Saudi Esports Federation on what makes Rocket League tick in the region
Over the last few years, the Saudi Esports Federation (SEF) has accelerated its focus on developing the region’s esports presence as a whole, investing a lot of time, resources and energy into providing a space for their players and teams to flourish.
Let’s take Gamers8, an extravagant 8-week festival dedicated to all things esports, hosted in the heart of Riyadh City’s Boulevard. Despite only recently concluding its second year on August 27, the Saudi Esports Federation spared no expense in enticing some of the world’s greatest athletes to compete for a jaw-dropping $40m prize pool across major titles.
One game in particular that has seen growing success in the region’s esports offering is Rocket League. GGRecon was recently invited to the 2023 Next World Forum in Riyadh, where we had the opportunity to speak to two pivotal members of the SEF who are directly involved in the region’s meteoric rise, SEF’s Director of Corporate Communications & Public Relations, Omar Batterjee and SEF Chief Esports Executive Officer, Faisal Bin Homran.
Rocketing to prominence
Just to start with, there has been an incredible performance of Saudi talent in various esports recently, especially in Gamers8. How is the SEF helping to develop talent locally in Saudi Arabia?
Batterjee: It's a bit of a long story because you can't start from the end. SEF started in 2017; the first event was in 2018. Initially, we were organising one-off community events. However, we soon realised that these sporadic events weren't encouraging gamers to invest in themselves because there was no certainty about when the next event would be.
A few years down the line, we decided to offer them some consistency. We developed various leagues, starting with our premier league, the Saudi E-Leagues, followed by the University E-League, the Gaming Center League and others. The Saudi League is the pinnacle because it's the culmination of all our grassroots programmes, whether they come from universities, gaming centres, schools, or other platforms. If we don't establish these national leagues, we may have standout gamers, but they won't be representing Saudi Arabia. That's where we are focusing our investment.
Over this year, there has been a significant rise in Saudi Arabian sports, especially in Rocket League. What do you think the region is doing differently to experience this sort of meteoric rise?
Bin Homran: The pace of growth is indeed astonishing. I think the region has a particular focus on sports games. We've had world champions in FIFA, and now with Rocket League, it seems we're specialising in sports games. However, I would love to see us branching out more. We have a wealth of talent across different games, but there seems to be a unique affinity for football and similar sports games here. A lot of those good performances have been seen in Rocket League too. You had a finalist team and a semi-finalist team. Is there any learning that could be taken from Rocket League that could help to develop talent?
Omar: Absolutely, but one message I want to emphasise is that while we organise these leagues and programmes, the real credit should go to the people managing the teams, the club owners and team CEOs. They're the ones doing the fantastic work. On our end, we do have academy programmes that focus on different aspects, from business management to tactical gaming skills. Our academy is about a year old and is continually improving. However, the glory really belongs to those CEOs and team owners who put in the hard work and thought. In Gamers8, we've also seen excellent remasters among other tournaments, facilitated with the help of EFG.
With all the initiatives that you're involved in, which one are you most proud of accomplishing to date?
Bin Homran: Whatever we achieve on international platforms, I'm always most proud of our grassroots initiatives and our academy. Seeing graduates from these programmes performing on an international stage means everything to me.
Gamers8 2023 makes an impression
We're coming into this off the back of Gamers8. What was your favourite moment or game?
Bin Homran: What really stands out for me from Gamers8 as a whole is the emotional investment of the players. Since this was the second edition, many players returned, some of whom had either failed to qualify for the next stage last year or had actually won. I'll never forget the emotional stories behind these players. Every week, over the course of those eight weeks, I had memorable moments with various players, some of whom I'd seen before and others I was meeting for the first time. Some even arrived with the support of their parents, and witnessing these emotional moments really drives me to contribute more to the community.
Are you looking to collaborate with EFG or other tournament operators to run more tournaments in the region? Are there any incentives being offered, or what's the process like?
Batterjee: That's a very complex question with multiple facets. To start, Gamers8 has collaborated with both EFG and VSPO to run different tournaments. We're all about collaboration and are keen to expand our work with both organisations. We always look for what's best for the community and don't have any exclusive partnerships. Even our local leagues are run by different operators. As for entering the Saudi market, we serve as connectors.
We can assist with administrative tasks like commercial registration in Saudi Arabia and point you towards local business opportunities. For teams wishing to participate in the Saudi E-Leagues, we've made the process straightforward. We have both open and closed leagues. Qualifiers from the open leagues progress, and the bottom four from the Saudi E League are relegated. There's a scramble, and the best teams emerge. So we offer various avenues, whether you're a tournament organiser, a club, or looking for other opportunities to enter the Saudi market.
Despite only being established in 2017, the Saudi Esports Federation has managed to elevate the playing field, not just for Saudi Arabia as a region, but for esports teams and supporters across the world.