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Leveling Up: Unlocking The Promise of Esports in Qatar

In some Arab Gulf States, the esports (electronic sports) industry is booming. Besides the entertainment they provide, professional individual or team-based video gaming events—can offer major economic windfalls that align with the region’s efforts to diversify their economies and reduce dependency on fossil fuel revenues.

Within the Gulf, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have taken the lead in esports development, investing heavily in international gaming companies while nurturing a domestic skills base for the industry. While Qatar’s vision for its esports program mirrors those of its neighbors, its esports scene is still in its infancy. To cultivate a lucrative and robust local industry, the government-owned Qatar Esports Federation should prioritize supporting the existing indigenous gaming culture. The community of Qatari citizens and expatriates undoubtedly comprises devout gamers, some of whom own gaming and esports businesses of their own. Not only would support for these companies promote collaboration between local businesses and the government-led Esports Federation, it can also nurture esports as a cultural phenomenon and as a desirable professional industry for Qatari youth.

Betting on the Future of Qatari Esports

In 2022, the global esports industry was worth $1.39 billion, and is projected to expand by 16.7% annually from 2022 to 2030. The uptick in this projection offers a promising glimpse into the future of esports in the country. Therefore, it is crucial to study regional and international esports markets and attempt to mimic the contributing factors that lead to their success. Saudi Arabia, for example, has dedicated $38 billion to developing its domestic esports industry—some of which will be allocated to the purchase of minor stakes in existing major gaming companies. Given the similarities in national visions and culture between Qatar and its larger neighbor, Saudi Arabia can be a valuable case study for Qatar to draw some lessons from. However, at a foundational level that few policymakers appreciate, local gamers themselves already have invaluable insights into the world of video gaming and esports.

Abdulrahman Al Mana is a dedicated 25-year-old Qatari gamer and the founder of Team Mana, an esports company that specializes in organizing tournaments and supporting local talent in Qatar. Al-Mana found his start in the esports industry in 2015, when he began organizing grassroots Super Smash Brothers tournaments, through that, he established a group known as “Super Smash Bros. Qatar”, which brought together local enthusiasts of Nintendo’s popular fighting game. The group went on to host hundreds of tournaments, from weekly local tournaments to regional events which would see competition from neighboring countries participants. Their experiences paved the way to hosting the largest international Super Smash Bros. tournament the region saw in 2022, the Virtuosity Smash Open, providing them with valuable experience in the world of e-sports tournament organization. Government support for companies such as Team Mana will empower them to lead in developing the Qatari esports ecosystem, which promises benefits for both state and society.

Indeed, leaders in Doha should seek to transform Qatar’s fledgling gaming industry into a professional system that promotes entrepreneurship and creates jobs across sectors. For example, esports companies and the tournaments they host require artists and communications staff to create compelling advertisements for events and ensure effective audience outreach.  These teams will design and oversee marketing campaigns and create social media content. Effective advertisement enables wider participation of players and audiences, but it can also create publicity on its own merits and grab the attention of people from all generations.

Fostering a Gaming Culture

Successfully leveraging the advantages of a nascent esports industry will require Qatar to bolster an esports culture. According to Al Mana, a culture that promoted gaming and esports would gradually transform perceptions of gaming from a hobby—or, in the minds of some parents, a waste of time—into a viable and professional career path for Qatari youth. “If you look at South Korea, for example,” Al Mana said, “you can see that they have a huge esports culture. Professional tournaments are shown on television and esports players are celebrities. We don’t have that in Doha—at least not yet.”

For this reason, aspiring local gamers in Qatar who wish to compete professionally and establish businesses in the industry should be viewed as role models for younger audiences, as well as for parents whose children might want to work in the industry in the future. Al Mana stresses that the significance of local representation lies in “speaking the same cultural language,” whether dealing with bureaucrats in the government or parents at home. Additionally, since the development and sustainability of an esports ecosystem does not solely depend on professional players, the government should consider introducing age-appropriate esports programs and courses across grade school and college.

These developments would not be novel to the Gulf. Countries such as Japan and the United Kingdom are making huge strides in preparing their young students to build careers in the esports industry. In Japan, the Esports High School combines rigorous video game training with traditional schoolwork. This curriculum is a compelling alternative for dropouts—especially boys—who find traditional schools less desirable. Due to the increasing unpopularity of traditional schooling in the GCC region, these programs could offer attractive opportunities to otherwise disaffected youth. In the UK, the British Esports Federation works closely with educational institutions to develop degree programs that entail different specialties, including esports business administration and game design. The British have also established the world’s first university with undergraduate programs that exclusively focus on the esports industry, College of Esports.

Furthermore, introducing esports-related courses can have a knock-on effect of boosting STEM enrollment across Qatar. According to a systematic review of STEM in the GCC, Gulf youth lack interest in STEM and consistently perform below international standards in math and science tests. Failure to devise creative solutions that appeal to youth and improve their enrollment in STEM would perpetuate the issue of young citizens flooding the public sector even in the future. According to Sari Kitelyn, Full Sail University Director of Esports and Project Development, “there’s a direct connection between what esports programs provide and STEM education. Esports is a really good introduction into having more STEM education and STEM programming within facilities.”

In the end, personal connections are central to fostering a culture supportive of esports. During our conversation, Al Mana shared his father’s support of him pursuing and monetizing his work in e-sports. “When I was in high school,” he recalled, “my dad really got into esports as a concept when he [attended] one of the tournaments we organized at a mall. He saw the excitement in the room, the large screen …  and a huge roaring crowd. At that moment, it clicked for him that this is a real competitive environment, and he has been into [esports] since.” Individuals such as Abdulrahman Al Mana and similar devout gamers represent the grassroots of gaming culture in Qatar. Their extensive knowledge and insight into the gaming and esports industries serve as valuable examples and lessons for the government to elevate the domestic industry. Empowering younger generations with the resources to pursue their professional prospects in esports can fulfill a crucial aspect of Qatar’s economic diversification efforts, and feed the passions of the country’s youth.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Gulf International Forum.

Issue: Economy & Innovation
Country: Qatar

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Dr. Hind Al Ansari is a Non-Resident Fellow at Gulf International Forum. She is a development and global education researcher based in Washington and recently completed a one-year fellowship at the Wilson Center. Dr. Al-Ansari has published multiple articles and has been recognized for her work as a recipient of the Middle East Policy Council 40 Under 40 Award. She holds a PhD in Education from Cambridge University and a Master in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard.


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