The absence of state institutions has allowed entities and grassroot startups to take the lead in paving access for gamers.
Outside the football pitch, Qatar has set its sights on the eSports industry, hoping the country will become the next hub for the gaming world.
A multi-billion dollar industry, the eSports industry has seen tremendous growth over the years, in viewership, revenue, and popularity – and Qatari officials have taken notice.
Qatar’s Esports Federation (QESF) officially announced its objectives in late September, highlighting that its core mission is to develop eSports within the country and expand gamers’ participation.
During a press conference on 20 September, The QESF revealed that it would collaborate with QUEST eSports, an industry leader serving from Qatar to Lebanon and Turkey.
CEO and founder of QUEST Elie Honain believes Qatar is on track to being recognised for its efforts within the industry, calling the agreement an “important milestone in the growth of eSports in Qatar.”
For local gamers in the peninsula, the creation of the Esports Federation is a manifestation of their dreams coming true after years of independently running their own gaming initiatives.
More than just a game
AbdulRahman Al-Mana, who heads Smash tournaments in Qatar and has been a gamer since a young age, is excited to see the increasing support for his passion.
Since childhood, Al-Mana has formed many of his relationships primarily through gaming. After years of bonding with his controller, he became aware of the competitive scene growing in North America and decided to bring it to his community in the Gulf nation.
The gamer started hosting tournaments between a few friends from high school, and as the years went on, the competition grew from a local level to regional and international levels.
Super Smash Brothers was the game of choice for Al-Mana, for its “distinctive and stimulating gameplay” – allowing players to fight with gaming icons in the ultimate showdown.
“We started very small, very simple, where we just oriented on small local tournaments, and now we host these huge international major tournaments, where we have people from Mexico flying over, people from France flying over, from all across the GCC and the Arab world,” Al-Mana told Doha News.
The time is now
ESports in Qatar is relatively young; in fact, the country is considered relatively behind compared to its Gulf neighbours in developing activities for its local video gamers.
With the federation’s development, Al-Mana believes it’s a crucial time for Qatar’s industry, stating that there is “a lot of catching up” for the newly founded institution.
Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates’ eSport federations have progressed further in regulatory support and infrastructure development compared to QESF.
Under the umbrella of the Qatari Olympic Committee, QESF will contend with far fewer resources. However, the absence of state institutions has allowed several entities and grassroot startups to take the lead in paving access for gamers.
Al-Mana points out the existing Qatar gaming theme park, otherwise known as Virtuocity, is a demand catered to the needs of local players.
The massive area held at Doha Festival City, the largest operating mall in Qatar, hosts 200 gaming stations in a 360-degree panorama, encouraging competitors to face off in a contentious environment.
Existing venues like Virtuocity supply assets that certain players may not afford since the sport, unlike other sports, comes with associated costs.
Professional gamers who choose a PC or console for their gaming preference can spend several thousand dollars for the latest equipment and accessories; and regardless of their gaming system, they spend several thousand dollars for the newest equipment and accessories.
More importantly, the fastest most reliable WiFi is needed to compete, and outlets that are put in place, like Virtuocity, don’t discriminate against the various financial income of gamers.
Made by gamers, for gamers
A newly established startup by the name of Showdown has mounted deeper in solving the challenges for Qatar’s eSports.
Founded by Hatem Salah and Deeb Mahmoud, Showdown was devised by the two devoted gamers to cater to a specific issue gamers typically come across, which is building their careers.
The online platform allows players to monetise their talent to build a professional eSports profession.
Profiles on Showdown allows users to showcase their achievements to potential teams, sponsors and tournament organisers.
A myth often shared by those outside the eSport world is that anyone can be a professional game, but according to these devoted gamers – this is far from the truth.
Contrary to the belief, professional gamers don’t compete in any game but are instead linked to one game that they are competitive in.
Hundreds of hours are dedicated to mastering that specific game’s mechanics, whether it is Smash Brothers or FIFA, which in their nature pool a particular type of player.
In the end, anyone can deem themselves a pro gamer, but winning makes the difference.
“What it takes to be a pro is ultimately winning,” said Al-Mana.
The winning however is not done in the comfort of your own home, but in an environment of a tournament where the pressure is on, Al-Mana tells Doha News.
“It’s a completely different ballpark when you go into a tournament and have people screaming whether they want you to win or lose. You have other teams competing against you; there is a huge prize pool right in front of you, and the anxiety starts pouring in,” said Al-Mana.
Salah and Mahmoud’s contribution to Qatar’s eSports scene is large as their platform not only showcases users’ talent but also offers tournament organisers tools to help them create and operate their events.
“What can we do to catch up and surpass our neighboring countries in the region is to promote the growth of communities in Qatar, and we do that through Showdown,” Mahmoud told Doha News.
Showdown’s unique system allows organisers and sponsors to keep track of players doing well through their stats and the leaderboard, grouped by contested games.
Showdown has facilitated several tournaments in Qatar, including the first eSports tournament in Education City.
Over the years, the small team-driven platform has developed and is expected to boom as more attention is paid to the eSports enterprise.
Despite Qatar’s late development in the industry, the country has the local foundation to become a hub for regional and international gamers.
As Qatar looks ahead past its upcoming Winter extravaganza, it will undoubtedly focus on other sports areas, including those that played with controllers.