Esports is in a bit of a weird place right now. In the past month alone, team 100 Thieves laid off 20 percent of its workforce. The Overwatch League, which franchise owners paid 10-figure sums to join, announced it was ending after years of money-burning struggle. After years of venture capital flooding into the world of professional gaming, the faucet has dried up, and it has led to what some in the space are labeling the esports winter. But amid all the layoffs and foreclosures, one group stacked with cash is throwing their blood and jewel-encrusted hands into the ring: the government of Saudi Arabia.
In late October, Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and Prime Minister, announced the “Esports World Cup” for 2024, an eight-week gaming event in Riyadh. The Crown Prince and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia claimed that it would include the most popular games and have the “largest prize pool in esports history,” though he didn’t announce specifics for either.
The initiative, which replaces the $45 million prize pool Gamers8 event, is part of the Saudi Crown Prince’s national strategy to grow the country’s esports scene with massive purchases. They bought independent esports event company ESL for $1.05 billion in cash, esports tournament platform FACEIT for $500 million, and plan to start their own AAA games studio in mega city NEOM.
But some have claimed this massive investment is just an attempt to “esportswash” the government’s image — using the fun, colorful world of gaming to take the spotlight away from their numerous human rights violations…