More than 200 Syrian youth at the Zaatari Refugee camp in Jordan have faced off in an eSports tournament. The eager youngsters consisting of boys and girls from 10 to 18 years old, including those with a disability competed in the final from 31 January to 1 February 2020.

Marking a new chapter in eSports history, this was the very first time a tournament was held at a refugee camp.

Several training centres were available for a month beforehand, allowing the children the opportunity to play and familiarise themselves with the FIFA 20 video console game. 

The Refugees eSports Cup was run by the UEFA Foundation for Children, regarded as the charitable arm of European football’s governing body, in partnership with Libraries Without Borders. 

The project was created to make a positive change for young children to combat boredom and cultivate resilience. The initiative encourages young children to learn strategy, enact technique and accept defeat as an opportunity to learn and progress with their lives. 

Games can also stimulate imagination and creativity, immersing players in an alternative universe. 

The Zaatari Refugee camp hosts around 80,000 Syrians who have been forced to flee the conflict in neighbouring Syria. More than half of these refugees are children.

The Zaatari Refugee camp hosts thousands of Syrian refugees, most of whom include children. Source: The Guardian.

Many of the children had never even seen a PlayStation before. Nevertheless, that did not stop them from proving their serious gaming technique. 

“Video games are a cultural product that refugees should have access to, just like any other,” said the UEFA Foundation.

Facebook and PlayStation were among the supporters of the project helping to ensure that the children have the proper training to prepare for the final matches.

Two weeks were be spent mobilising the community and selecting participants to take part in the training sessions and final e-tournament.

A total of 250 games of FIFA were played over 6 days, with 14-year-old Mohammed al Hariri winning first place.

eSports is fast becoming a lucrative billion-dollar industry. It is also widely popular for its competitiveness and unlike conventional sports, it is priced for its accessibility. 

Nowadays, video games have their place in society, earning even more than movies or books. 

Tournaments can attract viewing crowds that rival most traditional professional sports outings. For instance, the 2017 League of Legends World Championship drew more than 80 million viewers, making it one of the most popular eSports competitions ever played. 

Youngsters eager playing FIFA 20 at the Zaatari Refugee camp in Jordan. Source: UEFA.

Digital football matches can strengthen communities, build resilience, and promote social cohesion.

Not just a good time, the leisurely pastime also provides an opportunity for learning and greater socialisation for young children.

The UEFA Foundation explained that “for the time of a match, (the children)… will then be able to escape from their daily lives and their hard living conditions. With video games, failure in all its forms does not exist. It even constitutes the core of learning. Defeat encourages them to carry on and move forward.”

Fortunately, after the tournament at least 5 PlayStations will remain in the camp to ensure the sustainability of the initiative, bringing joy to the faces of children while normal life resumes.

This pilot project will then be assessed by UEFA Foundation and considered for duplication at the Cox’s Bazar camp in Bangladesh; whose inhabitants consist mostly of Rohingya refugees that have fled from ethnic and religious persecution from neighbouring Myanmar.