Leading esports brands, athletes and celebrities have predominantly focused on engaging with esports communities across South East Asia, North America and Europe.
The Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region’s potential, meanwhile, arguably remains largely untapped. This is despite the fact that MENA is one of the fastest-growing esports ecosystems in the world — counting around 100 million gamers in 2020.
Moreover, according to a recent study by YouGov, the Middle East is quickly evolving from casual gaming to virtual reality games and competitive esports.
The United Arab Emirates ranks amongst the top 10 global markets for YouTube Gaming, based on awareness and engagement, which is even higher than some highly esports-aware European nations.
This could mean audiences in these areas are more likely to embrace esports tournaments and competitions — once they know more about them — hinting at a bright future for the sector.
To learn more about MENA’s esports potential and how Galaxy Racer and Team Nigma plan to ‘conquer’ the region, Esports Insider spoke with Paul Roy, CEO of Galaxy Racer.
Why MENA and why now?
Since the pandemic hit the world, there’s been growing awareness about esports and a shift towards local community building, especially in emerging regions.
Companies, brands and organisations in MENA have become more aware and educated about the esports industry and have started to understand its potential — including the value it brings to companies’ overall marketing and brand strategy.
“Esports was one of the only few industries that was not heavily impacted during the pandemic and was on the radar of many senior executives who were looking to pivot their brand messaging campaigns from offline to online,” Paul Roy explained.
The Government of Dubai has also been supportive of esports and gaming by backing up grassroots initiatives and promoting local esports organisations.
Roy added that Galaxy Racer, which recently acquired Team Nigma, now known as Nigma Galaxy, has also received help from the Dubai government’s media office to advance its esports endeavours.
Nigma Galaxy handles all things esports-related for Galaxy Racer. Its years of experience contribute to creating “the right formula to be a team of champions” – referencing the team’s historical win at The International Dota 2 in 2017.
Bringing esports to Pakistan
Earlier this year, Galaxy Racer announced a partnership with Pakistan’s Special Technology Zones Authority (STZA), a new government initiative that encourages foreign technology companies to invest in Pakistan.
It became the first company overall and the first esports organisation to invest in Pakistan’s initiative, essentially bringing large-scale esports to the country.
Galaxy Racer also hosted Gamers Galaxy, an esports tournament in Pakistan, which Roy said was the “largest in the country’s history.”
Not long ago, Pakistan also legitimised esports by granting it ‘regular sports’ status, a big win for the esports industry in Pakistan.
Roy said: “We realised that the Pakistan esports community is hungry for high-quality esports events and we would like to give them the opportunity to participate and attend large-scale esports tournaments such as ours.
“We will further develop and grow the ecosystem together with our partner, entrepreneur and celebrity Fakhar-e-Alam.”
Gamers Galaxy was free to enter, with fans being able to play a range of console and PC titles alongside a number of esports tournaments that will feature a total prize pool of 2 CRORE PKR (~£85,286).
The event included esports titles such as PUBG Mobile, Valorant, Tekken 7, and FIFA22. It also featured grand musical acts, content creators meet and greet sessions, panel discussions and play areas.
Moreover, ‘Her Galaxy’ was featured at the festival and was Pakistan’s first-ever female dedicated esports tournament. The two-day esports and gaming event became the first to be televised nationwide, in partnership with Ten Sports Pakistan.
Apart from the tournament, Roy also revealed that agency Talent Lyfe, which Galaxy Racer has invested in, has recently announced its foray into Pakistan. “We will definitely be looking at organising more esports tournaments and activities in 2022, in line with our goal to develop Pakistan’s esports ecosystem,” he added.
Counting milestones in the MENA region
Galaxy Racer has expressed an overarching goal of helping to fund and support the next generation of content creators within the region.
The organisation was the first to ever do an inter-school esports tournament with the approval of the Ministry Of Education in Dubai. The one of a kind FIFA 2020 tournament took place last year with a prize pool of $70,000 (~£52,547), which was granted as scholarships to the winners.
Roy said: “By introducing these tournaments to the youth of Dubai, we are opening doors that could set up exciting futures. The esports and gaming industry is the future of sports and entertainment.”
Another huge milestone in 2020 for Galaxy Racer was organising the GIRLGAMER Festival World Finals, held in Dubai for the first time, plus boasting a prize pool of $100,000 (~£75,000).
“We are very proud to have brought the GIRLGAMER Festival World Finals to Dubai for the first time. In doing so, we are confident we have made massive progress in promoting women’s esports across the Middle East, while also showcasing Dubai as a global hub for world-class events,” Roy added.
As he further explained, the festival successfully laid the foundations for what is scheduled to be an annual event over the next five years.
New plans for the new year
Galaxy Racer had a successful commercial year last year by scoring a number of partnerships, in the same manner as previous years.
In July 2021, Galaxy Racer joined forces with Arsenal Premier League player Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang by hosting the first-ever Fortnite esports tournament between Europe and the Middle East with a 10,000€ (~£8,494) prize pool. The duos tournament was said to be the first-ever cross-regional Fortnite competition to take place online.
Staying true to efootball, Galaxy Racer also formed a three-year partnership with Spanish football league LaLiga. The partnership saw both entities collaborate to create an original content series that features players from LaLiga, as well as Galaxy Racer’s content creators.
Additionally, the organisation became the official sponsor for eLaLiga’s international esports activation ‘Beat the Best’, which is featuring thirteen countries for the 2021-2022 season. It will present a player vs. celebrity showdown with the entire series played on both FIFA22 and FIFA Online 4.
Roy revealed: “The original content series will feature players from LaLiga, as well as Galaxy Racer’s content creators. It will focus on ‘combining global esports, gaming and lifestyle content’ to appeal to football and esports fans. Galaxy Racer’s content creators will travel to Spain to visit some of the country’s major football clubs.”
As for 2022, Galaxy Racer and its partner Waverider will be hosting the POPC Live!, the Middle East’s biggest esports, comics and YouTubers’ pop culture festival in March. The festival is supported by Brand Dubai, part of the Government of Dubai Media Office (GDMO) that continues to support esports-related events.
“Each milestone shared above is unique and most importantly, it has impacted the community positively. We believe in giving back to the next generation, growing and developing talents, and will continue to press on, especially in promoting inclusivity and diversity, and increasing female representation in esports,” Roy said.
Moreover, earlier this month, Galaxy Racer announced a major $10m investment into the Malaysian esports ecosystem. It said it would invest in esports competitions and events, as well as build a new regional headquarters for the Asia Pacific region in Malaysia.
The move is a further consolidation of the organisation’s ambitious regional expansion, but that isn’t all that Galaxy Racer has planned for this year, Roy hinted. “That’s the only part I can reveal for now… Watch out for more major announcements in 2022 by Galaxy Racer!”