All photos by Chantelle D’mello
In an effort to bring the gaming community together and increase recognition of the activity, a group of young Qatari men has organized a tournament dedicated to the popular video game Smash Bros.
The two-day tournament concludes today, and was dubbed HEAT in an allusion to the scorching summer during which the games took place, its founder Abdulrahman Al Mana said.
Al Mana, a 17-year-old student at Qatar Academy, has been an avid gamer all his life, and said that he organized the tournament to foster a sense of community among fans of video games.
Smash Bros is a Nintendo-created competitive fighting game in which players attempt to knock opponents out in a sudden death scenario, unlike in most fighting games, during which competitors gradually deplete their opponent’s life bars.
First released in 1999, the game has since seen numerous new versions and characters added to its roster, and has been featured in numerous high-profile gaming tournaments around the world.
Al Mana recalled competing in a Super Smash Bros Brawl tournament at The Gaming Lounge in Al Sadd in 2013, and said he ended up getting knocked out in the first round.
Speaking to Doha News, Al Mana said:
“(I realized then) that there were some really good people playing this game in Qatar, and so I started researching and looking a little bit into it. Then last July, the newest version of the game came out. It appealed to a larger audience, and a lot of people picked up competitive Smash in general.
What was a very niche scene, was slowly becoming something of a subculture in Qatar, and we decided that it was time to host a local tournament dedicated to the game.”
Struggling for recognition
Helped by a team of eight classmates, including Salem Almarri, Ebrahim Almuhannadi, Salah Mahmoud, Osamah Hindi, Abdullah al Kuwari and Samer Al Ani, Al Mana hosted the group’s first Smash tournament at the Education City Recreation Center last December.
The event drew some 50 contestants, and garnered the attention of numerous media outlets and online forums dedicated to Smash, who used it to shed light on the growing gaming scene in Qatar.
Spurred by the success of the event, the group is hosting a two-day tournament this week, starting yesterday and ending today, Sept. 4, at the HBKU Recreation Center.
“Our goal was to link players from all around the Middle East together. In this tournament, we have players from Saudi, Bahrain, and Kuwait, all coming to compete,” Al Mana said.
For Al Mana, the tournament is also a way to normalize what is considered a very niche activity, and garner public support for the sport.
“In the west, competitive gaming is very much a real thing. You have international giants who come to support and sponsor gamers and tournaments. It’s a legitimate industry right now, and it’s been that way for at least around 10 years. It’s new, but it’s established.
In the Middle East, it’s in its infancy. Competitive gaming has only just begun to be seen in the public sphere. It will take a bit of time to develop, but the talent is here,” he said.
Over the years, the Qatari gaming scene has been steadily growing, spurred in large part by new startups and lounges hoping to bring gaming to the forefront.
Earlier this year, Qatar’s first gaming convention, IGN, drew massive crowds during its two-day run, with over a thousand fans turning up per day.
Local developers have also been tapping into the growing interest for video games.
In late 2013, three Qataris – Munera Al-Dosari, Faraj Abdulla and Fatima Al-Kuwari – formed Girnaas Studio, a creative venture that launched one of the nation’s first locally-made video games, Giddam, and which has, since then, produced several other Qatar-focused games.
According to Al Mana, one of the main factors that has hindered video gaming’s growth is the perception that it is not really a sport. Rather, he said, competitive gaming was looked at more as a hobby.
“This is a sport. It takes talent and skill and hard work to be actually good at these games. It’s not something you can do overnight. Some of these players practice for years and they barely scratch the surface.
Some people even make a living out of this, but people have this idea that it’s just a bunch of nerds who are stuck in their room, don’t take showers, and spend all of their time on the computer.”
This year, the group has managed to secure some big-name sponsors like Virgin Megastore and Red Bull, who dedicated television screens and prizes to the tournament.
Making a community
The tournament also aimed to help gamers connect and befriend like-minded individuals from Doha and the region.
When Doha News visited an hour into the tournament, almost 50 players – some as young as 10 or 11 years old – could be seen playing the game.
“It’s very much a social experience,” Al Mana said, adding:
“Most of my closest friends, I’ve met through these tournaments. I talk to these people on a daily basis. It’s honestly a phenomenal thing. You can just pick up a controller, pull up a chair, and play with someone. You start chatting, and that’s a new friendship right there.”
The sentiment is echoed by Malek Anabtawi, an 18-year-old computer science student at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar and HEAT participant.
“It’s a chance for us to connect, to compete, and to enjoy the sport in a fun environment. We grow together – in skill, in friendship. It’s a lot of fun,” he said.