World Cup host Qatar doesn’t just have its sights set on football, it also hopes to attract its people’s gaming skills as it launches into the esports sector.
Many “majlis” rooms – communal gathering places attached to homes – have long doubled as video game hubs for groups of friends, mostly young men. “I guess that is where it all starts,” Samha said. “When you play in these majlises, you play in a very casual and fun way. “But if you want to take it to the professional level and play competitively against other teams and other players, you would want to participate in esport events, and I guess this is where Virtuocity comes in.”
Ibrahim Samha is head of the esports projects at Virtuocity, Qatar’s first dedicated gaming complex which was set up in 2019. Qatar aims for a slice of the fast-growing global esports market, and to diversify its economy away from energy by 2030.
After the Covid pandemic break, Virtuocity hosted its first major tournament in March this year. Virtuocity hosted the opening round of the Smash World Tour, the championship of Nintendo’s crossover fighting game Super Smash Bros, with 5,000 Qatari rial ($1,300) in prize money for the winner.
An esports federation was created in late 2021 and gaming has even been integrated into the curriculum of Qatar’s International School of London to steel students as they venture forth into the 21st century’s digital realms.
Qatar needs, however, to build more clubs and eLeagues, host more tournaments and attract investment and studios that will create original content.
Gaming is popular around the Gulf and there is a very strong push from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, where the esports rise is a fairly recent phenomenon that began a little before the pandemic.