Gaming is booming but work still to be done, Saudi esports chief … – Arab News
MIAMI: Saudi Arabia’s youth are driving innovation in the gaming and esports sector thanks to the Kingdom’s growing investment and commitment to developing it as a viable career choice, the chief of the Saudi Esports Federation said on Thursday.
However, Prince Faisal bin Bandar said that the Kingdom, and the global esports sector as a whole, could do more to make the industry even more inclusive, especially for women.
Valued at $1.38 billion in 2022, the global esports market is forecast to be worth $1.87 billion in 2025, and with 377 million esports gamers in the Middle East, the region is expected to become the fastest-growing gaming region in the world.
With a large youth population and high smart phone and Internet use rates, in Saudi Arabia alone, 68 percent of the country’s citizens consider themselves gamers. The Kingdom is also set to host Gamers8 this summer, the world’s largest esports and gaming event.
“This next generation are living (esports), they are the ones pushing the innovation,” Prince Faisal said. “Our job, and what we’re doing in Saudi Arabia, is putting the tools in place for them to take it and run with it, to take the lead, and we can just get out of their way,” he said.
While US content dominates the TV, film and music markets globally, gaming is much more an international industry that has allowed Saudis to flourish on the world stage and, like the rest of the world, is one of the most gender-balanced and inclusive arenas in the Kingdom.
“The tools required to build games are now accessible to everyone,” Prince Faisal said. “And in gaming in general, it is pretty equal, it’s about 48 percent female, 52 percent male,” he said.
“Where we have a lot of room to catch up is in the professional (gaming sphere); there’s a lot of room for women to grow within that, even though there has been a lot of growth over the past five years, worldwide, and not just in Saudi Arabia.
“(However) in Saudi Arabia, we’ve had our first international champion, Najd Fahd, who won the collegiate ladies FIFA world championship, and she’s one of our role models to showcase that this is a valid career path not just for young men but also for young women.
“What we need to do is give more room for our young men and women to show they are the heroes of the future, and let them be the voice of the next generation,” he said.
MELBOURNE, Australia: Red Bull’s Max Verstappen has claimed his first Australian Grand Prix in remarkable circumstances in a chaotic Formula 1 race filled with drama from the green light to the checkered flag.
Although Red Bull’s first triumph in Melbourne since 2011 was expected, the carnage that unfolded in the latter stages of the race at Albert Park made it an extremely hard-fought triumph.
Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, who drove superbly in his Mercedes, finished second, while Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso filled third spot on the podium.
“That is a really good weekend for us. I am happy with that,” Verstappen said to his team on radio.
Verstappen had appeared to be coasting to victory with an eight-second lead when debris from Kevin Magnussen’s Haas forced the second of three red flags issued in the race with three laps remaining.
On the restart, Verstappen was able to hold Hamilton to the first turn as bedlam unfolded behind his RB19, sparking a massive reshuffle of the finishing order in the 58-lap race.
Alonso, who had challenged Hamilton for second position throughout much of the race, was hit by Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz on the first corner of the restart. Sainz, whose Ferrari showed good speed throughout the race, was issued with a five-second penalty which relegated him to 12th.
Williams driver Logan Sargeant also drove into the back of Nyck DeVries and Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly also crashed.
Earlier, Ferrari’s defending champion Charles LeClerc exited after crashing on the opening lap, while the Mercedes of one-time leader George Russell caught fire on Lap 18.
Australian Oscar Piastri claimed his first championship points when finishing eighth in his McLaren.
ORLANDO, Florida: Brooks Koepka became known for showing up big in the majors. He started to hit his stride Saturday with a 6-under 65 for a three-shot lead in LIV Golf-Orlando on the weekend before Koepka heads for the Masters.
Koepka played bogey-free at Orange County National. Sebastian Munoz of Colombia, who followed his 62 with an even-par 71, was second.
Mito Pereira (66), Laurie Canter (66) and Patrick Reed (67) were four shots back.
