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Esports in the Middle East

Karim Ibrahim

INTERVIEW We catch up with Karim Ibrahim of Pixel at Al Qana to talk about his upcoming projects and what's holding the Middle East back from becoming a global powerhouse in esports.

Even though it's still a young business, esports is already a billion dollar industry. Video games such as Fortnite, Counter-Strike and FIFA are providing the battleground for a growing band of next-gen athletes - coming together to settle the score in increasingly larger venues. With more eyes on the sport than ever before, it's little wonder that there are more countries and individual entrepreneurs investing in it and helping it reach new heights.

One such person capitalising on this is UAE-based Karim Ibrahim. Ahead of the launch of his new project - Pixel at Al Qana - we caught up with him to chat esports in general and what's holding the Middle East back from being a major player.


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Q.

What’s your history with esports?

A.

I’ve been following esports across multiple genres for quite some time - whether it's League of Legends, Counterstrike, or Call of Duty. As you are probably aware, esports is not just about teams competing against one another; there are numerous pillars that pique the interest of entrepreneurs such as myself. From a purely gaming standpoint, I believe that competitiveness is at the heart of esports, and this is something we place a high priority on when developing our VR games.

Q.

How much potential does the Middle East have with regards to esports?

A.

The MENA region has made significant strides in terms of esports competitiveness. This region has produced some of the world's best esports players, particularly in games like FIFA, DOTA, and Counter Strike. I believe that with the proper infrastructure in place, we can achieve extraordinary things.

Q.

What do you think is holding the region back from achieving this?

A.

In this region, the esports and gaming industries are still in their infancy. The region's ability to reach its full potential in esports is hampered by a lack of infrastructure. When it comes to competitive gaming, the Middle East is still the Wild West; there are no trade licenses that allow teams to operate, and, more importantly, no facilities that help players level up. Furthermore, the region is beleaguered by a lack of publisher support. We're starting to see some progress, with companies like Riot Games, Ubisoft, and Tencent establishing operations here, but there's still a lot of work to be done.

League of Legends, one of eSport's biggest draws

Q.

Where do you see the future of esports in the Middle East going?

A.

Esports is a rapidly expanding industry, with a global market value of more than US $1.08 billion, nearly per cent higher than the previous year. While the region's esports market and infrastructure are still developing, the Middle East's gaming market is already expected to reach $821 million this year, according to consulting firm Strategy. With publishers beginning to operate in the region and increased government initiatives, I believe the Middle East will soon become a global esports powerhouse.

Q.

Do you feel there’s still a lack of understanding about video games and esports in general in the region? What can be done to educate people?

A.

During the pandemic, many people turned to gaming as a form of escape. According to a recent YouGov survey, two out of every five millennials (40 per cent) worldwide use gaming for social interaction. With more than 60 per cent of the population under the age of 25, the Middle East is one of the world's most youthful regions, with a deep understanding of esports and gaming. While technology is still continuing to innovate and trends such as gamification, esports and virtual reality are becoming integral components for the government and private sector to explore, the business understanding around the industry is still lacking amongst major brands. There is still a need for more workshops, case studies, expos, and governmental initiatives to help educate people.

Q.

Tell us about Pixel at Al Qana and what its mission is?

A.

Pixel was born out of a single goal in mind - to build for the future. We wanted to create a solution to questions like, "how do we find the world's best Counter-Strike team?", or more importantly, "how do we develop and nurture local talent to compete on a global scale?". Although we have made some impressive strides with the support of the Abu Dhabi government and twofour54, we are still only achieving one per cent of our true potential. Our five-year goal is to strengthen the region's ecosystem, allowing youth to reach their full potential. Not only in esports but also in other aspects of gaming such as content creation, streaming, game, hardware, and software development. In short, we aim to establish the region’s support system for anything related to gaming, whether it's front-end or back-end.

1

Supplied Karim Ibrahim

END OF INTERVIEW

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