Gaming is now a solid career for UAE teens

Parents don't need to give pocket money to their children anymore. Teens in Dubai have found an alternative way of making thousands of dirhams - by gaming.

A 16-year-old Canadian student, Bradley Ismail, is a semi-professional gamer and has earned Dh83,500 from just coaching other gamers. He is part of a team called Valour, and is taking part in gaming tournaments in the UAE - where prize pools are usually more than $10,000. The team has taken part in three tournaments since its formation in March, accumulating more than Dh100,000. The prize money gets equally distributed among the players.

Valour eSports has 30 gamers in the organisation, competing in tournaments where games such as Overwatch, Call of Duty Global Offensive, League of Legends and Hearthstone are played professionally. Ismail and his team play Overwatch. He said training for tournaments could take up heavy hours.

"As far as training goes, we play five to six times a week as a full team, for three to four hours each day. Some days we discuss strategy but most of the time we are playing practice games where we can test out new character compositions, or strategies for different maps, to see if they are any good," Ismail said.

"Training can get very intense at times, but is essential to maintaining a high level of play. Sometimes before huge tournaments, we do what is called 'boot camping' where we all meet up and live together for a couple of days and practice the whole day or days, in preparation for the tournament."

Ismail is looking to become a full-time professional gamer and skip university. He said a gaming career could earn him up to $100,000 per tournament.

A Lebanese player, Mohamed Ataya, 19, said he has been gaming since he was four years old, where he would play 'retro games' on his computer. Today, he is also part of the Valour team and has earned Dh2,500 since March. "It is still in the early stage of the tournaments, so there is much more to come," he said.

"I believe eSports is getting better in the UAE and getting more exposure. All the tournaments I've been to has made me very excited because it's growing."


Both Ismail and Ataya train for the tournaments at home, but sometimes the sponsors pay for their training time at gaming network centres. Most venues charge Dh10 per hour.

Gamers who are not playing professionally or semi-professionally spend more than 10 hours at gaming network centres.

The receptionist at a gaming centre in Barsha said: "Gamers come in early afternoon and stay late until after midnight. It's always packed here. Networks are very popular here, but gamers can also buy their own computer and game at home."

Some retired gamers are selling their accounts on classifieds websites at a cost of between Dh1,000 to Dh4,000. Gamers bring the ranking of their game character and then sell the account for a profit.

The founder of Valour, Jason Mann, said that eSports is a growing industry in the UAE.

He said that companies are showing an increasing amount of interest in sponsoring tournaments, as gaming is rising in the country.

In 2015, cash prizes of up to Dh150,000 were up for grabs for gamers at the Game Evolution that took place at the Dubai World Trade Centre. On May 10 to May 11 of this year, the World Game Expo is happening at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, where game inventors and designers can win prizes between Dh5,000 to Dh15,000.

"The gaming industry in the region is one that is constantly growing at an exponential rate. Specifically targeting eSports and the increase of investment and revenue within the industry throughout the UAE," Mann said. "We have seen tens of thousands of dirhams being poured into the regions eSports industry and we are seeing it grow at an even faster rate. From personal experience, Valour eSports has accumulated over Dh30,000 in three tournaments varying over different eSports titles. However, with all the Valour eSports teams combined over all the titles, the teams and players have brought in over Dh100,000.

"The industry is only growing and sponsors and companies are showing more interest in 2017 than ever before. With the rise in individuals and teams coming to light at tournaments, I think that 2017 will be the year that eSports becomes mainstream within the region."