This article is sponsored by Gamers8.
Saudi Arabia is home to more than 10 million female gamers and HRH Princess Aljohara bint Turki Al Saud, the strategic planning specialist at the Saudi Esports Federation, is eager to empower her countrywomen to, like her, forge a career in gaming.
Almost every household in Saudi Arabia has at least one much-loved and much-used gaming device and more than 10 million of the nation’s gamers are women.
Launched last year by HRH Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s National Gaming and Esports Strategy aims to increase gamers’ quality of life. It’s set to improve players’ experience, provide new entertainment opportunities and, by 2023, contribute around $13 billion to Saudi Arabia’s GDP. And with an escalating, kingdom-wide interest in esports careers, the strategy is expected to create nearly 40,000 new job opportunities.
Forty-eight percent of Saudi Arabia’s gamers are female and, under this strategy, they’ll have a vital role in growing the esports ecosystem. These new jobs will empower women, enhancing their access to a constantly evolving industry.
HRH Princess Aljohara bint Turki Al Saud is a dedicated gamer and has been playing since she was very young. “From Crash, Pepsiman, and all these retro games to games now like PUBG and Call of Duty, I’ve played all of them and more,” she said.
But while games are undoubtedly fun, she recognizes there’s much more to gaming than just playing, particularly with the ever-growing popularity of esports. As the Saudi Esports Federation’s strategic planning specialist, she’s determined to see Saudi Arabian women making a career in the esports industry, as she has.
“Families, and especially parents, used to see gaming as a waste of time and were not aware of how it can be a career – that’s changed, and that’s really nice,” HRH Princess Aljohara said. “Almost every house in Saudi Arabia has an Xbox, PlayStation, PC, or even smartphones for casual gamers. All of these gamers, women and men, are welcome in the organized gaming and esports community in Saudi Arabia. And all of them should know that, if they want to, they can benefit from taking their love of gaming into a career.”
Her role as chairperson of the Women and Equity Committee at the Arab Esports Federation offers other opportunities to empower women in esports, supporting them to pursue careers within the esports ecosystem.
“The committee is dedicated towards the progression of females in the esports industry – be it players, organizers, members, or other sectors of the ecosystem,” HRH Princess Aljohara said. “We warmly encourage all in the esports ecosystem, not just players. Every woman can have a career in esports, if they want one.”
HRH Princess Aljohara’s involvement in the Saudi Esports Federation began in 2017. A graduate in project management from Alfaisal University, she applied for a job the moment she heard of the organization’s formation. She was offered a role in the esports department, which she happily accepted. This proved to be an invaluable experience, giving her critical knowledge of the work involved in organizing an esports tournament. She has leveraged this knowledge in her progression into strategy with the Saudi Esports Federation.
“Seeing the ecosystem as a whole has given me great insights into the business side of esports, where we are going, and aligning that with Vision 2030,” HRH Princess Aljohara said. “My mother used to say, ‘stop wasting your time’ when I was playing games – now she changed her views about the gaming and esports industry,” reflecting an image which, over the years, the industry has worked hard to shed.
To further enlighten her as to the current state of gaming and capitalize on her astonishment, HRH Princess Aljohara took her mother to Gamers8, the biggest gaming and esports festival worldwide.
Gamers8 is an eight-week-long event that, organized by the Saudi Esports Federation, takes place at Boulevard Riyadh City between July and August. It sees the world’s best teams and players participate in a series of elite tournaments, battle royales included. Aside from the tournaments, there are live music concerts from regional and local music stars, and over 1,000 activities and attractions.
“I invited her to the season last year, and she couldn’t believe it,” HRH Princess Aljohara said. “It helped make her realize that gaming can be a career, that a lot of people will benefit from it, and that it will create many jobs.”
“I am so passionate about gaming and that’s why I enjoy being a Saudi Esports Federation employee,” she said, explaining why she’s so eager for other women to follow in her footsteps.
As well as being professionally involved in the industry, she’s also a keen esports watcher. “I also love watching livestream esports tournaments,” HRH Princess Aljohara said. “Some of my friends ask why and I reply, ‘it’s like watching a football game – it’s a live match, it’s competitive, you cheer for a team’… anyone can be a gamer, love it, and make progress in it.”
“My female friends are becoming gamers because they are inspired that I turned my passion into a career – and thankfully I had that opportunity,” she said. The only disadvantage to her role is that she now has less time for casual play.
In an effort to support and elevate female gamers, the Saudi Esports Federation has launched several initiatives. This year saw the organization hold an all-women CS:GO tournament at Gamers Without Borders, the largest charitable esports event worldwide, and helped boost the profile of women in esports and gaming.
The Saudi eLeague also has several all-female teams, as do several other tournaments. “Last year at Gamers8, we did a tournament in the Global Esports Tour, and the Saudi team won,” HRH Princess Aljohara said. “This year at Gamers8, Saudi women teams won both the VALORANT and eFootball tournaments at the inaugural Afro-Arab Esports League, which has 25 countries participating. I was very happy and proud of all of them. We just need to have more events and give women even more of an opportunity to participate.”
HRH Princess Aljohara also addressed the importance of making women feel safe and comfortable in public gaming spaces. “A lot of women gamers are streamers, they stream on Twitch, Facebook, and others, and are very happy and comfortable doing that behind the screen,” she said. “We need to empower more women to become more engaging publicly. And that’s not just limited to gaming. Increased participation goes right across the esports ecosystem, such as game development. A lot of young women are very creative and artistic in terms of creating and developing a story and utilize their talents by developing games.”
She believes it’s critical to increase women’s participation in esports and that, in turn, will offer other valuable benefits. It will further Saudi Arabia’s mission to become a global gaming and esports hub and also further open the kingdom to the world.
HRH Princess Aljohara also underlined the importance of increasing female engagement in esports. “The participation numbers tell their own story and if women do participate in the ecosystem aspects in the ways that we hope, then we will be a global hub and we will advance Saudi Arabia even further,” she said. “The gaming community really is a community, there are genuine friendships. International players will engage with Saudi players and have more insight into Saudi culture, and it can help open Saudi up to the world.”
When asked what the future holds for Saudi Arabian women in gaming, HRH Princess Aljohara replied with her vision: “Oh, it’s endless. This is just the beginning. The future is really big.”