The Saudi country is proving to be a driving force among the Arabian nations in the Middle East. Besides Cristiano Ronaldo, other famous footballers have a newfound home in the Saudi Pro League. French compatriots Karim Benzema and N’Golo Kanté are among the significant signings causing a craze in the football sphere.

However, Saudi Arabia is trying to stamp its authority in an entirely new sector which is another global pastime, the $180 billion-a-year video game industry. We are now entering a realm  of online entertainment which has been creating a buzz.

As you all know, gambling or any online activity relating to the same is illegal in Saudi. So even though you can’t enjoy casino bonuses or games within the country, video games are an excellent alternative to keep you entertained. 

Saudi Arabia, a co-owner of professional golf, reserved nearly $40 billion through the Saudi sovereign wealth fund in September 2022. The funds were earmarked for a new conglomerate to transform the kingdom into an “ultimate global hub” for esports and video games by 2030.

The ambitious nature of the Saudi nation continues beyond there. In February 2023, the Saudi fund served as the largest outside investor in Nintendo, and in July of the same year, the kingdom hosted a significant gaming tournament. A record $45 million prize pool was awarded for the event, capturing Saudi Arabia as an increasingly essential player in the video-gaming industry.

Who could have imagined the remarkable transformation of an ultraconservative and oil-rich nation into an emerging entertainment and sports powerhouse? Though the kingdom’s move into the gaming sector has been met with backlash, akin to its previous golf and football exploits, the Saudi Crown Prince has an otherwise different take.

Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince, is allegedly a voracious gamer and sees the country’s entry into the gaming scene as part of Vision 2030. Salman plans to diversify Saudi’s economy by reducing its over-reliance on oil and providing gainful employment and entertainment for its youthful population.

The consensus is that an investment in esports provides two valuable opportunities. One is prime advertising options, and the other is promoting the brand of a country that is ‘cool’ and a fantastic place to holiday. 

Through gaming, the kingdom will join a global community dominated by the young and tech-savvy, and the ambitious prince is up to the task. In September 2022, the crown announced the formation of the Savvy Games Group, an entity aiming to invest $1 billion in the gaming market. Avenues designated for investment include creating 250 local companies and establishing at least 39,000 jobs in the next seven years.

In July 2023, the Savvy Group finalized the $4.9 billion purchase of Scopely—creator of the critically acclaimed ‘Monopoly Go,’ ‘Marvel Strike Force’ and ‘Star Trek Fleet Command.’ 

Esports is another exciting platform the oil-rich kingdom is eager to foray into that draws in millions of fans, celebrity players, and corporate sponsors. To the uninitiated, esports are competitions pitting the globe’s best players against each other—from first-person shooters (FPS) and battle royales to ‘FIFA’ and ‘Madden NFL.’

Watching other people play video games may sound pretty dull, but it is a colossal venture, with the 2021 Esports Singapore event attracting 5.4 million concurrent viewers. Saudi Arabia hosted Gamers8, a one-week esport tournament in the summer of 2022, with a $15 million prize pool. Gamers8 returned in July 2023 with three times as large a prize pool due to the event’s breakthrough success.

With the buzz emanating from Saudi’s video-gaming forays, its wealthy gulf neighbors have their ears perked up. Dubai of the Emirates hosted a five-day esports festival in June 2023. The Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) acquired a minority stake in Monument Sports and Entertainment—the owner of the Washington Wizards and Capitals—and esports holdings.

Gaming is a gigantic and fast-growing industry going by available information. Newzoo, a market research firm, mentions about 3.2 billion people game on mobile devices, PC, consoles, or cloud-gaming services, generating revenues of $184 billion in 2022.

Gaming brings in more cash than the combined earnings of the top five wealthiest sports leagues, global box office, music streaming, and album sales, as per a 2021 report by Boston Consulting Group.