Ahead of hosting the FIFA World Cup, Qatar is aiming to harness the skills of its online gamers to compete in the burgeoning eSports sector. According to a report by AFP yesterday, communal gatherings, usually attached to homes, known as "majlis" rooms, have long functioned as video game hubs for groups of friends, usually young men.
However, there are many in Qatar's gaming community who hope to take their hobby to the next level, by taking part in the popular and lucrative world of eSports.
Ibrahim Samha, the head of one local eSports group called Virtuocity, explained why. "Our majlises have a lot of equipment," he said. In fact, they are often kitted out with consoles catering for up to five or six players. "I guess that is where it all starts. When you play in these majlises, you play in a very casual and fun way."
He added that, "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."
As Qatar's first dedicated gaming complex set up in 2019, Virtuocity hosted its first major tournament in March.
In May, Qatar hosted the Middle East's first metaverse FIFA gaming tournament, which saw 16 players battle for the top prize of $25,000. A total of 12 of the top EA Sports FIFA22 gamers took part, four of whom were from the Middle East-North Africa (MENA) region.
Like neighbouring Saudi Arabia, which has already invested heavily in the gaming industry, including the purchasing of two of the largest eSports brands, the gas-rich state is aiming to diversify its economy away from energy by 2030. It is looking to tap into the global eSports market, said to be worth an estimated $1 billion.
Nicolas Besombes, a sociologist who studies eSports, told AFP that gaming is particularly popular in the Gulf region and that there is a "very strong push from Qatar and Saudi Arabia." He explained further that, it is a fairly recent phenomenon. "It began a little before the pandemic and is 'soft power'… to improve their image and attractiveness."