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Islamabad: The Pakistan government has launched its first initiative to support and facilitate young gamers and enter the billion-dollar-plus gaming industry.

Pakistan’s ministry of information and broadcasting signed an agreement with Singapore’s Garena and Bigo companies to pave the way for an encouraging esports ecosystem in the country of 220 million with a large young population. Secretary Information Shahera Shahid and South Asian regional head of live streaming app Bigo, Yuhui Zhang, signed the MoU in a ceremony virtually attended by the director of Garena - a leading global online games developer, publisher and organiser of the world’s biggest esports events.

Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said that Garena’s world-famous Free Fire Premier League will be held in Pakistan at the national level for the first time under the initiative called E-PAK. It offers young Pakistani gamers a chance to showcase their talent and develop their skills to become professional players, he said. The ministry would also work with local e-sports firms to attract young players.

A total of 567 teams would participate in the national tournament in which children as young as 12 can participate. Gamers have a chance to win Rs10 million ($62,000) and the winners would qualify for Free Fire World Series 2021 — a multi-million dollar global tournament to be held later this year, the minister shared. The registration for the tournament will start on July 21 on its official website. The qualifying rounds for the group stage will be held from July 26 to August 6 while the final event will be organised during August and September in which dozens of teams will compete for the top spot.

With the rise of mobile games, developing countries have been recognised as one of the largest untapped emerging markets for e-gaming. With 100 million broadband subscribers, Pakistan’s gaming scene has the potential to dramatically evolve and many youngsters have already made their mark. In 2015, Pakistan’s Sumail Hassan became the youngest gamer to earn more than $1million. Lahore-based Arslan Ash Siddiqui is one of the best Tekken players in the world.

E-sports has gradually grown in popularity over the years and the global market is set to reach $1 billion for the first time in 2021, according to a report by games and e-sports data company Newzoo. The firm predicted that the global live-streaming audience will hit 728 million by the end of this year.