Riot Games Intel Arabian Cup lights up local gaming scene
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Riot Games Intel Arabian Cup lights up local gaming scene

Riot Games Intel Arabian Cup lights up local gaming scene

More than 1,000 teams and 5,000 players from MENA took part over eight months


The Intel Arabian Cup (IAC) held in December of last year was another shot in the arm for the regional esports sector.

Based on the League of Legends title and organised by publisher Riot Games in partnership with Intel and Lenovo, the tournament saw Anubis Gaming from Egypt beat eight other teams from the region in the finale. eGz Esports from Saudi Arabia finished second while Fox Gaming, who represented Morocco, secured third place.

More than 1,000 teams and 5,000 players from MENA took part in three different stages over eight months.

IAC provided an opportunity for amateur and professional gamers to test themselves in a competitive environment, to recognise and nurture local talent as well as further developing the gaming landscape in the region, explains Ali Muslumanoglu, general manager for Riot Games MENAI region.

Riot Games is the publisher of the wildly popular League of Legends franchise, which is today the most-played PC game in the world and a key driver of the explosive growth of esports. The game has evolved since the initial launch in 2009, adding new spinoffs such as Teamfight Tactics, Legends of Runeterra, VALORANT and League of Legends: Wild Rift.

Unlike other games, League of Legends doesn’t necessarily require a high-end PC or advanced graphics to play, which has helped widen the addressable audience.

Traditional sports would not have grown without TV. Similarly, streaming is one of the biggest drivers for esports. According to research firm Kenneth Research, global live game streaming will grow at a CAGR of over 19 per cent between 2019 and 2025.

More than 22,000 viewers across MENA tuned in for the live broadcast of the IAC on streaming platform Twitch, Facebook and YouTube. The Grand Final attracted 22,000 viewers with more than 80,000 unique viewers tuning in for the final, the organisers said. While there was a gradual increase of viewers when the tournament began, Riot Games wanted to boost the numbers by introducing a streaming ladder, says Muslumanoglu. The result was some of the best numbers for esports live streaming in the region.

“We realise that [the regional] streaming audience is still relatively small compared to the other regions around the world. How- ever, given our games’ popularity and the constantly growing community, it made it easier to promote the streaming ladder and attract more people to the action,” he adds.

The streaming mode for the Intel Arabian Cup was an extension on the Twitch platform embedded within the League of Legends profile. This allowed fans to be rewarded for watching. “This interactive tool helped significantly increase our viewing audience and we even had people from Brazil logging in and following the tournament,” Muslumanoglu says.

Muslumanoglu: We are keen to create tournaments that are sustainable and can be expanded in the coming years.

Sponsorshipmoneyisflowingintoesportsin the region, attracting more pros and teams. The total prize fund for the Intel Arabian Cup was $180,000. A year earlier, the Nexus Festival (a League of Legends tournament) in Riyadh had a prize fund of $2m split across six categories.

“We are keen to create tournaments that are sustainable and can be expanded in the coming years. More importantly, we want to develop the ecosystem and players for long term objectives,” says Muslumanoglu.

Global tech brands in particular are eager to associate themselves with an industry whose only way is up. Riot Games partnered with Intel and Lenovo for the Intel Arabian Cup.

“These partnerships are extremely important because the gaming industry revolves around a broad ecosystem. Within this mix are the players, the publishers, technology providers such as Intel and Lenovo, the broadcast teams and many other pillars that are key in the gaming industry.

“We believe that bringing all of these experts together to create an experience for the players is always the right approach,” says Muslumanoglu.

Intel technology power many of the gaming platforms while Lenovo is a regular supporter of the industry by providing gaming laptops and PCs. “Given their expertise and what they can bring, it made sense that Riot Games partners with Intel and Lenovo, who share the same core principle of putting the players’ experience first and creating a memorable environment for gamers,” he adds.

Muslumanoglu acknowledges the challenges of sorting out a schedule for an eight-month tournament in the middle of a pandemic.

The initial plan was to stage the tournament offline and host an elaborate Grand Finals event at a physical venue where the players could compete in front of a live audience. However, the pandemic made it impossible to plan, admits Muslumanoglu.

“This meant we had to revisit our plans every month before making the final decision to host the entire tournament online. It wasn’t an easy decision as we wanted to bring the gaming community together in person. Ultimately, this proved to be the right decision as it allowed players to participate safely while also adhering to government guidelines and protocols.”

The League of Legends franchise is the most-played PC game in the world and a key driver of the explosive growth of esports.

Interest and participation in the Intel Arabian Cup validate available research on the upward trajectory of esports in the region.

According to industry data, the global gaming industry is now worth a whopping $129bn a year. That is bigger in terms of revenue than annual worldwide box office, annual music streaming and album sales, and major sports leagues all put together. There are close to 2.5 billion gamers worldwide.

The Middle East boasts the world’s fastest-growing gaming market, with a 25 per cent annual revenue growth. The GCC gaming market has followed this rapid expansion and is expected to hit $821m by 2021 from $693m in 2017, according to research firm Strategy&.

“When we began mapping out the Intel Arabian Cup, we were never really concerned about the number of teams or players taking part. From previous experiences, we know there is a big pool of gamers that are playing League of Legends and at the same time there is a growing appetite for tournaments to be staged in the MENA region,” says Muslumanoglu.

Tournaments such as IAC will only accelerate talent development in the region. “We are fully aware the region is up and coming when it comes to esports and talent, as some of the world’s best talents are based here and this is why we see a bright future ahead. We’re also more than happy to provide more opportunities like the Intel Arabian Cup so teams and players can shine on a competitive level and be recognised for their talent,” Muslumanoglu says.

“Overall, we are pleasantly surprised with the talent level of this region with players that can perform extremely well on an international level if given the chance. This applies to not only the League of Legends but across multiple games including our new game Valorant,” he adds.

However, there are still a lot of things that need to be done to help players and teams fulfil their ambitions, Muslumanoglu reckons. “Launching more esports teams would be a good start as well as injecting more investments in players while hiring the right coaches and enhancing training for gamers to harness their skills and help their development,” he concludes.

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