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RIYADH: Industry leaders, experts and creators from around the globe gathered in at the Next World Forum in Riyadh on Wednesday to discuss the future of the gaming and esports industry.

Day one of the newly established two-day forum, organized by the Saudi Esports Federation, included a wide range of panel discussions that explored the latest trends and key challenges in the industry, including investment, untapped economic opportunities, and the metaverse. It also explored the possibility that Saudi Arabia could be set to become the region’s first gaming hub.

“Gaming and esports is a sector that lives at the crossroads of technology, telecommunications, storytelling and so much more,” Prince Faisal bin Bandar, chairman of the Saudi Esports Federation, said during his opening remarks at the forum.

“It presents us with countless opportunities for innovation that are ready to be born when the great minds of specialization come together.

“The question should not be ‘Why Saudi?’ It should now be ‘Why not Saudi?’ The passionate gaming community is there, we have hosted global events, we have all the abilities to compete and our young community — men and women — have shown the world what they can do.

“What’s next? Saudi will become one of the global hubs for gaming and esports.”

The forum, hosted by journalists Georgia Tolley and Lucy Hedges, attracted more than 1,000 delegates, including international industry experts and specialists, including Chester King, CEO of British Esports, and Stephan Fox, president of United Through Sports.

Experts in the sector were enthusiastic about the future in the industry in Saudi Arabia, with many suggesting that the Kingdom has set itself up to be a hub for the gaming industry not only in the region but globally.

“I think Saudi Arabia will be the fastest-growing global games hub ever,” said Brian Ward, CEO of Savvy Gaming Group.

Mohammed bin Saud Al-Tamimi, governor of the Communications and Information Technology Commission, said he expects a 250 percent increase in the Saudi gaming market by 2030.

Saudi megaprojects such as the NEOM smart city and Qiddiya entertainment project were also represented in the panel discussions, during which they showed how they are leading by example by creating communities with esports and gaming at the core of their visions.

“Our egaming district will host a number of esports and gaming venues, providing the infrastructure the industry needs for the gaming community to compete, engage and, most importantly, belong,” said Nadhmi Al-Nasr, the CEO of NEOM.

“Gaming lives in the middle of the 16 sectors that form NEOM’s future economy. Gaming is the name of the game.”

Najla Alajmi of the Saudi National Development Fund championed investment in the industry by announcing the launch of a new finance program that aims to develop the gaming and esports sector in the region, and funding of SR 300 million ($80 million) for it.

Saudi Esports Federation CEO Turki Alfawzan signed a memorandum of understanding with the Thailand Esports Federation, represented by its president, Santi Lothong, as a step toward enhanced collaboration in gaming and esports.

The Next World Forum takes place shortly after the extensive eight-week Gamers8 event, the largest gaming and esports festival globally to date, which was held at Riyadh Boulevard City from July 14 to Sept. 8 under the theme Your Portal to the Next World.

“The idea of Gamers8 is to bring all the people together,” Alfawzan told Arab News at the forum on Wednesday. “We hosted the best esports teams; more than 100 teams participated from more than 60 countries. … It’s a hub where we gather all the expertise, all the minds, all the brains, toward a better future for gaming as a sector.”

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