Saudi Arabia growing appetite for esports


Demand for Esports venues in Saudi Arabia is rising Image: Populous

The global architectural design firm Populous, in partnership with the media company YouGov, has released new data on the rapid growth of esports in Saudi Arabia. The findings underline not only huge interest in esports, but how this is driving demand for purpose- built esports venues and live experiences over online streaming.

‘Populous’ stated that with almost one-third of the national population interested in esports and driving significant Government investment, a 250 percent growth of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA’s) gaming market is expected over the next eight years. Providing the most up-to-date insight on esports demand as the country’s gaming sector evolves, the research demonstrates the appetite for esports destinations to form a key part of the gaming industry’s future in Saudi Arabia.

Kansas City, Missouri (US)-based Populous is a global architectural and design practice specializing in sports facilities, arenas and convention centers, as well as the planning and design of major special events. Populous was created through a management buyout in January 2009, becoming independently owned and operated.

Christopher Lee, Managing Director, EMEA, Populous, UK, is a Member of Coliseum – Global Sports Venue Alliance.

London (UK)-based YouGov is a British international Internet-based market research and data analytics firm with operations in Europe, North America, the Middle East, and Asia-Pacific.

Surveying over 1,000 male and female residents of Saudi Arabia, the research reveals that:

  • Eighty one (81) percent of participants felt esports events in Saudi Arabia should happen more often than they do now;
  • Eighty six (86) percent of participants who had participated in an esports event felt the venue itself had a direct impact on their experience of the event;
  • Fifty three (53) percent of gamers who had participated in a live esports event prefer attending esports events in person; and
  • Twenty five (25) percent of fans had been put off from attending an event due to the lack of an esports arena close to them and 35 percent had not attended due to a lack of awareness of esports events.

‘Populous’ further stated that new survey data from YouGov and Populous shows majority of Saudi gamers now prefer attending esports events in person to streaming them online.

A survey conducted by YouGov has revealed that gamers in Saudi Arabia are increasingly interested in attending live esports events and want more opportunities to do so.

The survey was commissioned by Populous, the global architectural design firm, and pioneer in the design of esports arenas and training facilities. It found that 53 percent of gamers who had participated in a live esports event preferred the experience to tuning in from home, with just five percent saying they did not like the experience of going out of their house to attend live events.

Populous partnered with YouGov, the leading international research, data and analytics group, to survey more than 1,000 male and female residents of Saudi Arabia, aged 18+, who spend at least seven hours a week gaming. The analysis was further enriched by leveraging syndicated data tools YouGov Profiles and Global Fan Profiles to provide insights on key points of difference between gaming and esports fans in Saudi Arabia and other major international markets (the US, UK, Germany, and Japan).

The resulting data has provided an up-to-date insight into the rapid growth and increasing popularity of gaming and esports in Saudi Arabia, as well as the role event experiences might play in the continued growth and development of dedicated gaming and esports venues.

The research findings have also demonstrated the massive crossover appeal between gaming and esports taking place in Saudi Arabia, with more than three quarters of gamers (78 percent) saying they were interested in esports, with 39 percent “very interested”.

Although a third said they had participated in an esports event as a spectator, a significant portion of esports’ fans remain unengaged or untapped as possible live event attendees. For 25 percent, this was simply because they don’t live close to an esports arena, but 35 percent of respondents just didn’t know when or where esports events happen. This indicates a clear need for increased marketing to raise awareness of events, particularly given that 81 percent of those surveyed felt esports events should happen in Saudi Arabia more often than they currently do.

In light of Populous’ involvement in the design of a number of next generation esports projects that form a part of high-profile mega-projects shaping the future of the Middle East region, the survey also sought to understand what matters most to those gamers who have participated in a live event and what facilities they would like to see at the esports arenas.

No less than 86 percent of people surveyed, who have participated in an esports event, said the venue itself had a direct impact on how they experienced that event. The design elements identified as most important in an esports arena were a proper layout for gamers to play and for fans to watch, and providing gaming meet-up spaces where fans can game against one another.

Subsidiary events such as cosplay and conventions happening alongside the main competition play were also cited as desirable, along with high-quality hospitality and retail spaces for fans.

Significantly, the research found that more than a third (37 percent) of people surveyed had attended or participated in an esports event held in a venue that was not specifically designed to host such events, suggesting there is considerable room for the growth of bespoke esports venues in Saudi Arabia.

The survey’s findings come on the back of Gamers8, an eight-week gaming and esports festival held in Riyadh, the capital City of Saudi Arabia, which closed with The Next World Forum, which saw Saudi and international gamers taking part in the biggest event of its kind globally.

It also follows the unveiling of the National Gaming and Esports Strategy on September 15, 2022, which aims to make the country ‘the global hub’ for both sectors by 2030.

Commenting on the results of the survey, Rhys Courtney, Senior Principal and EMEA Esports Lead at Populous, opined, “The findings underline the huge interest in esports in Saudi Arabia and why many experts in the sector are predicting the Kingdom will become not just a regional but a global hub for the gaming industry. Whether new build, retrofit or mixed-use, esports venues and destinations will be central to the successful delivery of the National Gaming and Esports Strategy and the significant number of associated job opportunities. As a designer of this new breed of venues, this research will help Populous to continue to raise the bar for live esports experiences, creating venues that bring people together, placing them at the heart of the action and providing an unforgettable shared experience.”

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