Broadcast and media rights for esports has become an ever-changing topic in recent years, with platforms such as Twitch and Youtube striking exclusive streaming rights to some of the sector’s biggest titles. 

Moreover, traditional media has also opted to invest in broadcasting esports, such as the BBC airing live League of Legends on its online platforms, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, while most of the world is developing media frameworks around esports, the Middle East has had a somewhat difficult time with regards to marketing competitive gaming to a wider audience, particularly to broadcasters.

At ESI Digital Summer’s ‘The fragmentation challenge and esports broadcast rights in the Middle East’ panel, Empire Play’s esports executive Edward Kondrat explained the difficulty for Middle Eastern countries to broadcast esports, citing that it is partly due to the lack of Arabic-language OTT platforms.

Kondrat stated: “We’ve been testing ourselves whether to do the broadcasts on Facebook, YouTube or Twitch. For us as a broadcasting studio, one of the issues with Facebook is that the viewership stats are so intransparent.

“Now, YouTube as a live stream locally, is a dead platform simply if you go and you open all of the live challenge channels right now and filtered out by Arabic, you would see that Twitch has 10 times, 50 times more streamers that are active in Arabic on Twitch. 

“Now, one thing though, which is important is that Twitch is not in Arabic. Every streamer that goes through all of these settings and rules, affiliate agreements, partner agreements and all of that most probably fully understands English.

“So they might as well just just stream in English to have a larger audience and to have more people potentially watching them. And in time, that’s what’s happening.

“There is only one reason why a potential platform might appear within the region if Twitch does not revise its website, it’s for Arabic language. Lots of Saudis, I’m sure, would be able to livestream it in goodwill.”

However Jamie Ryder, DLA Piper’s partner for media, sport & entertainment in Dubai warned of the risks of creating a platform, using Mixer’s downfall as an example of how difficult the industry is. 

In turn, Ryder suggested that gaining more linear broadcast rights could help grow esports in the Middle East.

“I think there is an opportunity for large scale growth for an Arabic platform and original Arabic gaming titles,” he said. “But ultimately, it comes down to a question of monetisation.”

“The best example to underline this is Mixer, which as everybody will know, just shut down at the end of July. Given that Mixer had Microsoft’s full backing, it brought in the likes of Ninja and Shroud at great expense.

“If an entity like Microsoft feels that it can’t reach the scale it needs to in order to fully monetise the platform, because platforms like Twitch, YouTube Gaming and even Facebook gaming are already so well established and so well engaged, I think the ability for a new market entrant is going to be difficult, albeit, as I said there is clearly a nuanced market here.

“If I were to be put on the spot, and I think it’s more likely, in the immediate term, that we see linear broadcasters dipping their toe into the esports space to test the waters.”

The panel, which was moderated by Ross Video Esports Business Development Manager Cameron Reed, also discussed the potential evolution of esports in the Middle East with Ryder suggesting that the way forward is to create specific esports-focused legislation.

Ryder added: “One of the big issues I see here in the region, using the UAE as an example, is kind of the opaque nature of the regulatory regime.”

“I think where there’s a real opportunity is to streamline the entire ecosystem around esports with some esports specific regulation. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem. The UAE isn’t an outlier in not having esports specific regulations, long established jurisdictions in particular, the UK and the US don’t yet have esports specific regulation. 

“But I think the nuances of this region, and in particular, a very important point is not least the fact that gambling here in the region is illegal. So if your esports tournament isn’t actually structured correctly, you run the risk of the tournament itself being illegal.

“I think if we could provide both the developers and international participants that are looking to come into the country to host these major events with a very clear, straightforward and measurable process, then it needs to be done.” 

Having conversations over the future of Middle Eastern esports events, both in execution, marketing and broadcast potential, will only help build the industry as a whole. Plus as Ryder alluded to, the region has the opportunity to learn from other areas on how to build a successful framework.

In the end, despite the issues, the panel was optimistic about the future of competitive gaming in the Middle East. Kondrat firmly believed that it’s only a matter of time before large scale international events are to be broadcast in Arabic across the nation. 

“Now, do we see a bright future for broadcasting rights in Arabic in terms of international events that are happening? Definitely,” he commented.

“We’ve proven that you already can do stuff that will get thousands of concurrent views and more than 13 and a half thousand of unique viewers. When we just launched the Valorent service a few days before during the tournament, we had zero followers in that twitch channel.”

Other topics that were discussed during the SBC Digital Summer panel included the problem with esports marketing in the region, which titles are popular and how are they presented, plus competitive gaming’s potential to carve a niche by creating local content.

Esport Insider’s Digital Summer event is taking place throughout the week, with a different region being showcased every day. To sign up for the event, which features a range of networking sessions, panels and presentations, then click here.