Saudi Esports Federation launches $15m esports event festival

Saudi Esports Federation Saudi eLeague
Stage for the Saudi eLeagues, a Saudi Esports Federation-affiliated event. Image credit: Saudi Esports Federation

The Saudi Esports Federation has launched the Gamers8 Festival, an eight week event taking place in Riyadh this summer. 

Unfolding from July 14th to September 8th, the event boasts a prize pool of $15m (~£12m) which will be split over six international esports events.

While the central focus of the event will be gaming and esports, Gamers8 will also be catering to other audiences. Part of the festival will include a two day summit for industry professionals. 

According to the release, the event will also cater to more of a general audience through a multitude of activities and attractions. Some of these activities include concerts from international artists, as well as comedy and magic shows.

Esports titles for the event have not been confirmed. Similarly, participating teams have not yet been confirmed, however the event’s announcement video features players from Team Falcons, YaLLa Esports and Nigma Galaxy. 

All of these teams are located in the Middle East, with Team Falcons hailing from Saudi Arabia while YaLLa and Nigma Galaxy are based in the United Arab Emirates.

This festival is the latest step the Saudi government has taken to get more involved in gaming and esports. Some industry commentators allege the country’s recent esports push amounts to ‘esportswashing’, an attempt to deflect from the country’s human rights record.

Both BLAST and Riot Games faced backlash from fans when they announced partnerships with NEOM, a controversial $500m (~£397m) Saudi government-backed development.

However, this has not deterred the Saudi governments’ interest in esports. In December 2021, the Global Esports Federation appointed Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud as its Vice President.

Shortly thereafter, Saudi Arabian government-backed Savvy Gaming Group bought both ESL Gaming and FACEIT two of the industry’s most important tournament organisers for a combined $1.5bn (~£1.1bn).

Furthermore, the Saudi Arabian government’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) bought a five percent stake in game developer and publisher Nintendo for $500bn (~£403bn).

The Gamers8 festival looks to be a major opportunity for the Saudi government to highlight the synergy between its investments, both in esports and in tourism. The event will be held in a purpose-built arena located at Boulevard Riyadh City, a major tourist attraction for the Saudi Arabian capital. 

Also taking place in Saudi Arabia next month is The Gamers Without Borders event, an invitational Rocket League charity tournament which overlaps with the starting dates of the Gamers8 Festival.

Jordan Fragen
Jordan Fragen is an American journalist, focusing on the intersection between esports and data. She previously wrote for the Esports Observer and worked as an analyst for Newzoo. When Jordan isn't writing about data, you're most likely to find her playing League of Legends, knitting, or drinking tea.