Koepka will try to become the first multiple winner since the Saudi-funded LIV Golf began last June. He won a year ago in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in a playoff over Peter Uihlein. Before that, Koepka’s last win was in February 2021 in the Phoenix Open as he battled a various assortment of injuries.
“Just got rid of the mental mistakes,” Koepka said.
He considered his previous two LIV Golf tournaments this year in Mexico and Tucson — what he called “dumb mistakes” at Mayakoba and “then go to Tucson and I played the tough holes really well and played the easy ones probably the worst in the field.”
Koepka won four majors in a span of three years — two US Opens and two PGA Championships. The Masters starts next week at Augusta National.
“Every time I try to play the week before a major, it’s always just to make sure my game is in good shape,” he said. “Just kind of go down the checklist of trying to make better decisions than normal. Just trying to play disciplined golf because when I go to a major, I’m so disciplined, and I think sometimes I can get a little bit carefree in regular events, firing at flags, missing on the wrong side. And I don’t do that in majors.”
Dustin Johnson (70) and British Open champion Cameron Smith (68) were seven shots behind. LIV Golf has 18 players who will be at the Masters next week.
In the team competition, Smash has a two-shot lead over Torque.
ELCHE, Spain: Robert Lewandowski struck twice as Barcelona moved 15 points clear at the top of La Liga with a comfortable 4-0 win at Elche on Saturday.
The Polish forward has endured a small dip in form recently but was back to his lethal best to continue the Catalans’ procession toward the title.
Ansu Fati also found the net for the first time since October in the league and Ferran Torres rounded out the comfortable win, as Xavi was able to play some reserve players ahead of Wednesday’s Copa del Rey semifinal clash with Real Madrid.
Elche, playing under new coach Sebastian Beccacece for the first time, are bottom of the table and never seemed likely to trouble the runaway league leaders. Champions Madrid, second, host Real Valladolid on Sunday.
“We’ll see what Madrid do tomorrow, (but) if we win our games, we will be champions,” Eric Garcia told Movistar.
“The coach told us all at the start of the season, everyone is important.
“We have an important game on Wednesday and he was able to rest some players.”
Barca coach Xavi took the chance to experiment by deploying Garcia in Sergio Busquets’ usual pivot role, and made several other changes to his usual side.
Torres and Fati started on the flanks, the latter having made headlines this week after his father complained about the Barca number 10’s lack of minutes.
“(Goals) always give confidence to the forward, today it went perfectly,” Xavi told Movistar.
“Two goals for Robert, one for Ferran, one for Ansu, and Ansu’s work — he ended up exhausted, that’s the truth.
“Aside from the goal, that is very positive for him and his confidence, how he worked for the team, it’s really important for me, and the goal is a consequence of his work and his talent.
“I’m especially happy for Ferran, Ansu, the players that maybe deserved goals, today they scored.”
Lewandowski broke the deadlock after 20 minutes with his first goal in four league matches, scuffing a finish into the ground, with the ball looping over a defender and into the net.
The Polish international and the top goalscorer in the league grabbed his 16th and 17th strikes of the campaign — he has 27 across all competitions.
Barcelona should have increased their lead in the first half but Lewandowski nodded over from Torres’ cross from just six yards out, while Elche defender Omar Mascarell slid in to clear a Jules Kounde effort off the line.
Gavi pulled the strings in midfield as Barcelona dominated at the Martinez Valero stadium, securing a 20th clean sheet of the season in the top flight.
Fati stretched Barcelona’s advantage 10 minutes into the second half, running from the halfway line with the Elche defense backing off, before drilling into the bottom corner.
Lewandowski pounced again after Gavi won the ball back for the third and then played a fine long ball to Torres, who drifted inside and slotted home the fourth.
Xavi handed midfielder Aleix Garrido, 19, his debut in the final stages, as the hosts showed a few signs of life.
Fidel Chaves headed against the crossbar but like so many other sides this season, Elche could not beat Marc-Andre ter Stegen, with the German goalkeeper denying Josan Fernandez.
Elche are 14 points from safety with 11 matches remaining.
