Earlier this month, Dubai-based Middle Eastern esports organisation YaLLa Esports announced that it would be joining the Saudi Esports Federation.
However, what does that actually involve — and how does it fit into Saudi Arabia’s wider esports plans?
Esports Insider spoke to YaLLa Esports’ Head of Esports, Wadih Sayah, to discuss the decision to join the federation, as well as provide details as to what it entails.
According to Sayah, joining the Saudi Esports Federation (SEF) involved YaLLa acquiring a licence to compete in various competitions within the federation’s esports ecosystem. Some of the events featured in SEF’s ecosystem include the Saudi Esports League — which will see YaLLa field a PUBG Mobile team — and Gamers8, an esports festival that took place earlier this year.
Gamers8 featured multiple high level esports organisation that competed across Rainbow Six: Siege, Fortnite, PUBG Mobile and Rocket League, though for the latter Moist Esports notably declined the invite.
Sayah said YaLLa does plan on signing new rosters, though these won’t necessarily be tied to the Saudi Esports League.
He added: “We don’t do teams just for an event or a league or something like that. At the end of the day, our main thing is we support Arab gamers and Arab youth across the region. Specifically in the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council], considering we are a GCC-based organisation.
“Our target is always to do well locally but take it to the next level, which is going international.”
One of the major contributors to YaLLa Esports gaining this licence actually came from one of the organisation’s own partners: Tokyo Games. Sayah was keen to add that Tokyo Games, a Saudi Arabian-based gaming store, was a prominent player in YaLLa’s application and process. “They’re not just the sponsor. They’re like, legit, a partner that is helping us support the community and this is generally the message of YaLLa Esports at the end of the day.”
YaLLa’s Head of Esports said the Saudi Esports federation will also provide support to the organisation. However, he was unable to disclose what that support would entail except for stating that the federation will “help you basically develop yourself, you’re part of their strategy.”
In the original announcement, YaLLa disclosed that its transition to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) is part of its larger expansion plans. Sayah highlighted that part of this transition is to have “some kind of physical presence” in Saudi Arabia, however, no plans have been set in motion.
“We are still for now based in Dubai because a transition like that cannot happen overnight,” he said. “That physical presence can be, for example, a gaming house. It can be a training facility, it could be an office, it could be anything. So till now, there are plans, but I cannot disclose anything because nothing is finalised.”
YaLLa joining the Saudi Esports Federation comes at a time of huge development within the country’s esports ecosystem. Last month, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud revealed a monumental gaming and esports strategy that aims to make the country a global hub for both industries. In an implementation of that strategy, Saudi Arabian government-owned esports company Savvy Games Group (SGG) unveiled a SAR 142bn (~£34.5bn; $37.9bn) esports and gaming investment plan.
However, its rise in esports has also caused controversy, mainly focused on allegations of ‘esportswashing’ and criticisms of the country’s human rights records.
The continued development of esports in Saudi Arabia has nonetheless created a growing esports scene within the region. Sayah also claimed the federation has helped bolster Saudi Arabia’s recent growth.
“I truly believe in what the Saudi Federation is doing right now. Especially after the recent success of Gamers8. When they first started it was, to be honest, a bit shaky because it was new, it was still exploring new opportunities, new people, new talent,” he said.
“The whole ecosystem is being moulded together. But now after these couple years of hard work by the Saudi Federation, by [its] designers, you can see that this is actually a solid base that they’ve created.”