The 2023 Asian Games in China presents a golden opportunity for Middle Eastern gamers to showcase their talents on a global stage.
A total of 476 gamers from 30 National Olympic Committees (NOC) have been handed the opportunity to compete over nine days and 219 matches at the tournament.
The hosts made history at the event, winning the first eSports gold medal by defeating Malaysia in the game Arena of Valor. Thailand beat Vietnam to clinch bronze.
Inclusion in the Asian Games marks the next step along the road to eSports gaining full Olympic recognition. The International Olympic Committee are eager to diversify, and see eSports as the ideal vehicle to attract a different demographic.
Nearly every session of eSports competition is expected to be a 5,000 sell-out, highlighting the massive popularity of what cynics continue to mistakenly dismiss as nothing more than a passing fad.
The folly of that train of thought is showcased to perfection by financial valuations of global eSports which already pitch the genre as a multi-billion-dollar sector.
Increased interest from major sponsors and broadcasters is powering the growth – a factor which has triggered significant attention from other industries.
This includes online gambling, with many sports betting operators worldwide providing legitimacy to eSports by offering odds on major leagues and competitions.
Intriguingly, this heightened interest from the betting sector is particularly noteworthy in the Middle East, where several nations are eager to become big-hitters in global eSports.
Some of the sportsbooks linked to the best Arabic online casinos are offering extensive markets on the Asian Games, which has created an additional buzz around the exploits of Middle Eastern gamers participating in the tournaments.
Qatar is among the nations in the region who are represented in China as they strive to become one of the biggest players in the eSports industry.
They recently hosted the Middle East’s first FIFA gaming tournament, welcoming 12 top EA Sports FIFA22 gamers in the hope of staging more similar events in the future.
Saudi Arabia is also hoping participation in the Asian Games will provide a springboard for the Kingdom to be viewed as potential hotspot for eSports over the next few years.
Twenty-one Saudis eSports athletes are competing in China amid the nation’s bid to become a major global force in the sector by the end of the decade.
Abdulaziz Al-Baqous, media representative for the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee, says their participation at the 19th Asian Games is a crucial part of the bid to meet the aims of their Vision 2030 transformation programs.
“Vision 2030 and its initiatives are a key enabler for all athletes – it is just the beginning,” Al-Baqous said. “The strategies that were announced recently, – the federation support strategy, the clubs support, also the Olympic training centre, are the long-term programmes.
“They will bring results in the future and that is why our delegation has young participants and new sports too. We are confident with time, will be seeing the results from these strategies and massive investments in eSports.
“The participation in the Asian Games is beyond sports. It is also an opportunity to gather and socialise between sports fraternities in Asia, getting to share culture.”
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has also sent several eSports players to the Asian Games as part of a 140-strong team of athletes in 20 individual and group sports.
Ahmed Al-Tayeb, Director of the Technical and Sports Affairs Department at the UAE’s NOC, says participation in major events and achieving positive results will boost the country’s bid to meet the objectives of their National Sports Strategy 2031.
“We emphasise the importance of presenting an honourable image and achieving results that reflect the reputation and status of the United Arab Emirates,” said Al-Tayeb.
“These Games present a valuable opportunity for all athletes, as it takes place before the Olympics. There are several sports whose results contribute to the qualification process for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.”
While eSports is unlikely to receive fully Olympic accreditation in time for Paris 2024, gamers are expected to have the chance to showcase their talents in the second edition of the Olympic eSports Week.
This will run in parallel with the Summer Games and follows on from the recent successful staging of the inaugural edition in Singapore. Paris has the priority to host the event, but Abu Dhabi is pushing to be handed the opportunity to demonstrate its growing love for eSports.