CasinosJungle > News > Saudi State Looks to eSports for Next Investment

Saudi State Looks to eSports for Next Investment

Penny June 23, 2023

Saudi Arabia has never been seen as a hotbed of tourism or sport on the world stage. However, that looks set to change as the state continues to reinvent itself. On top of promoting the country extensively with wide-ranging and welcoming tourist campaigns, those in charge of shaking up how the nation is viewed have been making investments in sport to sell its appeal to a new audience.

Saudi Esports Gamers8

In recent years, state-backed investment funds have pumped masses of money into both soccer and golf. Now, though, it looks like the money is going to something much less established. Instead, the Saudi Public Investment Fund is going digital and investing heavily in eSports and game development.

In a groundbreaking move, the sovereign wealth fund has invested millions into building an eSports industry in the country. Just this month, the PIF announced a $5 million prize fund for the Gamers8 Festival that will be held in Saudi Arabia throughout July and August. While that is still some way short of the largest-ever prize pool on offer – that was a $40 million pool for DOTA 2’s 2021 International – it still sets the festival apart as one of the most lucrative competitions on the circuit. It shows a serious desire to put the Middle Eastern nation on the map when it comes to competitive gaming. Not many other newcomers to the industry would have the ability to channel the requisite money to attract the finest talent in gaming to a completely new competition.


PIF Investments Not Without Controversy

As exciting as large-scale investment in a burgeoning industry can be, some have expressed concerns about a number of these latest developments. Detractors have pointed to accusations of human rights abuses by the heads of the nation. This has led many to express a belief that Saudi Arabia is engaging in what has been termed “sportswashing”. That is that those in power are using sport’s popularity to change how their nation is perceived on the world stage. It’s a term that has been used for a number of states, perhaps most famously Qatar. Following the announcement that the 2022 FIFA World Cup would be held in the Gulf, the resounding response was one of bewilderment. Not only was the country not prepared to host soccer’s premium international tournament, but it was suffering from a poor public image. The subsequent investment in football clubs like PSG did nothing to change this.


The PIF’s recent purchases and investments have been particularly controversial. Staying with soccer, the fund purchased the English Premier League team Newcastle United. Initially, the authorities in England blocked the takeover of one of its most famous clubs. Instead of pointing the finger at the human rights record of the nation, it claimed that its objection to the new ownership was based on pirating. The Premier League was reportedly unhappy with the illegal streaming of its product originating from Saudi Arabia. The league did eventually shift from its position and the purchase was eventually approved. Given that the club qualified for the prestigious Champions League for the first time in decades, it’s hard to argue that the move hasn’t been positive in spite of the controversy.


Collaboration is Key to Achieving Legitimacy

The other sport that has felt the effects of Saudi investment in spades, golf, has had its own tumultuous start to the relationship. The LIV Golf competition that formed as a breakaway from the established tournaments caused a great divide. A number of professionals were effectively blocked from participating in the PGA Tour, golf’s pinnacle, for signing deals with LIV. However, in recent weeks, the Tour has agreed a deal to merge with the breakaway tournament, hopefully bringing an end to the sport’s civil war. It is still yet to be seen if it will remain that way, though, as a number of the sport’s names calling the move a “betrayal” to the integrity of the competition.


Whether or not the deal remains in place, what is clear to see is that there needs to be collaboration for any real success to come out of Saudi investment in sports. While eSports doesn’t have the same established competition that these centuries-old sports do, international cooperation is still required for events like the Gamers8 Festival to take off. There’s no point putting the money into a competition that is not streamed or televised in the mainstream, or if the best competitors avoid it. With the money being shoveled into the industry, though, the Middle East could well be the new home of eSports.

Welcome back!

Forgot your password?

Need an account - register?

Create an account

Already have an account