2019 has been a big year for esports in the Middle East. We’ve seen local servers, more publishers and larger events come to the region and give players a reason to keep playing. In this article we take a snapshot look at some of the key things that happened in 2019.

Local servers and game localisation

The call to have local servers to support players in the Middle East has long been a call that fell on deaf ears. That started to change this year with Epic setting up servers in India which provided a much-needed boost to the region. Microsoft and Google have set up server farms in the region to pave the way for other publishers.

Riot Games, who have an office in Dubai, announced multiple game launches for 2020 and a localised version of League of Legends. When this is released it will help build the player numbers across the region. Localisation is something that is considered as an after-thought, but EA SPORTS saw the value early on and have seen great returns from FIFA. We hope other publishers follow a similar path.

Larger events and IP in the region

We’ve also seen some huge events and global IPs coming to the region this year. BLAST Pro Series hosted their global finals in Bahrain this December. Tencent hosted their Star Challenge World Cup in Riyadh and Riot launched “The Nexus” a regional mega event for League of Legends.

BLAST Pro Series Bahrain - Autograph Session

An autograph session with CS:GO team FaZe Clan at the BLAST Pro Series Global Final in Bahrain

There were also the Insomnia Gaming Festival events in Cairo, Dubai and Riyadh that brought the UK’s Insomnia brand to the Middle East for the first time. Girl Gamer Festival hosted their yearly finals in Dubai and ESL started to bring their tournament IP to the region in partnership with media company MBC.

New regional IP

In Saudi Arabia we saw the first official season of eSPL, the FIFA league that joined EA SPORTS’ FIFA Global Series and involved all 16 Saudi pro football clubs. Season 2 is slated to start in Q1-2020 though we are waiting for more details to be announced.

Federations and government departments

SAFEIS in Saudi Arabia has continued to take the lead but there have been movements elsewhere. The International Esports Federation (IESF) recently announced new board members. H.H Sheikh Sultan Al-Nayahan from the UAE was appointed in this announcement. His Highness also heads up the UAE Esports Federation.

The Bahrain Ministry of Youth and Sport was instrumental in the BLAST Pro Series event in Bahrain. The Economic Development Board of Bahrain have also been investigating esports. In Dubai the Dubai Department of Economic Development are hosting esports workshops. This will help them to better understand the challenges and opportunities. With a great percentage of the regional population falling into the “youth” category gaming is a natural hobby for a lot of people. It is important for government departments and ministries to understand the aspirations of these people.

Summary

2019 was a transformative year in the Middle East with greater focus placed on the region. One of the big challenges for 2020 will be whether countries can work together. They need to build the regional ecosystem together and not compete and cannibalise each other. We hope it is the former and our job will be to support and educate the different stakeholder groups.

Here’s to a stronger 2020.

Philip Wride