Women challenge male domination in booming Saudi gaming scene

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A scene from the Dota 2 video game, one of the most popular esports titles, where the best players from around the world can amass millions of dollars in tournament earnings. (Supplied)
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Mosaad Al-Dossary, a Saudi gamer, has enjoyed big money wins in esport. (Supplied)
Updated 30 March 2019

Women challenge male domination in booming Saudi gaming scene

  • Esport is attracting major investment, especially in the Gulf states, where online gaming is leading global growth

LONDON: It looks like a cross between an Ibiza nightclub and the bridge of the Death Star.

Rows of vast computer screens and racing car seats have been crammed into a 2,000 square-meter purpose-built gaming arena in the northern suburbs of Riyadh.

When its doors open next month, to gamers young and old from the Saudi capital, many of them are expected to be women, penetrating another male-dominated scene and blurring one more line of separation.

High definition screens display the characters and storyboards of the world’s most popular computer games, from Fortnite and League of Legends to Counter-Strike and FIFA 2019.

But this isn’t just about fun. So-called esport is already a billion dollar business, with big name sponsors, international leagues and fame, of sorts, for those with the dexterous thumbs — such as Saudi Mosaad Al-Dossary, the reigning world FIFA champ who has earned more than $362,000 according to esportsearnings.com, which ranks players globally.

The top player overall is 26-year-old German Kuro Takhasomi with more than $4.1 million in earnings. By comparison, the average Premier League footballer earns about $3.5 million.

Gaming cafes were once dark and dingy places to be found in unloved old commercial buildings, where pale pubescents acted out their sporting or military fantasies without mum and dad asking if they had done their homework. Now the growth of esports is attracting major investment, especially in the Gulf states, where online gaming is booming and leading growth in the industry globally. 

The new generation of gaming cafes and esports arenas are recognizing the massive female gaming market.

Gaming has always been big in the Gulf for a number of reasons from the climatic to the social.

Industry veteran Mazen Mohammed, the esports manager for Saudi Arabia at Gamers Hub Middle East, which helps to organize tournaments, said that the region’s youthful population and a historical shortage of popular entertainment choices explains why gaming is becoming so big.

“In Saudi Arabia we have a lot of young people but we have not had a lot of entertainment. Yes, people have PCs at home but they meet friends in the cafe so it is more relaxing for them.”

The new SARENA SAFEIS arena in Riyadh reflects the growing sophistication of the gaming scene as well as its ability to attract serious investment.

Owner Mohammad Al-Otaibi explains there will be VIP rooms, food and beverage counters, a tournament staging area and a zone for kids. Women will have the option of using either the main gaming area or a dedicated room.

“The arena is suitable for elite and casual gamers,” said Al-Otaibi. “It will also provide rooms where teams can privately train together in preparation for tournaments and will have a training academy to upskill gamers.”

While the older generation of gaming cafes dotted around the Gulf were typically the domain of teenage boys, new arenas recognize that there is also a large community of female gamers in the region. It wasn’t always so.

Ghada Almoqbel, a 23-year-old student from Riyadh has been a gamer since “she was little” and as an adult helped to establish a convention dedicated to women gamers in Saudi Arabia called GCON.

She said that in the past it was very difficult for women in Saudi Arabia to attend gaming events.

“I think there’s definitely an interest in including women now, in all activities and tournaments, but I don’t think any succeeded in actually approaching women who are interested in the right way.”

Almoqbel said the “community” aspect of gaming appeals to many women, which is one of the themes of GCON.

The Saudi Arabian Federation for Electronic and Intellectual Sports, or SAFEIS, is the lead body helping to draw outside investment into the fledgling Saudi esports scene.

CEO Turki Al-Alfawzan points out that Saudi Arabia is part of the fastest growing gaming region in the world: “Our role as a federation is to connect the investors with these opportunities and nurture the elite athletes and the community,” he said.

