E-Sports Thrives in Pandemic, Helping Students Pay Tuition

Mohammed Fares playing a video game at his home in Dubai. March 18, 2021. Ahmed AlShurafa.

One sport seems to be doing well in the Covid-19 pandemic. E-sports, or electronic sports in which players compete using video games, continues to attract players, and it’s not a problem if you are under lockdown: you can do this from the comfort of your room.

In Dubai, it is even helping students make a living or pay for their tuition.

Mohammed Fares, a 20-year-old Jordanian student at the University of Leicester in Dubai, plays professionally from his room. In one season, he says he makes more than 5,000 dirhams a month. He started playing video games at the age of five when his father bought him a “Gameboy.” His hobby turned into a full-time profession when he was a senior in high school and read about a FIFA competition in the UAE that was offering a cash prize for the winner.

“When I saw the cash prize was a lot, I decided to join to see if I was even good enough to qualify,” he said in an interview. “Turns out that I was really good, and I wanted to continue.”

Soon, Fares was able to pay for most of his university education from money earned at e-sports competitions, as grand prizes have become really big. And he’s not the only one.

“I wanted to train every day to win when I saw the grand prize in the FIFA competition being more than my allowance, and this helped me buy more tech for my PC,” said Juma Alromaithi, a 19-year-old Emirati student at SAE Institute in Dubai. 

Gaming stores in Dubai seem to be banking on the hype to increase their business.

“We wanted to gain a reputation, and we saw that making a competition with money prizes was the best way to attract all the professional gamers in the UAE,” Mazen Ibrahim, an employee at Rails JLT, one of Dubai’s biggest gaming stores that holds annual e-sport competitions, said in a phone interview.

The e-sport community grew to a point where teams have started forming around the world, offering sponsorships and training programs for future candidates. 

“I am aiming to join a group after I pass their test, and hopefully compete with them internationally,” said Fares. 

The Covid-19 pandemic forced authorities around the world to impose lockdowns and halt sports activities last year, but the e-sport community did not seem to have been affected as much as players and teams competing in physical sports. They established platforms such as “Twitch” and some pay-to-watch websites, which helped them not only retain but increase their revenue. As global interest in e-sports grew, so did acceptance that it could be someone’s full-time profession.  

“At first, my parents did not believe me when I said that FIFA will be my job after university, but after seeing its potential, they believe that it could work out in the future,” said Fares. 

With a growing audience in the online community, many see e-sports becoming the next big thing in sports, and even having its players compared to football or other athletic stars.    

Ahmed AlShurafa

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