Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and Prime Minister Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz has announced a yearly Esports World Cup to be held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
The Esports World Cup will be held annually starting in the summer of 2024 and will feature tournaments in several leading esports titles ‘across all genres’. It will supposedly feature the largest prize pool in esports history, but the amount was not disclosed.
The event will be run by the Esports World Cup Foundation, a new government-founded non-profit organisation that it claims will drive collaboration between esports stakeholders and enhance the sector’s sustainability.
The Esports World Cup will replace Gamers8, the Saudi Esports Federation’s existing $45m (~£37.96m) esports festival in Riyadh, event organisers announced on social media. The titles to be included have not been announced but were described as including the most popular games in the world across all key genres.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the event aimed to accelerate the National Gaming and Esports Strategy, a strategy to grow Saudi Arabia’s esports industry released by the Crown Prince in September 2022. In a release, the Crown Prince claimed the competition would help realise the country’s Vision 2030 objectives of diversifying its economy, growing the tourism sector and creating new jobs.
Accompanying the Esports World Cup will be a ‘diversified set of activities and events’ that organisers say will draw visitors and tourists to Riyadh. The indoor tournament is planned as a key attraction to bolster Saudi tourism during the summer, a remedy for the seasonal drop in tourism-related spending stemming from the Arab country’s hot summer temperatures.
Saudi Arabia has recently embarked on a major government-led investment effort in esports, which has included forming tournament organiser conglomerate ESL FACEIT Group, launching a $45m esports festival, and buying stakes in multiple major game developers. In September 2022, government-owned Savvy Games Group announced sweeping $38bn investment plans in esports and gaming.
But Saudi Arabia’s government-led attempt to establish itself as an esports hub — including Esports World Cup predecessor Gamers8 — has been met by staunch criticism by many in the esports community. Some commentators have described the influx of money as ‘esportswashing’ — an attempt to change the country’s image or distract from human rights abuses.
Homosexuality is illegal in Saudi Arabia and the country has been criticised for its human rights record regarding LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and crackdowns on dissent, amongst other issues. Critics have questioned how or if players, staff and others attending esports events in the country will be protected.
The event announcement came during the New Global Sport Conference, a B2B esports networking event held by the Saudi Esports Federation and Saudi Arabian government’s Ministry of Sport in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
HRH Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz stated in a release: “The Esports World Cup is the natural next step in Saudi Arabia’s journey to become the premier global hub for gaming and esports, offering an unmatched esports experience that pushes the boundaries of the industry.
“The competition will enhance our progress towards realising the Vision 2030 objectives of diversifying the economy, growing the tourism sector, creating new jobs in various industries, and providing world-class entertainment for citizens, residents, and visitors alike.”
Crown Prince HRH Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud is the Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia and the defacto ruler of the country.