Saudi Arabia to host second Gamers8 in July, offering $30M prize pool

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The Saudi Esports Federation (SEF) has announced that it will host the second Gamers8 this July following the successful event last year, with a prize pool of $30 million.

Per the SEF, the event will not only involve esports competitions. There will also be live music from popular artists, community gaming and various educational platforms in this year’s Gamers8, which will span over eight weeks.

“Gamers8: The Land of Heroes is going to be the destination this summer and we are delighted to once again be welcoming the elite of the esports world to Riyadh,” SEF chairman Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan said.

“The Land of Heroes is the place for world-class esports champions and gaming universe lovers. It is the ultimate occasion where you can compete for glory and become a hero walking among the worlds of your chosen story.”

Prince Faisal also said this year’s event would showcase more game titles. The organizer aims for a more explosive event this summer.

There were five top titles in the first iteration of the event — Fortnite, Rocket League, Dota 2 Riyadh Masters, PUBG Mobile and Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege. Players competed for a $15 million prize pool in the previous event.

In 2022, the event managed to bring 1.4 million visitors to Riyadh in addition to 132 million worldwide spectators. There were 392 professional esports players and 113 teams participating in Gamers8 2022.

The SEF invited numerous global and domestic artists to perform at Riyadh’s NXT LVL Arena throughout the summer. The organizer said that the eight-day event brought in around 74,670 ticketholders.

Last year, the event ended with the Next World Forum, which brought together industry leaders from various countries. The panel discussed various issues to help shape the direction of the esports industry.

Gamers8 is Saudi Arabia’s flagship gaming event. The country is looking to establish itself as an esports hub. In September 2022, state-owned gaming company Savvy Games Group pledged to invest $37.9 billion to turn the country into a center of esports and gaming industries.

The investment plan followed the kingdom’s National Gaming and Esports Strategy. Savvy chairman Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud said that based on the plan, the country should achieve its objective as a gaming center by 2030.

Savvy explained that the investment plans centered around four aspects — creating a local impact, expansion, enhanced return on investment and making a global footprint. It involves establishing 250 gaming companies and creating 39,000 new jobs. The country also targets a GDP contribution of $11 billion from gaming by the end of this decade.

Saudi’s bid in the gaming industry is an effort to diversify its economy, which heavily relies on energy. Through Savvy and the Public Investment Fund, Saudi has purchased stakes in major gaming companies like Nintendo and Nexon.

Controversies surrounding Gamers8

Although SEF offered a large pool prize last year, several esports teams refused to participate in Gamers8 due to Saudi’s alleged humanitarian issues, such as its stance on the LGBTQ+ community.

Moist Esports was one of the biggest teams rejecting invitations from the SEF. The team’s manager, Noah “noah” Hinder, said it was more important for him to “put morals over money” after announcing that the Rocket League team would not join the event.

Saudi also faced backlash from the acquisition of esports organizer ESL Gaming and gaming matchmaking platform FACEIT. Savvy, who took charge of the acquisition, blended the two companies into ESL FACEIT.

Many people in the esports community have long accused Saudi of “esportswashing.” They said the Saudi government aimed to use these events to legitimize their oppressive regimes and alleged human rights abuse.