A sector-building blueprint: Upping the Game In Saudi Arabia’s eSports Circuit

Turning the Kingdom into a key player in the international sports arena is high on the roadmap of Vision 2030, aiming to increase the sector’s share of Saudi Arabia’s GDP to up to 1%. Saudi Arabia is rapidly making its mark in the global sports arena, and the progress is becoming palpable day after day. Most recently, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) just announced a multi-year strategic partnership with the ATP Tour, signaling the global stature of the country and its commitment to leveraging it to empower the national economy. 

The country is looking to emerge as a global sports and entertainment hub. Since 2021, the country has already played host to several lucrative events, including Formula 1 racing, ATP tennis tournaments, and high-profile boxing matches. A slew of mega events are scheduled to take place in the country as well, most notably Formula E, the 2029 Asian Winter Games, and the 2034 FIFA World Cup. These developments are setting the stage for a myriad of commercial opportunities, catalyzing significant economic transformation. 

The country’s endeavors in the sports arena are not only confined to the physical tracks and pitches but also focus on virtual settings as well. As such, the Kingdom has been investing heavily in gaming infrastructure and shoring up local talent, making it an attractive market for the consumption and development of online games. The emerging sector is among the fastest-growing in the Kingdom, with the potential to be worth $1.3 billion by 2027, according to data aggregator Statista. The country’s rising prominence in the gaming arena is further cemented by the fact that the E-Sport World Cup will also be held in Riyadh annually. 

Setting Global Standards For eSports

In its quest to position itself as a global gaming center, the Kingdom’s $38 billion national video games and eSports strategy, unveiled in September 2022 by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, puts greater emphasis on producing breakout games in Saudi-domiciled gaming studios.

It further aims to create 39,000 jobs by 2030, contributing $13.3 billion to the country’s GDP, aligning with the country’s economic diversification strategy.

Utilizing its expertise and all-encompassing understanding of the Saudi market, AstroLabs has been working to blueprint the sector’s success through expansive initiatives and programs by collaborating closely with partners from the private and public sectors. This ties in with its broader mission to contribute to the development of key strategic sectors in the Kingdom as it presses ahead with Vision 2030.

Our sector-building blueprint highlights three pivotal elements that are closely aligned with the Vision 2030 goals; attracting global businesses that cater to the ever-evolving needs of the market, cultivating the local startups & SMEs to further drive economic growth across key sectors, and integrating local corporates to enable cross-sector innovation in close alignment with the public sector.

In 2021, we partnered with the Saudi Ministry of Communications and Information Technology on the ministry’s first-ever gaming-focused program, “Game Changers,” culminating with the launch of 10 gaming studios, thereby increasing the number of operating gaming studios in the country back then by 100%.

Navigating The Path to Significant Growth

Tapping into the e-gaming space enables regional and global companies to capture new business opportunities emerging from a relatively new and rapidly growing field. Our on-ground expansion team is doubling down on bringing in an influx of global businesses that cater to local demand, ensuring their integration into the Saudi market, an increasingly global testbed for sports-related innovation.

As a business expansion platform, we have helped a host of regional gaming studios and publishers expand their presence in the Saudi market, benefiting from the first-mover advantage in the buzzing sector. 

The Kingdom’s foray into gaming catalyzes investment appetite while also attracting big names in the gaming sphere. Last year, the Public Investment Fund (PIF) invested in South Korean game publishers NCsoft and Nexon, as well as established Savvy Gaming Group (SGG). The latter recently completed a $4.3 billion purchase of Scopely, the US-based mobile games company. The SGG will also set up and operate more than 250 gaming companies locally anchored in Saudi Arabia.

Projects like the futuristic city of NEOM and Qiddiya, dubbed the global capital of entertainment, sports, and culture, are envisioned to house immersive gaming districts, attracting regional and global players alike. For instance, the 500,000-square-meter center planned in Qiddya will host up to 25 eSports teams and the regional headquarters of up to 30 companies, accommodating 10 million visitors annually. 

Also, NEOM will be home to one of the region’s first game development studios for a high-profile category, commonly referred to as “AAA”; the project is a partnership between NEOM and MBC Group.

To nurture a vibrant gaming ecosystem, we launched the “AstroLabs Network,” where companies can engage in meaningful connections and form mutually beneficial partnerships that lay the foundation for the creation of a globally competitive e-gaming sector and position the country as a contender on the global stage.

Today, the AstroLabs gaming & e-sports network consists of 100+ global, regional & local partners that elevate the regional capacities of the gaming community across the Gulf. The AstroLabs partner ecosystem extends to government entities, VCs, gaming studios and publishers, and gaming accelerators. This sector-building blueprint extends beyond on-ground activation to include market mapping, and knowledge building & sharing to capitalize on opportunities and optimize challenges for the local ecosystem. 

The demand for convenient, accessible, and immersive gaming experiences never abates. For Saudi gamers, locally developed games are their first choice. This was evident in our “2023 Gaming Market Outlook Report,” where more than half of survey respondents expressed their interest in online games developed entirely in the country.

The report was published last year in partnership with Impact46 and in collaboration with PLAYHERA, and collected responses from more than 130 gamers and game developers in Saudi Arabia. It also emphasized the critical role of government support in carrying the momentum forward.

With tremendous support from the government, the eSports sector in Saudi is headed towards accelerated growth. The introduction of new-age gaming studios being born in Saudi and international gaming companies entering Saudi is a testament to the growing appeal of this sector, both on a regional and a global scale. As the gaming and the sports space in the Kingdom continues to level up constantly, we can anticipate Saudi to become an international hub of a variety of sports, both physical and electronic.