Online Gamers Leap Amid COVID-19 Lockdown

The COVID-19 lockdown in the ME has sparked an Arabic gaming boom with Twitch streams in the language more than doubling during March and April. The video site lets users to broadcast their gameplay live to fans around the world has said to record a total of 62,582 active streams as countries across the region followed strict social distancing rules, meaning more time spent at home for gamers.

During March, Twitch streams in Arabic increased by 95.3% year-on-year and 36.9% compared to the previous month, while in April the yearly increase was 109.9%. The figures point to a gaming surge across the Middle East, with many of the top players coming from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain.

The top channels during April included Saudi Arabia’s ixxYjYxxi, who recorded 210,257 views in 44 hours of streaming during the month and RakanooLive, with more than 561,000 hours of watch time.

According to a report by Cheesecake Digital, Youtube has seen a significant increase in viewership from just over 1,000,000 hours watched in Feb to 3,000,000 in March. This is in large part thanks to one Bahraini streamer who recorded 911,000 hours of viewership while streaming Minecraft.

In March, Bahrain also streamed Formula One’s Virtual Grand Prix event on the platform, bringing together F1 legends Stoffel Vandoorne, Esteban Gutierrez and Lando Norris with celebrities including former One Direction star Liam Payne.

The MENA region is said to have world’s most active gaming community and at 25% year-on-year growth, the fastest growing online gaming population in the world. According to a recent white paper from leading internet company Tencent and Pubg Mobile, the MENA gaming market will be worth some US $6 billion by 2021, up from US $4.8 billion in 2019.

“With the world’s fastest growing gaming market and a thriving tech ecosystem, the ME is on another level when it comes to opportunities for developers. In today’s globalized and decentralized world, genuinely untapped growth markets are increasingly rare and the ME gaming opportunity should not be understated. With Bahrain seeking to attract international talent and entrepreneurs as part of ongoing diversification efforts, the gaming market has the potential to explode as foreign investment, ideas and skills flow in,” mentioned David Parker, Co-Chief Investment Officer at Bahrain Economic Development Board.

The Arabic gaming surge comes amid a global gaming boom during the ongoing health crisis. In March, Steam stated a new record of more than 20 million players gaming or chatting on the platform at the same time. In that same month, data from Verizon showed gaming traffic in the US up 75% since the quarantine began, while in Italy, one of the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, Telecom Italia saw a 70% increase to its landline traffic, which it attributed in large part to gaming industry phenomenon Fortnite.