Saudi Arabia has carved out a significant influence in esports, but continues to face questions related to its human rights record ©Getty Images

Saudi Arabia has added to its esports portfolio with the acquiring of video game developer Scopely by the Savvy Games Group.

Savvy is owned by Saudi Arabia's Public Investment Fund (PIF), and has agreed to purchase United States-based Scopely for $4.9 billion (£3.9 billion/€4.5 billion), subject to regulatory approval.

Under the agreement, Scopely is set to serve as an autonomous operating company under the Savvy umbrella, with the financial backing used to deepen existing franchises and unlock new player audiences.

Scopely was founded in 2011, and its free-to-play games on mobile platforms include Star Trek Fleet Command, Yahtzee With Buddies, Marvel Strike Force and Scrabble Go.

Saudi Arabia has carved out a significant influence in esports, with Savvy investing in a $265 million (£213 million/€241 million) deal with Chinese agency VSPO earlier this year.

The PIF reportedly owns more than eight per cent of Nintendo after further recent investments in the Japanese video game giant, and Saudi Arabia's capital Riyadh is set to host this year's Global Esports Games in December.

The country has previously held two Global Esports Federation tournaments on the Global Esports Tour.

Savvy Games Group chief executive Brian Ward underlined the importance of its latest acquisition.

Star Trek Fleet Command is among the games published by Scopely ©Scopely
Star Trek Fleet Command is among the games published by Scopely ©Scopely

"Scopely is one of the fastest-growing games companies today, and we have long admired their ability to build loyal, engaged player communities," he said.

"At Savvy Games Group, our mission is to invest in - and grow - the global games community by inviting the best minds to join us.

"Under [co-chief executives] Walter [Driver] and Javier's [Ferreira] stewardship, Scopely has proven to be an exceptional leader and will continue to revolutionise the future of games for years to come.

"We look forward to further accelerating the company's ambitions and working together with their talented team of developers, designers and publishers to create innovative and exciting new products for the gaming community across the world."

Driver said it would form a "transformational partnership".

Saudi Arabia's rise in esports has mirrored its growing importance in sport, with major events secured including the 2034 Asian Games and 2029 Asian Winter Games, and the 2030 men's FIFA World Cup is reportedly being sought.

However, it has been criticised for what opponents view as an attempt to sportswash the Mohammed bin Salman regime's record on human rights.

Homosexuality and same-sex marriage are both outlawed according to Saudi Arabia's uncodified Islamic law, and its record on women's rights continues to be heavily criticised despite some recent reforms.

The country has also been criticised for the alleged state-ordered assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018, its role in the bombing of Yemen and its use of the death penalty.