Game on: The rise of eSports in the Middle East

LONDON: It isn’t often that a new sport becomes part of the cultural mainstream. For example, at next year’s Tokyo Olympics skateboarding will be included in the competition for the first time, marking a culmination of over 70 years as a hobby that turned into a competitive sport.

Much like skateboarding, another sport has bubbled up from its subculture beginnings into the monoculture: Electronic sports — or simply eSports. What started as an amateur pursuit is now too popular to ignore, but is still a mystery to the casual observer. Dismissing eSports as a fad today is akin to somene in 2000 proudly proclaiming that they don’t think the internet will amount to much. It is estimated that by the end of 2019, the total audience of eSports will have grown to an around 454 million viewers and associated revenues — mainly from advertising — will increase to over $1 billion.

The sport is distinct from casual gaming on a console in your living room. ESports consists of competitive multiplayer videogame competitions between professional players, either as individuals or as teams. Although organized online and offline competitions have long been a part of gaming culture, they were a largely amateur pursuit until the early 2000s. The meteoric rise of eSports over the past decade has been led primarily by South Korea, China, Europe and North America. Other regions are catching up quickly, and the Arab world is no exception. Gamers have known this for a while but now investors, governments and the general public are getting on board.

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