Israeli gamers win top prize at Saudi Arabia's Gamers8 festival

Israeli Counter-Strike: Global Offensive esports players on Team Vitality emerged victorious over ENCE in the finals of the tournament at Saudi Arabia's Gamers8.

Screenshot of a game of Counter Strike (photo credit: screenshot)
Screenshot of a game of Counter Strike
(photo credit: screenshot)

Israeli gamers on Team Vitality took home the top prize at Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament at the Gamers8: The Land of Heroes esports festival in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Monday, beating out ENCE.

The team, based out of France and which dubs itself as one of Europe's largest esports clubs, featured a number of players, two of which, Spinx (Lotan Giladi) and flameZ (Shahar Shushan) hail from the Jewish state. 

Spinx himself was signed onto Vitality's roster in the summer of 2022, having previously been one of the star members of the ENCE roster. 

flameZ, however, joined far more recently, replacing the Danish player Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen on the roster. 

Israeli CS:GO gamers emerge victorious at Gamers8

The two Israelis performed well throughout Gamers8, a massive eight-week gaming event that featured a 16-team CS:GO tournament, with the two having helped push ahead to the semifinals after dominating Natus Vincere.

In the finals against ENCE, flameZ and Spinx had to face off against fellow Israeli Guy "NertZ" Iluz, though in the end, Vitality, led by French player Mathieu "ZywOo" Herbaut, managed to win the day, with ZywOo even beating NertZ out to win the MVP spot.

Ultimately, this victory helps Vitality shoot right back to the top of the leaderboard and collect most of the tournament's $1 million prize pool.

But not everything was celebratory at the event as the Israeli players faced some of their own challenges. 

Though efforts are now openly being made to try and normalize ties between Jerusalem and Riyadh, those ties are still only theoretical. As such, some extra security was needed.

According to Spinx, the three Israeli players had security with them 24/7 due to the relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia. However, there were ultimately no issues and Spinx said he felt safe and welcomed in the country.

This isn't the first time countries without official ties, or even with outright hostile relations, have still hosted gamers for tournaments.

Back in November 2020, Israel was set to receive official esports representatives from Iran for the international esports world championship in Eilat. While this was ultimately canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the next event, still held in Israel, ultimately didn't see Iran qualify, representatives were still sent by another country with non-friendly ties with Israel: Indonesia. 

This also wasn't even the only time Israeli gamers were in Saudi Arabia this year. Back in July, a team of Israelis alongside their coach and assistant manager entered Saudi Arabia for the FIFAe Club World Cup, the international gaming competition for the FIFA video game.

Aaron Reich contributed to this report.