Remember the time you went over to your mate’s house and picked up a game controller for the very first time to bust a move on the Sega Megadrive with Sonic The Hedgehog? Or perhaps you were a whizz at Tetrus on the original Gameboy? Whoosh, a few years (decades) have gone by and you’re now a bona fide gamer. And what a time it is to be one, as Dubai is plunging headfirst into the virtual world. No longer the domain of teenage bedrooms, gaming is cool for grown-ups, too. Our city has always had its finger on the button when it comes to gaming, thanks to numerous and decked out gaming cafés and annual tournaments but there’s even more to check out in 2019. From eSports, to where to play and the games you need to get your hands on right now – here’s our guide to Dubai’s gaming scene.
What is eSports?
eSports consists of various multiplayer games being played at a professional level. Whether it be a one-on-one fighting game such as Mortal Kombat or a team-based first-person shooter such as Overwatch – give a grand prize to the winner and you have yourself an eSport.
It comes as no surprise that the UAE wants to get in on the eSport action, with the industry worth a whopping US$135 billion (Dhs495.9 billion). That number alone tells us that these pro-tournaments and competitions have become serious business around the globe. With that kind of money comes a sizeable prize pool, and UAE gaming tournaments are already dishing out grand-prizes that are usually more than US$10,000 (Dhs36,729).
But these players don’t, well, play about. They spend nearly every waking moment sharpening their skills, replaying matches countless times so they’re at the top of their game. Some pro teams even set up “gaming houses,” which basically has them live and breathe video games. And that’s why you get pro teams such as Tempo Storm getting sponsorship from industrial giants like Red Bull. How’s Dubai retaliating to all this? Well, last year saw the city host Playerunknown’s Battleground (PUBG) Mobile Star Challenge Global, a competitive gaming tournament that saw professional players from six global regions duke it out for the grand prize of US$600,000 (Dhs2.2 million).
It’s also seen the huge opening of Fortnite season 8 in Dubai, which hosted Twitch and YouTube megastar Ali A, playing against UAE Fortnite players (with many eight-year-olds giving him a hard time).
If Dubai were to host more eSport tournaments with higher stakes (we’re talking a US$21 million prize pool here), where exactly would they hold them? Well, the upcoming dedicated eSports stadium, XDubai of course.
The region’s first dedicated venue plans to host world-class video gaming tournaments such as Overwatch League, which has seen a huge audience through its Twitch live stream, Call of Duty World League and Battle.net World Championship Series. It hopes to bring in a fanbase of 60 million people with its new stadium, due to be completed in 2020, and with Dubai’s interest in gaming these days, we can’t see why it won’t reach that number.
Gaming from the clouds
Gaming in Dubai is on the rise, although we all know playing our favourite games can come at a fairly heavy cost. But you don’t need to spend a fortune on a console when you can play triple A titles right on your TV. Thanks to Etisalat’s brand-new cloud-based gaming service, you won’t need a console anymore. eLife TV Gaming lets gamers stream high-definition (1080P) games right onto their TV, and it comes at an affordable price. Users can sign up for a monthly subscription with unlimited access to popular games – we’re talking Tomb Raider, Just Cause 2, Lords of the Fallen, Furi, LEGO Star Wars and many more. The library of games will be constantly updated, with titles from Square Enix, Disney, THQ Nordic, Capcom and Codemasters. Fingers crossed for Final Fantasy (please).
The cloud-based service comes from the eLife box, so Etisalat eLife users will only need to subscribe to eLife TV Gaming to get signed up. Done? You’re ready to play. The basic package is Dhs30 a month with unlimited access to play 20 games, while the the premium pass is priced at Dhs50 a month and delivers more than 40 games. But how about all the latest gaming releases? Well later on in the year, single hit titles will also be made available to rent, including the latest titles for Dhs15 to Dhs20 for 48 hours. To play them all, you’re going to need a controller, but Etisalat has that covered, too. A list of compatible controllers will be Dhs120.
“Cloud gaming on eLife TV provides us with the opportunity to address the largely untapped casual gaming market that wants to play on the big screen and not just on their mobile,” said Chief Consumer Officer of Etisalat, Khaled Elkhouly. “We believe that eSports and gaming will only continue to grow and that Etisalat will be the champion for this segment in the UAE.”
The service aims to help introduce non-gamers to the world of gaming, giving them classic titles and high-definition games.
Where to play
Opening in 2016 and hailed as ‘the region’s first immersive entertainment park’, the indoor centre features attractions and rides based on popular video games. With a baffling amount of gaming zones, attractions, experiences, rides and more, you could easily get lost spending a whole day tackling the array of games and challenges on offer. From the Ghostbusters: Dimension experience (AKA The Void), to the Gears of War laser tag attraction, via some speed wall climbing challenges there’s loads on offer at this 15,000 sq m centre in City Walk. Good for gamers of all ages and levels.
From Dhs100. Open Sat-Wed noon-11pm, Thu-Fri noon-midnight. City Walk, Al Safa Street, www.hubzerodubai.com (800 637227).
Millennium Avenue Gaming Café
The best way to be introduced into the world of eSport gaming is to play with a group of friends, and what better place to start than a 24/7 gaming café featuring a list of the best games on the market? From the excitement of Call of Duty to the more strategic Dota 2, find a game that suits your niche and have fun beating your mates at it.
Open 24/7. Abu Hail Road, Deira (04 294 7777).
Looking for something a little more serious? The avid gamer will want to check out the Que Club in Al Barsha, hosting regular tournaments and housing 120 kitted-out gaming computers. There’s even a VIP section for those who want to game fancy.
Open daily 10am-3am. Opposite Dubai American Academy, Al Barsha. www.queclub.com (04 385 1191).
With powerful gaming rigs, the best performance gear such as top-of-the-range gaming headsets and mechanical keyboards, the Rails in JLT is made for hardcore gamers to battle it out, tournament-style. Amateur eSport players can test their mettle at the weekly competitions, including Fortnite and PUBG tournaments that will have the best winning up to Dhs3,500.
Open daily 10am-2.30am. Cluster Y, JLT, www.rails.ae (04 423 7742).
Run by master developer Emaar, VR Park dares you to “challenge reality”. Among the 18 sepa-rate attractions (within which there can be multiple games) found inside the VR Park, you’ll be taken to distant planets, the distant future and the not-so-distant world of a fully virtualised Dubai, in a series of games that have been specially designed with some of the world’s top VR production houses. It’s actually slightly disorientating coming back to reality when your game ends. Bring your mates, bring your kids – this is one for the whole family.
Free entry, games start from Dhs15. Open Sun-Wed 10am-11pm, Thu-Sat 10am-1am. The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai, www.vrparkdubai.com.