Exclusive Saudi Arabia’s Savvy Games Group championing Kingdom’s growing gaming industry: CEO

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Esports and gaming are currently seeing a massive surge in interest and participation in Saudi Arabia – thanks to the National Gaming and eSports Strategy that has prepared a roadmap to boost long-term growth, and the entrepreneurial drive of the Savvy Games Group.

With over 24 million gamers, which is roughly 67 percent of its population, the Kingdom is now one of the most profitable markets for the industry.

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Chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Savvy Games Group has been the driving force in transforming Saudi Arabia into a global gaming and esports hub.

Savvy’s growth in its first two-and-a-half years of operations has been unprecedented, the group’s CEO Brian Ward told Al Arabiya English during an interview.

Brian Ward, CEO of Savvy Games Group. (Supplied)
Brian Ward, CEO of Savvy Games Group. (Supplied)

When the Public Investment Fund (PIF) founded Savvy in 2022, it had one mission: Driving long-term growth and developing esports in Saudi Arabia and the broader gaming industry worldwide.

The company’s work to develop the domestic games and esports sector has been mostly led by a dedicated business unit called Nine66, the CEO said.

Gamers from different countries play during an esports and gaming festival, 'Gamers8' at Boulevard Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, July 9, 2023. (Reuters)
Gamers from different countries play during an esports and gaming festival, 'Gamers8' at Boulevard Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, July 9, 2023. (Reuters)

The three pillars

Nine66 is unlike Savvy’s other business units, Ward noted, in that it is not intended to create revenue. Rather, it works with ministries and commercial partners to supercharge the domestic games ecosystem surrounding three pillars.

The first pillar is to make sure that the Kingdom has the best incentives and programs on offer for foreign investment and job creation.

The second pillar is incubation and acceleration for local entrepreneurs who want to start companies in the games and esports industry in Saudi Arabia.

The third pillar is training and development, which is fundamental to Savvy’s mission and entails working with universities and commercial partners to develop exceptional occupational and vocational programs for the next generation.

Another key aspect is the internship program led by the company’s games development business, Steer Studios, which provides a gateway for Saudi citizens to enter the sector.

“This coordinated approach, made possible by the National Strategy, has resulted in rapid progress,” Ward said.

Creating a stimulating environment

In keeping with the three pillars, the crown prince has launched the National Gaming and eSports Strategy and set up the National Development Fund that has entirely transformed the gaming industry.

These initiatives aim to empower local talent, create a stimulating environment for the industry, and target promising gaming projects.

Moreover, they have positioned Saudi Arabia as a major market for the gaming sector. In 2023, the Kingdom’s gaming market was valued at $999 million. It is projected to hit more than $2.6 billion by 2026.

The company continues to launch dozens of projects to help create a domestic gaming ecosystem in the Kingdom, Ward told Al Arabiya English.

In July 2023, Savvy acquired interactive entertainment company and mobile-first video game developer Scopely. Following the deal, the company witnessed its most successful year till date.

The billion dollar club

Its latest game, ‘Monopoly GO!,’ was one of the most successful mobile game launches of all time. It became the fastest casual game to generate $2 billion in revenue, further strengthening Scopely’s catalog of games.

Savvy also owns a 40 percent share of the global esports market through ESL FACEIT Group (EFG) and a 30 percent investment in leading Chinese esports business VSPO.

In 2022, Savvy had created the esports business EFC by merging two successful companies, ESL Gaming, and FACEIT, and subsequently adding US-based Vindex, which will be the long-term operator of the Esports World Cup.

Through this project, EFG is contributing to the long-term success of the tournament, and helping cement Riyadh as a home of global esports.

22 championships in popular games

“Naturally, our target is to accelerate the pace of growth further, and with events like the Esports World Cup taking place in Riyadh, I believe that goal is achievable,” the Savvy CEO said.

One of EWC's gaming venues. (SPA)
One of EWC's gaming venues. (SPA)

The Esports World Cup, being held from July 3 to August 25, positions Riyadh as a global destination for esports enthusiasts and establishes the Saudi capital as the global hub for gaming.

With 22 championships in popular games and a prize pool exceeding $60 million, it offers the largest total prize pool in esports history.

Visitors can enjoy numerous events, activities, and interactive shows suitable for all ages, combining sports, entertainment, education, culture, and creativity.

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