The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region is working to position itself as one of the leaders in the esports industry. Following the hosting of the region’s first official esports competition, the 2015 ESL ESEA Pro League invitational held in 2015 in Dubai, a wave of tech companies, video game publishers, and esports tournament organisers have begun developing and hosting esports competitions across the Middle East,” Dr. Kamilla Swart-Arries, an expert at The experts from Hamad Bin Khalifa University’s (HBKU) College of Science and Engineering (CSE) told Doha News.
In Qatar, Qatar Esports Federation (QESF) was launched towards the end of 202l with a mission to increase community participation and advance esports in the country.
“As part of this initiative, QESF signed an agreement with QUEST, a Qatar-based esports company, that will enable them to expand their local talent pool through additional support and training while also increasing the frequency of live competitions. In so doing, QESF will also provide talented athletes with a clear path to professional advancement so that they can represent Qatar at international competitions,” she added.
Joining other experts from HBKU and the University of South Carolina, including Dr. Christos Anagnostopoulos, and Dr. Nicholas Watanabe, the trio have explored the rapid rise in popularity of esports, the size and growth potential of the industry in the Middle East, and what Qatar can do to grow its own esports sector in a sustainable manner.
“Companies like EA Sports entered this market at least two decades ago – before we even understood the range of applications and experiences they would have in our time. With the digital transition, evolution of technology and available infrastructure, not to mention the growing popularity of the ‘sport’, giants such as Formula 1, FIFA, NFL, NBA have formed their own teams and competitive tournaments,” Dr. Watanabe said.
In 2017, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) recognised esports as a sporting activity, with the inaugural Olympic Esports Week expected to be held in Singapore in June 2023.
“The IOC have also hinted that esports could be featured at the Brisbane 2032 Olympic Games, showing that it is fully aware of the rapid growth and popularity of esports among young people and that they are looking to attract younger generations to the Olympic Games,” Dr Swart-Arries said.
“It is also important to underscore that esports is due to become a medal event at the delayed 2022 Asian Games in Hangzou, China, a tournament Doha will host in 2030,” she added.
Deloitte’s latest estimates put the value of the global esports market at $942.34 million in 2020, projecting growth to $4,758.99 million by 2030.
The experts agreed that establishing an institutional and legal framework to govern esports in Qatar is essential for the sustainable growth of the industry in the Gulf state.
“In my opinion, an institutional/legal framework that puts boundaries and distinguishes esports from videogame play is the way forward in a rather cluttered and uncontrolled environment,” Dr. Anagnostopoulos told Doha News.
He said experts who responded to the 2021 PwC Middle East Sports Survey [PF1] pointed out the importance of governing bodies to accurately classify and define the virtual variations of their sport, establishing appropriate regulations, involving relevant stakeholders and developing standalone go-to-market strategies.
In addition, cultivating a workforce to manage the industry is of critical importance.
“For example, students in the joint Master’s degree program in Sport and Entertainment Management offered by Hamad Bin Khalifa University and the University of South Carolina are gaining first-hand experience of this new and upcoming industry,” Dr Swart-Arries said.
The course covers a range of topics from the management of teams and athletes to the use of digital media to market and monetise esports.
“From a strategic perspective, the goal of the course is to enhance the existing expertise of students in managing and marketing sport, so that they can apply this knowledge to the realm of esports,” stated Dr. Watanabe.
Qatar’s prospects for developing into a prominent esports hub rely on the nation’s existing sports and technological infrastructure and the experts believes the industry could play an important role in the country’s economic diversification strategy.
“Developing an esports culture not only aligns with Qatar National Vision 2030’s goal of supporting the broader sport ecosystem and youth development, but also creates opportunities for greater inclusivity and accessibility,” Dr Swart-Arries said
“This means the active participation of girls and women as well as people with disabilities. Through partnership and collaboration, Qatar and the wider region has the potential to position itself as an international hub for esports,” she added.
However, Dr Anagnostopoulos is looking beyond the economic benefits.
“In my view, however, this one-dimensional approach is rather myopic. Studies have empirically shown that there is much more than ‘economic benefits’ when we talk about esports,” he said.
“Esports offer students opportunities to engage in STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics) fields, giving them a unique way to engage with these respective disciplines as they begin to contemplate the careers they wish to pursue.
“For example, students cultivate math skills through game statistics and data analysis to build stronger in-game strategy. There are also multiple benefits that the human brain can reap through esports. Studies show that gaming can lead to improved visual perception, improved memory, and better focus.”