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22 February 2024

Dubai hones winning edge as gaming and esports hub

Published
By E247

Leading names of the gaming sector have everything to play for as they make a beeline to Dubai, which has emerged as an industry driver in the region thanks to its dynamic business environment, investment-friendly policies and impressive levels of digital engagement, with the DMCC Gaming Centre providing a welcoming arena for gaming companies from near and far. Gaming and esports fans have plenty in prospect going by the number of global industry players eager to channel the surging excitement and the success of previous industry events in Dubai.

Harnessing the untapped potential of nascent sectors, enterprises and technological breakthroughs, Dubai is a prime mover with a zest for new economic horizons and future-focused policies. This go-getter spirit has no doubt helped it emerge as a major global hub for the gaming industry in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), with the industry’s revenues regionally projected to cross $5 billion by next year.

The second edition of Dubai Esports and Games Festival last year served to underscore Dubai’s intent to come out a winner in the gaming space and there is tremendous anticipation for what the next edition promises. The event made a splash internationally with an action-packed calendar spread over five days. The GameExpo Summit saw more than 1,800 industry experts from around the world converge in Dubai and share their insights and ideas on the prodigious future awaiting the industry.

New game drops, amazing exhibits, and diverse zones catering to all skill levels made the event a runaway success. Regional and school tournaments drew enthusiastic participation while immersive gaming adventures whetted the appetite of more than 26,000 visitors. More than 75,000 of the best local and global gamers competed in a variety of esports tournaments and games with the international gaming industry following their every move. An all-new influencer tournament – Play Beyond – featuring AboFlah, Miniminter, Granthinds, Demisux, Basharkk, Saeed Wolf, Bashayer and Jukeyz delivered an unforgettable flourish.

A standout example of Dubai’s commitment to promoting the gaming industry is the DMCC Gaming Centre, launched in 2022 by Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), the world’s most inter-connected free zone for commodities trade and enterprise. Offering an unbeatable platform for gaming industry professionals to connect, collaborate and explore new opportunities, the facility allows companies easy access to global capital, leading industry talent and a dedicated ecosystem, enabling them to operate efficiently and with confidence. A fully digital setup process further paves the path for companies looking to expand globally and engage with diverse audiences.

Enabling framework
The DMCC Gaming Centre provides a hub for around 100 gaming companies based in the free zone, including developers, publishers, esports teams and tournament organisers. The centre is a convergence point for the region’s gaming sector, sitting at the intersection of gaming and web3 and offering opportunities for monetization and access to liquidity. The DMCC Gaming Centre, along with its sister ecosystem DMCC Crypto Centre, provides businesses everything they need to thrive, fostering connections among companies, creatives, developers and gamers while providing high-quality infrastructure and connectivity. It also mirrors the fact that business in Dubai is not just about hard deals but also about the spirit of community.

“Gaming is one of the fastest growing industries in the world, with nearly 3.2 billion people playing and spending a combined total of $196.8 billion in 2022,” said Ahmed Bin Sulayem, Executive Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, DMCC. “The size and growth of the industry today is staggering compared to when video games first appeared in the 1970s. These passionate communities are constantly looking for greater immersion and storytelling in their chosen form of entertainment. As our roster of gaming companies expands rapidly and as we see more of our DMCC Crypto Centre members enter the blockchain gaming space, the DMCC Gaming Centre will solidify Dubai’s position as a global hub for all forms of gaming and esports,” he added.

Booming market
Projections place the number of gamers in the MENA region at around 88 million by 2026, as compared to a 67.4 million figure for 2022. Other reports too point to the MENA region as one of the pace-setting gaming markets. Clocking an impressive 25% in terms of annual growth rate, the MENA gaming market surge has been thrice as fast as China’s, which is at around 8%.

Nearly 65% of all gaming activity in the MENA region boils down to mobile gaming and around 60% of the Middle East population see themselves as gaming fans. Some 50% of all apps downloaded in the region are games, as against a global average of 40%.

The worldwide gaming market size was estimated at $249.55 billion in 2022, with the graph seen going from $281.77 billion in 2023 to $665.77 billion by 2030.

The esports market globally is projected to grow from $1.72 billion in 2023 to $6.75 billion until 2030, at a brisk 21.5% in terms of combined annual growth rate.

The esports sector too has been riding the crest of a wave lately, with a sizeable 68% of the online population intently watching gaming-related content and at least 10% professing to be avid esports enthusiasts. The following for esports eclipses the viewership for traditional sports leagues such as the NBA in most regions of the world and the actual number of esports users globally is projected to reach 856 million by 2028.

DMCC’s research backs up its calibrated infrastructure and connectivity push. Statistics available from the Centre’s studies reveal that eight out of 10 Gen Zs and millennials are very much into gaming, and that gamers between the ages of 25 and 40 set aside as many as seven hours each week for their favourite pastime.

Across the MENA region, gaming revenues are set to virtually double by 2027, as compared to 2021 figures, reaching $6 billion. This projection is as per DMCC’s latest Future of Trade 2023 report titled ‘Gaming in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA): Geared for growth’.

Gaming and esports have both hit the fast lane thanks to rapid advancements in technology as well as broader and more inclusive audiences. The UAE is a natural leader in these segments, supported by high income levels, strong digital engagement, and public investment initiatives. Globally, Asia Pacific constitutes the largest market share while China, the US and Japan top as individual markets.

Impressive player pool
Lending his insights about the stupendous size of the market that awaits, Bin Sulayem added: “Gaming has come to the fore of entertainment globally, driving rapid growth especially in the MENA region, which now constitutes 15% of the global player base. The rise of gamification in areas such as education, healthcare, and other sectors has demonstrated gaming’s role in facilitating economic activity more broadly.

Ensuring the accelerated growth of the gaming sector will have a measurable impact on the future of markets around the world, as well as the future of trade. As DMCC seeks to solidify Dubai’s reputation as a global trade and economic hub, efficiently activating opportunities within the gaming sector will prove essential.”

Revenue growth from Esports in MENA is set out at somewhere in the region of 23.3% from 2019 through to this year. The region’s young demographic, engagement from international broadcasters and sponsors, and government support have all contributed positively to this growth trend.

The UAE’s vibrant business environment and infrastructure and its prime geographical location as a gateway to the Middle East and Asia Pacific regions have led a whole battery of international gaming developers to set up their regional headquarters right here. Tencent, the gaming giant has set up its MENA HQ in Dubai along with Riot Games while Ubisoft is based in Abu Dhabi.

Offering a rewarding business environment and a winning edge as a host city for major events, be it the global climate summit (COP28) or international showcases for sectors ranging from technology to sports, Dubai is ready to dial up the excitement around the gaming and esports industry yet another notch, with the lineup of events and companies eager to take the field only anticipated to grow.