Esports in the Middle East is a little different from the more developed markets like the USA, Europe or Far East. Although the region has one shared language there are cultural differences between countries and dialects to contend with. There is also the fact that countries in the Middle East have some of the highest mobile penetration rates in the world. This makes an interesting landscape when looking at esports.
Across the whole region mobile and console gaming are the platform preferences which leads to titles such as FIFA, PUBG Mobile, Free Fire and Fortnite being heavily played. PC gaming succeeds in pockets and this is one reason why esports in the Middle East is a little different.
What about brand success and who has been getting involved?
To answer this question, we can look at the key games being played and how brands have activated against them.
Although Tencent and PUBG Mobile have hosted several high-profile international events in Dubai such as the PUBG Mobile All-Star Challenge it is the community tournaments that have seen brand success. KFC launched the “KFC99” tournament series and a KFC Gaming identity across social media. This has seen PUBG Mobile tournaments and more recently the move to Call of Duty Warzone. KFC have also borrowed gaming assets for their core business including the launch of a “PUBG Mobile Meal Box” in the UAE, Kuwait and Egypt. Customers get the opportunity to earn PUBG Mobile points when they purchase the KFC meal.
This combination of esports specific activations and gaming asset crossover means KFC have taken the lead in the mind of gamers across the region.
Elsewhere we have seen telecoms companies across the region get involved with esports including tournament sponsorships and support of the ecosystem infrastructure with servers. Zain and STC in Saudi Arabia have both launched their own gaming identities, tournaments series, content series and gaming platforms to support their customers. In Jordan Orange Telecom have sponsored Team FATE and host regular activations as well as supporting the Team FATE training facility.
Adidas have used FIFA as their outlet in the gaming space mixing participation and gaming talent such as the involvement of MSDossary, the former FIFA World Champion from Saudi. Gillette have also started using FIFA as a way to connect with the youth audience in the region. Moving away from FIFA we recently saw the announcement that Etihad Airways have partnered with Team Nigma, the former DOTA2 World Champions, who will now be based in Abu Dhabi.
This shows that non-endemic brands are getting more involved in esports in the Middle East but there are still plenty of opportunities.
Where are the opportunities in the region?
The biggest failing in the region is consistency and it is something that operators, Federations and brands are trying to change.
Historically the region was known for large one-off tournaments which didn’t support the community in the long-term. Players would practice for a one-off tournament and then have nothing to work towards for the following 6 months or more.
SAFEIS, the Saudi Esports Federation, have started to tackle this by building a calendar of more regular leagues and tournaments. Between October and December last year they hosted month-long leagues for CS:GO, DOTA2 and Rainbow6. Although these games aren’t the most popular in the region it supports building a link to the popular titles at a global level. Ubisoft have also hosted multiple editions of their own official Rainbow6 league for the region which is growing year-on-year.
This type of consistency is what has been lacking across esports in the Middle East and it presents the best opportunity. Yes, you can still look to get involved with one-off activations but if you are a forward-thinking brand who wants to build a long-term relationship with the gaming youth in the region you should be looking at working to establish consistency.
The great thing about consistency is that it doesn’t have to mean a yearly $100,000 USD tournament. It can also mean much smaller weekly or monthly activations. These smaller activations could be in partnership with some of the different gaming platforms across the region. Although the likes of Toornament.com, Challonge and Battlefy are used there are also tournament platforms that have been created in the region to support the Arabic audience.
If you wanted to look at working with teams a lot of the football clubs in the UAE and Saudi are beginning to host their own gaming activations. While there are some restrictions when it comes to FIFA as a game there are still opportunities in the space. For the esports teams in the region, they are starting to develop and become more structured. Major esports teams in Saudi are now required by the Federation to have an operating license as a team. In the UAE we have seen NASR Esports acquire a team in the Turkish League of Legends official league (TCL) and Arab gamers are now able to participate in this Turkish league. Yalla Esports have a PUBG Mobile team who keep qualifying to represent the region at the major international PUBG Mobile events and tournaments.
The key is to decide on your objectives and then work to identify the most relevant opportunities. To paint a picture – FIFA is heavily played in the region but is not watched on Twitch, YouTube or other platforms. Is FIFA still a viable opportunity? Absolutely, but you may be able to save yourself a few dollars by not adding a stream broadcast.
To summarise, there are plenty of opportunities for your brand across esports in the Middle East.