The federation is a partner in the soon-to-open SARENA SAFEIS facility in Riyadh and more such arenas are planned around the country.

The drive to promote esports in the Kingdom is part of a wider push to promote sports under the Vision 2030 economic and social blueprint.

That aims to reduce sedentary lifestyles among the young and boost healthier living — an especially difficult goal to pull off with an activity more commonly identified with the unhealthy.

While the rising investment in esports could help young gamers in the country rise in the rankings and emulate the success of Saudi FIFA champ Mosaad Al-Dossary — achieving that while maintaining healthy body and mind may be the real game change



World - Male 2019

Kuro Takhasomi


World - Female 2019

Sasha Hostyn 


Saudi Arabia 2019

Mosaad Al-Dossary


Abdulrahman Al-Masri 


Khalid Aloufi


Abdulaziz Alshehri


Google says misinformation campaign used YouTube to target Hong Kong protests

Updated 23 August 2019

Google says misinformation campaign used YouTube to target Hong Kong protests

SAN FRANCISCO, US: Google on Thursday said it disabled a series of YouTube channels that appeared to be part of a coordinated influence campaign against pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
The announcement by YouTube’s parent company came after Twitter and Facebook accused the Chinese government of backing a social media campaign to discredit Hong Kong’s protest movement and sow political discord in the city.
Google disabled 210 YouTube channels that it found behaved in a coordinated manner while uploading videos related to the Hong Kong protests, according to Shane Huntley of the company’s security threat analysis group.
“This discovery was consistent with recent observations and actions related to China announced by Facebook and Twitter,” Huntley said in an online post.
Twitter and Facebook announced this week that they suspended nearly 1,000 active accounts linked to a coordinated influence campaign. Twitter said it had shut down about 200,000 more before they could inflict any damage.
“These accounts were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground,” Twitter said, referring to the active accounts it shut down.
Facebook said some of the posts from accounts it banned compared the protesters in Hong Kong with Daesh group militants, branded them “cockroaches” and alleged they planned to kill people using slingshots.
China has “taken a page from Russia’s playbook” as it uses social media platforms outside the country to wage a disinformation campaign against the protests, according to the non-profit Soufan Center for research, analysis, and strategic dialogue related to global security issues.
“Beijing has deployed a relentless disinformation campaign on Twitter and Facebook powered by unknown numbers of bots, trolls, and so-called ‘sock puppets,’” the center said on its website, referring to fake online identities created for deception.
“China’s behavior will likely grow more aggressive in both the physical and virtual realms, using on-the-ground actions to complement an intensifying cyber campaign characterized by disinformation, deflection, and obfuscation.”

Misused by autocratic regimes
While social media platforms have been tools for people to advocate for rights, justice or freedom in their countries, the services are being turned on them by oppressive governments, according to the Soufan Center.
“Autocratic governments are now using these same platforms to disparage demonstrators, divide protest movements, and confuse sympathetic onlookers,” the center said.
Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous southern Chinese city and one of the world’s most important financial hubs, is in the grip of an unprecedented political crisis that has seen millions of people take to the streets demanding greater freedoms.
China’s government has publicly largely left the city’s leaders and police force to try and resolve the crisis, but behind the scenes online, Beijing is seeking to sway public opinion about Hong Kong, according to Twitter and Facebook.
“We are disclosing a significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong, specifically the protest movement and their calls for political change,” Twitter said.
It said it had pulled 936 accounts originating in China that were spreading disinformation.
Twitter and Facebook are banned in China, part of the government’s so-called “Great Firewall” of censorship.
Because of the bans, many of the fake accounts were accessed using “virtual private networks” that give a deceptive picture of the user’s location, Twitter said.
Facebook said it had acted on a tip from Twitter, removing seven pages, three groups and five Facebook accounts that had about 15,500 followers.
“Although the people behind this activity attempted to conceal their identities, our investigation found links to individuals associated with the Chinese government,” Facebook said.