Abu Dhabi's Middle East Games Con takes it to the next level
This weekend, the biggest characters from gaming and anime will converge in a cosmic alliance beneath the roof of Abu Dhabi’s National Exhibition Centre.
Thousands of gamers from around the world descended upon the UAE’s capital on Thursday to kick-off the gaming world’s answer to comic con: Middle East Games Con.
More than 15,000 people are expected to attend the convention where fans will line up to meet YouTube personalities, animation directors and even voice actors representing characters from popular games such as Overwatch and The Witcher.
Gamers who wanted to be among the first in the region to play some of the latest releases, compete in competitions for money and mingle with some of the biggest names in the industry attended in droves.
Emirati teenager Mohammed Al Zaabi was among the very first through the doors and he only had eyes for one game.
“I am here because I want to win the Fortnite competition,” he said.
“If I can win it then it will me to become a professional gamer when I grow up.”
Mohammed will not have it all his own way judging by the number of young gamers congregating around the Fortnite stand, their interest no doubt piqued by the Dh10,000 prize money on offer.
Cash prizes were not the only incentive for people to literally get their game on. The Red Bull Player One stand is hosting a weekend-long tournament for League of Legends players.
The winner of that tournament will be flown to Brazil to take part in the League of Legends global final next year.
Gaming is becoming a profitable business for the next generation, a perfect example of this is Emirati Abdelrahman El Shafei.
Mr El Shafei manages his own e-sports team in Dubai called Six Paths.
“At the minute we have around 30 people in the Six Paths squad and we are making Dh100,000 a year but that will increase when we attract the attention of more sponsors,” he said.
“The interest in professional gaming in the UAE is huge and it is only going to increase.”
That is why Mr El Shafei gave up being a professional e-sports player to focus on managing the Six Paths squad at the ripe old age of 20.
Not everyone was there to compete though. Kermit Marie Jason, 16, and Oliver Stone, 15, came from Dubai dressed up as their favourite video game characters to savour the atmosphere.
“There is a huge gaming community in the UAE but the problem is the opportunities to meet others can be exclusive to Dubai or Abu Dhabi,” said New Zealander Kermit Marie, who was in costume as Chiaki Nan Ami from the game Danganronpa.
“Distance can be an issue if you have to come from one of the other emirates like Sharjah.”
Oliver, who was dressed as Finn from Adventure Time, said the event was as good, if not better than other games cons from all over the world.
Suzy Pallett, vice president of organisers Informa, said she was not surprised to see such high numbers attending this year’s event.
“The gaming industry in the Middle East represents an untapped opportunity,” she said.
“In more established gaming regions like Europe and America gaming has reached a plateau of two or three per cent growth each year.
“In the Middle East it is growing at 26 per cent each year, it is an exciting time not just for consumers but from the development side of the industry as well.”
An example of this was provided by the presence of Abertay University’s international recruitment manager Doug Watters.
The Scottish university was the first in the world to offer a computer games degree.
“This is the first time we have come out here,” said Mr Watters.
“We want to recruit talent and make connections with the industry here. This is the fastest growing region in the world for the computer game industry.
“It is the largest sector for gaming after China, Europe and the US. We have already received a lot of interest today from people interested in programming and coding.”