With a growing eSports community in Qatar, Doha News explores what the new trend is all about.
The computer flashed from scene to scene as the young eSports player’s avatar progressed in the story. With her kohl-lined eyes, glossed lips and delicately wrapped sheila, 21-year-old Dana Al Madhoun’s fingers swiftly moved across the PS4 controller with lightning speed. As unlikely as it may have seemed, she was a part of a young and burgeoning eSports community in Qatar.
“I wanted to see how many gamers (like me) were out there,” said Al Madhoun, a female eSports player and founder of Qatar University’s eSports club. Al Madhoun’s game of choice is Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), a multiplayer first-person shooter video game.
“I didn’t know how to talk, I didn’t know how to spell, but I knew how to game,” she told Doha News.
eSports or electronic sports has in recent years catapulted as a new, competitive and vibrant culture of professional video gaming. While many continue to debate whether playing video games requires the same amount of dedication, skill and practice as sports in the real world, the virtual edition has undoubtedly grown in popularity worldwide.
Unlike other countries where eSports is at the helm of mega corporations that were quick to capitalise on the growing trend, Qatar’s community follows a more independent approach.
Here in Qatar, gamers fulfil needs by collaborating, organising events and creating open hubs for play. The community also follows the grass-roots based, bottom-up approach – as opposed to a top-down approach that corporations follow.
“It’s not about making money; it’s about building the community. We don’t want corporate people coming and monopolising the scene (like in Dubai),” said Hamad Al Meghaissib, an eSports enthusiast and event organiser.
Despite it being a late trend to start, the Middle East is now quickly growing in terms of eSports. According to Abbas Sirelkhatim, a community expert for Virtuocity, there is a young and underserved community for video gaming in Qatar that is, “still growing and finding its place.”
Previously, the community was primarily served by corporations from outside to create events centred around video gaming. But “in the last two years, the model has switched,” said Sirelkhatim.
“The community would go out and start doing events, which culminated in the creation of ‘Geekdom’ at Ajyal Film Festival in Qatar,” which in 2019 served as a hub for a competitive tournament that allowed players to compete in various video games.
In the past two years, the gaming community in Qatar has also seen a spike in activities, with multiple events catering to gamers interested in an assortment of games, as well as the creation of video game lounges such as 1UP Gaming and Shooters.
Speaking to Doha News, Abdullah bin Meshal, an eSports enthusiast and tournament organiser, said 1UP Gaming was created to serve a growing demand.
“We used to go (to the Gaming Lounge) every day. It kept getting worse until it just didn’t fit us anymore,” bin Meshal said.
1Up is a dark and dingy two floored establishment, illuminated only by the light from the desktop and TV screens that lock in the focus of gamers. The lounge became so popular over the years that it now has plans to expand to accommodate the growing community.
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Ahmad Al Meghessib, a professional eSports player for Paris Saint Germain’s eSports team and professional footballer believes eSports to be a “true sport,” that has been under contention throughout the world.
“I practice, I learn, I strategise,” he told Doha News, noting parents sometimes fail to understand that eSports is more than just a childish hobby. “There is a stigma (in Qatar) about video games.”
eSports, unlike average video gaming, is characterised by competition, viewership and fandom.
Al Meghaisseb is very passionate about the community. “It’s easy to meet people, and they are smart,” he said. “There is no division by country, no division by race and no division by gender.”
Government support is the key to a faster growing community in Qatar, according to Al Meghaisseb. “The industry is big, but there is no platform that everybody trusts,” he said, explaining the need for authorities to weigh in on the booming eSports scene across the country.
For some of the organisers, the future of eSports is much more than lounges.
In the future, the community is looking to collaborate and assemble under the banner of eSports in Qatar and create an eSports federation with the help of the government.
“There is a significant upward trend in the growing eSports scene in Qatar and the Middle East,” said Al Meghaissib.