Qatar’s ‘majlis’ gamers target esports big leagues


DOHA: World Cup host Qatar doesn’t simply have its sights set on soccer – it additionally hopes to harness its individuals’s gaming abilities because it launches into the burgeoning esports sector.

A digital military is on the prepared within the gas-rich emirate, the place many “majlis” rooms – communal gathering locations connected to properties – have lengthy doubled as online game hubs for teams of buddies, largely younger males.

“Our majlises have a lot of equipment,” enthused Ibrahim Samha, who mentioned the areas are sometimes kitted out with consoles for 5 – 6 gamers who lounge on cushions whereas participating in digital worlds and battles.

Samha is head of eSports initiatives at Virtuocity, Qatar’s first devoted gaming advanced which was arrange in 2019 and, after a Covid pandemic break, hosted its first main match in March.

Ibrahim Samha, Esports Project Coordinator at Leisure, poses for a picture during an interview in the Qatari capital Doha. — AFPIbrahim Samha, Esports Project Coordinator at Leisure, poses for an image throughout an interview within the Qatari capital Doha. — AFP

“I guess that is where it all starts,” Samha mentioned. “When you play in these majlises, you play in a very casual and fun way.

“But if you want to take it to the professional level and play competitively against other teams and other players, you would want to participate in eSport events, and I guess this is where Virtuocity comes in.”

Virtuocity, a part of Qatar’s broad push to diversify its economic system away from power by 2030, goals for a slice of the fast-growing world eSports market whose annual revenues are estimated at greater than US$1bil (RM4.42bil).

Esport athletes compete during Virtuocity Smash Open 2022 at the Doha Festival City in the Qatari capital on March 17, 2022. — AFPEsport athletes compete throughout Virtuocity Smash Open 2022 on the Doha Festival City within the Qatari capital on March 17, 2022. — AFP

Three months in the past it hosted the opening spherical of the Smash World Tour, the championship of Nintendo’s crossover combating sport Super Smash Bros, with 5,000 Qatari rial (RM6,066) in prize cash for the winner.

An eSports federation was created in late 2021 and gaming has even been built-in into the curriculum of Qatar’s International School of London to metal college students as they enterprise forth into the twenty first century’s digital realms.

‘A serious thing’

Ahmed Al Meghessib, at age 24, is already an eSports veteran. He first represented Qatar in 2017 within the soccer sport FIFA and took the nationwide group to tenth place on the earth rankings early final 12 months.

Ahmed al-Meghessib, Qatari footballer and professional esport athlete, speaks during an interview in the capital Doha on April 13, 2022. — AFPAhmed al-Meghessib, Qatari footballer {and professional} esport athlete, speaks throughout an interview within the capital Doha on April 13, 2022. — AFP

“Basically they didn’t have a big interest at first,” he recollects about Qatari society’s tackle eSports in years previous, earlier than leaders awoke to the large viewership and potential revenues on provide.

“It’s not as hard as before. People understand now that eSport is a serious thing.”

Khalifa Al Haroon – a businessman and influencer who goes by “Mr. Q” on social media – is one other early eSports supporter in Qatar who dares to dream big.

He argued Qatar must construct extra golf equipment and eLeagues, host extra tournaments and appeal to funding and studios that can create unique content material.

“My goal is to see Qatar be a leader in the Middle East, of course a world leader too, when it comes to gaming,” he informed AFP.

“I want to see the biggest tournaments happen here and I want people to want to come in and build their companies and their teams out of Qatar too.”

‘Soft power’

Haroon’s hopes are shared by Jack AlBlushi, 35, who organises tournaments of PUBG: Battlegrounds, a fight survival sport set on an island.

“We have built a base already,” he mentioned. “It’s online and everything. But I need companies to realise that we people are working hard, making sure that things are going in the perfect direction.”

Fans attend the Virtuocity Smash Open 2022 at the Doha Festival City in the Qatari capital on March 17, 2022. — AFPFans attend the Virtuocity Smash Open 2022 on the Doha Festival City within the Qatari capital on March 17, 2022. — AFP

A serious supporter has been cellphone firm Ooredoo, which sponsored a FIFA sport match in May with US$25,000 (RM110,435) in prize cash and has launched a expertise scouting programme to construct an expert group.

Its first two recruits are Ahmed Al Meghessib, who performs FIFA, and Yousef Al Defaa, who competes in Fortnite, the battle royale hit made by Epic Games.

Qatar will not be the one nation striving to make its mark in eSports, which is historically dominated by South Korean and Chinese gamers however has groups from all over the world in numerous video games.

Gaming is common across the oil-rich Gulf and there’s a “very strong push from Qatar and Saudi Arabia”, mentioned Nicolas Besombes, a sociologist who research eSports. He mentioned its rise is a “fairly recent phenomenon that began a little before the pandemic”.

“It’s ‘soft power’… to improve their image and attractiveness.” – AFP

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