Stock - Gaming
The action is intense - and the payoff can be just as good. More gamers in UAE and Saudi Arabia are trying to make a career out of their passion. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: A career in gaming? Why not, if the take-home could even be as high as $20,000 a month.

Check out Bashar Mohammed Khair Al Kayal. Born and raised in the UAE, the 25-year-old’s YouTube channel @Basharkk has 1.41 million subscribers, and he has over 100,000 followers on Instagram and TikTok. Kayal, who graduated from Abu Dhabi University in 2020, began gaming at five years old, and shared videos on YouTube in 2009.

A lucrative career in gaming was even then a chance happening for the civil engineer turned professional esports ‘athlete’. Today, Kayal earns an average of $15,000-$20,000 from ads and sponsorship deals in the gaming ecosystem. He earns $3,000 from streaming on YouTube alone.

Some brands that reach out for advertisement deals have nothing to do with gaming - but, they understand the potential audiences it can reach

- Bashar Mohammed Khair Al Kayal

Monetization on online streaming platforms like Amazon-owned Twitch and YouTube has had significant growth, especially post-pandemic. Gamers can live stream on Twitch and YouTube to audiences. A small-time video game streamer can earn anything from $50 to $1,000 on Twitch, and the numbers are growing in the region. However, most streamers are loyal to YouTube in the UAE and the wider Middle East region, especially in Saudi Arabia.

A full-time job

“I haven’t worked as a civil engineer a single day of my life - I’ve been gaming full-time ever since I graduated from college in 2020,” said Kayal. “That is when my page hit 1 million subscribers.”

Like many in the gamer, Kayal plays and streams first-person popular titles such as ‘Call of Duty’, ‘Valorant’, ‘Counter-Strike’, and more.

Emirati YouTuber Peerless has been gaming and streaming for the past four years. With 269,000 subscribers, Peerless is still new to the game. Yet, his average earnings are $5,000 per month.

“It started as a hobby, and soon I realized this could be a full-time job,” he said. With sponsorship deals from BenQ, Asus, and companies in Saudi Arabia, Peerless is hopeful his earnings will go up.

However, Kayal and Peerless have said that unlike in Saudi Arabia, the UAE YouTube community is more focused on lifestyle content.

A majority of my followers are from Saudi Arabia, and because the market is so big, the country has increased its focus on gamers and content creators

- Peerless

Saudi gamers drive viewership

While UAE-based YouTube gamers are still in their nascent stages, it is predicted that the e-sports market in Saudi Arabia will grow by 250 per cent in the next eight years. Kayal said 90 per cent of his viewership comes from Saudi Arabia and the rest from Oman, Kuwait and UAE.

Mohammed Saud Al-Tamimi, Governor of Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission, recently said 89 per cent of the Saudi population are gamers. It is the highest per capita globally,” said Al-Tamimi at a forum in Riyadh.

By 2030, the gaming industry’s contribution to the Kingdom’s gross domestic product will have multiplied 50 times.

How do gamers make their money?

Manish Bakshi, Managing Director of BenQ Middle East and Turkey, said, “The average earnings of full-time gamers can vary greatly depending on several factors, such as their level of skill and popularity, which organizations they are currently playing for as well as the type of game they play.”

“However, there are a few possible sources of income for full-time gamers. Competitive gamers can earn money by winning tournaments and competitions. Prize pools for major gaming tournaments can be quite large, with some events offering millions of dollars in prize money.”

BenQ has been sponsoring regional teams like RA’AD and Geekay Esports, and others like Red Bull are known to sponsor professional gamers.

“Companies in the UAE are beginning to understand the potential of the gaming industry and are starting to invest in it,” said Bakshi. “For example, Dubai-based Geekay provide the community with gaming merchandise, accessories, and events.

“The Dubai Internet City Free Zone also announced a $100 million fund to support the development of local gaming studios.”

Mario Pérez, CEO of MENATech, a company of GGTech Entertainment, said, "Full-time gaming has become a viable career option as the space has generated and distributed millions of dollars to its members, year after year. Global brands like Coca-Cola and Toyota are rushing to collaborate with and sponsor players. These conglomerates fund teams, events and tournaments and pay the players — everyone benefits from the sponsorships."

Pérez said other revenue streams include the team’s salary, live streaming (depending on the number of viewers), tournament prizes, merchandising and media rights (enjoyed by multiple stakeholders). He explained, "With the advent of streaming, gamers can play their favourite titles as well as watch other players play, something that was previously impossible." As a result, esports consumption has taken a turn, approaching traditional sports in a way: in addition to the possibility of participating, elite leagues and players are available to watch. It is for this reason that streaming has grown so much, and why brands are betting on it.

Widening the eports pool in the Middle East
Amazon University Esports has closed its Winter Split Competition for the 2022-23 season, with students from more than 40 universities participating for prize pool of $10,000 dollars. The competition determines the top teams in a range of games, including ‘League of Legends’, ‘VALORANT’ and ‘Rocket League’.

All teams who participated in this first split accumulated points for the overall scoreboard. Those who take part in the second split will do the same. As a result of this scoreboard, the teams with the best rankings in UAE, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and Egypt will qualify for Amazon University Esports Masters MENA Series 2023, a live event where they will compete to become the region's champion.

The global games market should exceed $200 billion by end 2023. Currently valued at $1.8 billion, revenues generated by the gaming industry in the MENA region are expected to be $5 billion by 2025.
In the UAE, gaming revenues have spiked as ‘players have higher purchasing power and hours in gameplay’, according to a statement by Amazon University Esports.