MIAMI GARDENS, United States: Petra Kvitova drew on all her experience to claim her 30th WTA singles title with a straight sets Miami Open victory over Elena Rybakina on Saturday.
Czech Kvitova, appearing in her first Miami final at the age of 33, triumphed 7-6 (16/14) 6-2 at Hard Rock Stadium, a victory which will return the veteran to the top 10 in the world rankings.
Rybakina came into the final on a career-best 13-match winning streak after winning the title at Indian Wells and was looking for the rare ‘Sunshine Double’ of both WTA Masters events.
It was a tight, serve-dominated battle until Kvitova broke to go 5-4 up but Rybakina, who represents Kazakhstan, immediately broke back.
The tie-break was a thrilling 22-minute, 28-second, 30-point shoot-out in which two-time Wimbledon Kvitova saved five set points to emerge triumphant from when Rybakina returned to the net.
Kvitova took that momentum into the second set, breaking early to go 2-0 up and from then on she never looked like letting her opponent, 11 years her junior, back into the contest.
Rybakina couldn’t convert a break point in the next game and then she herself was broken again when serving to stay in the match at 5-2 down.
Kvitova, who has now won 30 of 41 career finals, said the tie-break had turned the contest in her direction.
“I’m still surprised. I think the tie-break really decided the whole match in the end…it was probably the longest in my career and somehow I managed it,” she said.
“(She hit) so many aces at the beginning of the tie-break, I was like oh my God, I couldn’t even play, so it was a little difficult,” added Kvitova, who now has nine WTA 1000 titles.
“I had to slowly serve it out very well today and I am glad I made it in the end but to be honest I have no idea how I did it,” she added.
Kvitova won 78 percent of her service points (52 of 67) and finished with 29 winners to 14 unforced errors
Rybakina fired 12 aces in the match and became the first player since Serena Williams at 2016 Wimbledon to hit 10 or more aces in six consecutive matches in a single tournament.
The ATP final on Sunday features Russia’s Daniil Medvedev against Italian Jannik Sinner, who beat Carlos Alcaraz in Friday’s semifinal.
LONDON: Aston Villa climbed above Chelsea and into the top half of the Premier League table with a 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.
Ollie Watkins gave Villa an early lead before a superb strike by John McGinn, fresh from starring in Scotland’s shock Euro 2024 win over Spain, made it 2-0 in the 56th minute.
Defeat saw Chelsea drop into the bottom half of the table to increase the pressure on Blues manager Graham Potter, with the London club booed off the field by their own supporters at full-time.
This was Villa’s fifth away win since Unai Emery became manager of the Birmingham club in October and they have now won 16 points on the road, a tally equalled only by champions Manchester City in that period.
All 10 of Chelsea’s league wins this season have come against bottom-half opponents, but this reverse meant they drop into 11th place in the table.
Villa moved up into ninth, one point off Liverpool in eighth, and just two points off a European place.
Emery’s men almost gifted Chelsea the lead soon after kick-off when goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez rolled the ball short to Boubacar Kamara, who was dispossessed by Mykhailo Mudryk.
The Ukrainian, however, was denied by Martinez when one-on-one with the Argentina World Cup-winner.
Villa responded quickly, Watkins pulling a shot wide before McGinn hit the crossbar in the 15th minute with a curling shot.
But the in-form Watkins broke the deadlock in the 18th minute, capitalizing on a slack header from Marc Cucurella before lobbing the ball over Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga.
Martinez preserved Villa’s lead by diving low to his left to deny Kai Havertz.
Chelsea were on top, playing attractive and attacking football but with no goals to show for their efforts.
In the match as a whole, Villa only had five shots on target to Chelsea’s 27 but, significantly, they made two of them count.
Villa captain McGinn doubled the lead in style with a well-struck curling effort from 25 yards out.
Chelsea worked hard but rarely threatened a goal, with the one consolation for the Blues the sight of defender N’Golo Kante, a 2018 World Cup winner with France, coming off the bench in the 57th minute as he made his first senior appearance for the Blues under Potter, having been sidelined since August.