The Global Esports scene continues to show signs of strength and weakness in 2023 as Saudi Arabia expands and China retracts.
Saudi Arabia is continuing to accelerate the country’s digital transformation and enhance its gaming and esports infrastructure. On the other hand, China is now completely out of the Overwatch esports scene.
Global Esports – Saudi Arabia
The Saudi Esports Federation (SEF) recently entered into a partnership with Mastercard and the Saudi National Bank (SNB). The collaboration will build on Mastercard’s ongoing relationship with SEF to promote the Kingdom’s billion-dollar gaming industry.
The agreement will leverage the resources, expertise, and networks of all three partners to cater to Saudi Arabia’s youth and gaming community. Together, the three entities will develop financial products that create added value and enhance gamers’ experience.
Essentially, this collaboration draws on the importance of Saudi Arabia’s e-gaming industry and its rapid growth. It intends to strengthen the presence of e-gaming and capitalize on its potential and capabilities by fostering innovation to drive further advancements in this sector.
Moreover, this step also underscores SNB’s interest in the development of the e-gaming community and sector in Saudi Arabia. The bank will contribute to the creation of an e-gaming industry that is gaining traction in Saudi society.
“We understand just how impactful gaming is and can be. By partnering with Mastercard and SNB, we aim to bring the Kingdom’s gaming potential to bear. The partnership will enhance the country’s gaming landscape and spur even greater innovation. This will benefit many generations to come and set the Kingdom apart as an attractive investment destination.” said Ahmed Al Bishri, Chief Operations Officer Saudi Esports Federation.
Through this partnership SNB, SEF and Mastercard will create and unlock new experiences powered by Web3 technology. Significantly, Web3 games will offer players the opportunity to access exclusive benefits and immersive experiences in the digital world.
Saudi Arabia Gamers8 Fortnite Tournament
Last year Saudi Arabia hosted a number of esports tournaments across a variety of gaming titles.
For example, the Saudi Arabia Gamers8 Fortnite Live Event saw teams competing for a share of a sizeable prize pool of $2 million. The event featured participation from global top-tier duo teams.
Overall, the teams represented 6 of the 7 Fortnite regions. Invitations were extended to top players from NA East, NA West, Europe, Brazil, Asia, and the Middle East. Others made it to the event through previous regional qualifier events.
The competition featured many top players, with only a few notable exceptions who did not attend. The final event for the normal Battle Royale game was finally won by EpikWhale and Malibuca.
Global Esports Federation
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is also set to host the Global Esports Federation’s flagship esports event – the Global Esports Games – in the nation’s capital city, Riyadh, in December 2023.
The Organizing Committee for Riyadh 2023 Global Esports Games was established to immediately commence planning for the Games. Ahmed Al-Bishri, Chief Operations Officer of Saudi Esports Federation, has been appointed as Chair of the Organizing Committee.
China and Blizzard Part Ways
As Saudi Arabia continues its expansion into the global esports ecosystem, China seems to be hitting some new roadblocks.
In November 2022, Blizzard announced that it will suspend most of its game services in mainland China due to the expiration of its licensing agreements with NetEase, Inc. on January 23, 2023. The games affected include World of Warcraft, Hearthstone, Warcraft III: Reforged, Overwatch, the StarCraft series, Diablo III, and Heroes of the Storm.
Blizzard Entertainment has had licensing agreements with NetEase since 2008. Basically, the licensing program covered the publication of these mainstay Blizzard titles in China. However, the two parties were not able to reach a deal to renew the agreements.
Blizzard attempted to secure a six-month extension of its deal with NetEase to avoid shutting down its games. In the meantime, it continued searching for another publishing partner for the Chinese gaming market, but the effort failed.
A Global Esports “He Said, She Said”
In their announcement, Blizzard stated that it could not reach an agreement that “aligns with its operating principles and commitments to players and employees.”
NetEase responded to Blizzard’s claims with a curt statement: “Last week Blizzard re-sought NetEase with an offer of a six-month extension of the game service and other conditions. They made it clear that they would not stop continuing negotiations with other potential partners during the contract extension. As far as we know, Blizzard’s negotiations with other companies during the same period were all based on a three-year contract period. Therefore, considering the non-reciprocity, unfairness and other conditions attached to the cooperation the parties could not reach an agreement
The main point of disagreement seems to center around the companies’ differing views on ownership of intellectual property and control of the data they hold on millions of Chinese players.
Overwatch League Esports in China
It remains to be seen what impact this will have on the Overwatch 2 esports league. Currently, the Overwatch League has two franchises in China. One is the Shanghai Dragons and the other is the Chengdu Hunters.
Interestingly, NetEase also owns the Shanghai Dragons and the team actually won the 2021 OWL Championships. To indicate the end of this chapter in Chinese Overwatch esports, the Chengdu Hunters cryptically tweeted “Goodbye and see you again”.
In another twist of irony, Overwatch 2 is currently celebrating the Chinese Lunar new year (Year of the Rabbit) while Chinese players cannot even play the game.
Gamelevate will continue to monitor events in the Global Esports and Gaming scene. In the meantime, Marhaba and Ni Hao!
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