Next World Forum, a major global industry gathering created to shape the future of the rapidly evolving gaming and esports sector, began the opening day of its second edition on Wednesday.
High-profile guests from the worlds of gaming, entertainment, technology, sports, and government led discussions and deep analysis of an industry with a global worth of around $170 billion – more than Hollywood and the music industry combined. Asking the tough questions of the gaming and esports industry, the two-day Next World Forum, which concludes on Thursday, is being held at the Four Seasons Hotel Riyadh at Kingdom Center.
His Royal Highness Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Sultan, Chairman of the Saudi Esports Federation, the organizers of the Next World Forum, was one of several key speakers on the opening day. He shared his expertise on a panel called ‘Creating the Gold Standard of the Competitive Gaming Scene’.
HRH Prince Faisal told Next World Forum attendees: “The esports industry is one that changes on a daily basis, let alone a monthly or yearly basis. People always ask, ‘what’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ – but never ask ‘what’s going to stay the same over the next 10 years?’ And that might be the more important of the two. For us, that constant is the community and the gamers. If we can keep focus on the fact that everything we’re doing is for our community then we set ourselves up to be in the best position for what’s coming up next.”
HRH Prince Faisal added: Saudi Arabia’s aim is to become a global hub for gaming and esports, and hosting events such as Next World Forum are a key part on the journey to fulfilling that quest.”
Speaking on the same panel, Ralf Reichert, Chairman, ESL FACEIT Group, said: “Last year, the inaugural edition of Next World Forum was fantastic, I was here. There were a lot of people who said, ‘I’ll come over, have a look around, see what it’s like’ – this year I got plenty of calls saying, ‘can you help me get tickets?’. That is the result of all those partnerships.”
Danni Tang, Co-founder VSPO, added: “It is fortunate for the industry that we have leaders like Saudi Arabia furthering the global mission to create the sports of the future for the next generation. But how do we actually deliver? How can we bring that future forward?’.”
More than 2,500 delegates will attend the two days of the Next World Forum. The first day also heard from expert speakers on the following panel sessions:
‘High Score: When the Celebrity begins to Play in the Industry’; ‘Gaming is the Future Economy’; ‘From Pixels To Podiums: Examining The Relationship Between Esports and the Olympics’; ‘Building Blocks for the Metaverse: How Epic Empowers the Creators’; ‘The Esports Slump: Is the Game Over?’; and ‘The Sky is the Limit: The Future of Cloud Gaming in the Middle East’.
Gareth Bale, former star footballer, esports investor and enthusiast, and director of Primesure Ltd, appeared on the celebrity panel alongside Michael Bay, the director and producer of Bay Films, and Gary Vaynerchuk, the CEO of Vaynermedia.
Bale, a five-time Champions League winner, said the growth of esports made it possible that in the future esports athletes would be more popular with members of the public and sponsors than footballers.
Bale said: “Never say never. The scope is so big. Esports is definitely catching up with real football, and that’s not a bad thing. It gives kids a lot more opportunities to do what they want. Even my kids now, they’re growing up enjoying their consoles and have the opportunity to interact with their friends in another country. It’s a nice way to keep in touch – we’ve been in Spain, America, and obviously Wales and England, and they play games online and keep in touch. From where gaming has gone from when I started playing to now is incredible – just look at the facial hair and the acrobatics in celebrations!”
Bale added: “Since I’ve had the opportunity to invest in esports, it’s been really good. It’s been nice to invest and give opportunities to others.
“Virtual reality is becoming the next best thing to the real thing.”
The opening day of the Next World Forum also showcased the Gamers8 Club Awards, a new and innovative rewards format that will revolutionize the world of esports. Saudi Arabian side Twisted Minds won first place with 81.87 points and received $1.5 million.
Next World Forum also saw an MoU signed between the Saudi Esports Federation, represented by CEO Turki Alfawzan, and the Qatar Esports Federation, represented by Secretary General Faisal Al Khalid.
Omar Batterjee, Director of Corporate Communications & Public Relations at the Saudi Esports Federation, and Program Director for the Next World Forum, said: “Next World Forum is our unified commitment for the gaming and esports movement and what we are discussing here will lay the foundations and framework for many years to come. Gaming and esports is a phenomenon that has transcended its boundaries and is no longer confined to screens – it has imprinted its influence on multiple facets of our world. Its influence has woven through politics, tourism, and culture and has become part of our daily lives. When we think of gaming today, we are reminded of the power it holds, the connections it fosters and the opportunities it brings.
“In Saudi Arabia our efforts have always revolved around one single vision – to develop a sustainable gaming and esports ecosystem that uplifts youth, instils pride, and positions the Kingdom as a luminary in this domain. The journey ahead promises to be as thrilling as the most intense video game we have ever played. Together, at Next World Forum, we have the chance to shape a brighter, more exhilarating future for gaming and esports and drive our beloved sector to new horizons.”
Day two panel sessions at the Next World Forum include:
‘Virtual Realities, Real World Consequences: The Impact of Politics in Gaming’; ‘Breaking The Code: The Challenges For Women In Gaming Leadership’; ‘The Next Level: A New Chapter for the Saudi Esports Federation’, which will hear the inspirational words of Alfawzan; ‘Press The Pause Button: Analyzing Esports Players’ Mental And Physical Health’; and many others.
Next World Forum additionally concludes Gamers8: The Land of Heroes, the biggest gaming and esports festival worldwide, which began on July 6 at Boulevard Riyadh City featuring 16 elite tournaments from 13 top titles. The eight-week long entertainment extravaganza also featured more than 30 live concert performances from global, regional, and local stars, and thousands of activities and attractions.