The closing months of the year are traditionally a time when many sporting events dominate the entertainment industry in the Gulf region, and particularly the UAE.
Formula 1, UFC, NBA and Supercross events have already graced the 2023 calendar, with tennis yet to come.
You can now add esports to that list.
On Dec. 16-17, the BLAST Premier World Final returns to Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi with world’s finest Counter-Strike players competing for a total prize pool of $1 million.
Robbie Douek, CEO of BLAST, says he is “proud” to be involved with Abu Dhabi Gaming for the event, and highlights the rapid growth of the Danish platform since it launched in 2020.
“We cut our teeth in Counter-Strike a few years ago, and have now built up a global esports business across all the big titles: Fortnite and Rainbow Six, and FIFA and Dota, and various others,” he said. “We have our own streaming platform called Blast TV.”
Based in Copenhagen and London, BLAST today creates, produces, broadcasts and distributes premium esports entertainment through industry-leading technology.
“This is one of the biggest events in the region that’s ever taken place. And we’re privileged because it’s our return to Abu Dhabi,” said Douek. “We came last year; it went very well. We had 6,000 people through the doors and, of course, many, many millions watching online. This year, we’re expecting a similar size, probably more I would suggest, because the hype is there. And the format is slightly different because we have a festival feel to this one this time. So, there’s much more for the fans to do in and around the world final itself, which is very exciting.”
Douek says he saw the potential in the Middle East during his time at two tech and media giants.
“I’ve been a great believer in the region for many years, during my work and time at Google and Disney, the strong imprint that they have in the region across multiple territories,” he said. “So, when I took on the mantle of chief executive of BLAST, I knew that there would be a massive amount of development in the region, in the Middle East, and that it was something that we should focus on. Clearly, esports had been developed in a large way in Northern Europe and in America, but the development in the Middle East did not really started until about 2018-19.”
Bringing the World Final to Abu Dhabi was a culmination of building a “strong relationship” with the region, says Douek.
“We hosted a version of a World Final in Bahrain in 2019,” he said. “At the time, I’d say that was probably the largest esports event in the region that’s ever happened. I think that the pandemic set us back a little bit. But now, it’s very much there. I mean, if you take the infrastructure that’s in play in Abu Dhabi, and in the UAE, it’s phenomenal.
“There are over 70 gaming companies housed just in Abu Dhabi alone, and they have infrastructure there to support many, many more,” Douek added. “Now you’re finding that there’s the advent of multiple arenas that are available within the region, there are multiple gaming centers, there are multiple destinations for people to play, to feel, to touch. And I think that is a fantastic sign that the region has developed massively in the gaming space.”
Douek says that the world’s leading gamers will be at Etihad Arena for the showpiece final.
“You’ve got eight of the best teams in the world playing,” he said. “You’ve got Team Vitality which won the major. You know, FaZe Clan, and Ninjas in Pyjamas. The biggest teams in the world are present and correct; they’re the best players in the world. These teams are ranked top 10 in the world; the players are insanely good on the server. From a profile themselves they have the biggest audiences and the biggest social media followings.”
While the world’s best gamers will be descending on the UAE capital in the coming weeks, recent years have also seen the emergence of regional esports stars.
“I think that started with (Musaed) Al-Dossary and I think that, ultimately, he was a big catalyst in the success and the profile for the region,” said Douek. “There is now a very strong cohort of young aspiring talent, from a professional standpoint, playing at a very high level, from you know, Jordan to Saudi Arabia, and I think that is a very positive scene and sound for the region.”
Douek praised the venue for the BLAST World Final, calling it a “beautiful arena.”
He added: “The Etihad in Abu Dhabi is really like the creme de la creme of global arenas.”
“(The BLAST World Final) is a celebration of everything that is esports. It’s a festival feel, there will be thousands, probably 10,000 people, in attendance. It is broadcast around the world, we’re in 32 languages, 230 million homes, a global showpiece. And I think that is important, it puts Abu Dhabi very much firmly on the map as one of the leading destinations globally for esports.
“We’re proud to be associated with AD Gaming on that,” Douek said. “I think that in the region overall, it’s very exciting. It’s exciting, both from a professional standpoint, but also from a grassroots standpoint, you’re going to see the advent of new players coming through, and people working within the space.”