Slotegrator got in touch with Zakaria El Maaroufi, Head of Business Development at SiGMA, to find out how the company has adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic, what SiGMA is planning for 2022, what iGathering attendees can expect, and why the group has big plans for Asia.
Hello Zakaria, thank you for the opportunity to have a chat! The past year marked a return to networking events for the industry after the chaos of 2020. From a human perspective, how did it feel getting back on the road?
Although networking has changed dramatically since the COVID-19 outbreak, it is still critical in our sector. With millions of people forced to live in isolation as a result of the pandemic, and in-person gatherings, which are at the heart of SiGMA's activities, being canceled left, right, and center, there's no doubt that we were among the most hit. SiGMA's European summit was originally scheduled for November 2020 but we had to postpone it twice. Our team's ability to adapt to the pandemic has astounded me. We used this opportunity to reflect and develop.
SiGMA has grown into a full-fledged media platform with content extended to ten languages, and has even created a new academic program, SiGMA College, through its charitable arm, the SiGMA Foundation. SiGMA College is a Netflix-style diploma that is still in its initial stages and it aims to provide an online educational programme at no cost worldwide, giving anyone the opportunity to self-educate and join this fast-paced industry. The iGaming sector as a whole fared quite well in 2020; however, COVID hit us particularly hard, and seeing the company come back on track is a credit to my team's tenacity and inventiveness in keeping the company flourishing and growing. This fills me with pride.
From the outside, 2021 looked like a great year for SiGMA. Can you give us a recap of the achievements, highlights, and milestones of 2021?
SiGMA Group has ushered in the year 2021 by revealing its new global vision with a fresh makeover, marking the beginning of a new era. Despite the logistical challenge in synergising the different aspects of SiGMA and the effects of the ongoing pandemic, 2021 saw SiGMA adapting and growing. This reflected the group’s forward-thinking mentality into a ‘more globally-minded gaming industry’.
In a first for SiGMA Group, an initial expo outside of Europe was also introduced in Dubai in 2021 through its sister companies AIBC and AGS, with the Government of Dubai also showing their strong support, saying that they welcomed the event. In 2021 we also brought not one but 4 events under one roof for what was undoubtedly our biggest event yet – Malta Week.
Organising events right now must be trickier than ever. How did SiGMA manage to tackle the challenges presented by Covid so effectively?
SiGMA was on the verge of having to quit doing what it does best, which is connecting people through its renowned physical events, but thanks to the team's quick adaptability, the company was able to relocate the events online instead. SiGMA pioneered the virtual event industry with its virtual roadshows, which targeted a different region each month covering the entire globe.
Although we have made the most of virtual events, nothing compares to the excitement of a real-life event of course. Since we also had no other choice SiGMA Europe 2020 also moved online. SiGMA Europe Virtual broke all records with 6,500 delegates, 4,500 total active people, and 1,485 maximum concurrent viewers marking it the largest virtual expo of the year.
What are the key trends that the SiGMA 2021 events highlighted?
Top trends highlighted during the event in 2021 were:
- The rise of play to earn and gamify
- The further expansion of digital gaming because of the pandemic
- The change of global attitudes towards gaming regulations
With 2021 in the rear-view mirror, what can we look forward to in 2022 from SiGMA?
SiGMA currently has a number of offices around the world, including in Malta, Belgrade, Cyprus, and Manila, and 2022 will see the brand expand to other locations internationally. This year will also see SiGMA Group take its mother company SiGMA to Dubai's event for the first time. June will also be the stepping stone for the Group to step foot into the Canadian market with the brand launching the expo in this region. When it comes to SiGMA Europe, expect bigger and better.
The first SiGMA event of 2022 — SiGMA Asia — is quickly approaching. What’s your take on the future of iGaming in the region?
The fact that the Asian continent is at the forefront of a more prosperous global economy is apparent. There are three billion gamers worldwide, with the Asian region accounting for more than half of that total, as a result, the gaming business is currently one of the hottest investment markets out there.
SiGMA Group will travel eastwards in 2022, with 5,000 attendees expected, to link Dubai’s best brains in businesses ranging from gaming to cryptocurrency. The SiGMA Conference in Asia is striving to gather pioneers from across the continent and beyond, with everyone from Gulf nations to South Asian states looking to join the Industrial Revolution 4.0 and the essential pillar that is iGaming in places like Japan and the Philippines.
Brazil 2021, Canada 2022… with the USA quickly regulating its iGaming markets, can we expect a SiGMA Americas conference to take place there in the near future?
We are focusing on a global expansion that matters. Various other big names in the same niche are all in the US (ICE, G2E, and SBC to name a few), which is why we decided to launch our North America show in Canada. We’re looking at bringing new aspects to the market, we don’t want to offer more of the same. But then again, I’m not putting the USA out of the equation. We love a challenge.
SiGMA is truly bringing together the world of iGaming, even when being physically together is impossible. We’ve been impressed by the SiGMA Roadshow concept — what can you tell us about these events? What feedback did you get from attendees?
Yes, you’re right, given the pandemic, being physically together was close to impossible but SiGMA Group decided to rebrand the roadshow experience into two/three-hour webinar-style sessions every month. These online mini-conferences would delve into 5 key areas of debate, bringing key themes specific to the region – such as regulation, tax and compliance, and emerging tech – to a table of thought leaders and academics at the top of their game, using a global agenda of gritty conference topics. A virtual expo floor was also designed making it possible for our virtually logged-in delegates to strike connections and network. Last year, the monthly event took off with a global tour of 14 nations, and all the informative speeches were later made available as a podcast.
Along with great speakers, previous SiGMA Virtual Roadshows welcomed over 2,500 delegate registrations and over 1,500 conference views. Former roadshows saw over 75 exhibitors with the number of total booth entries hitting close to a 6k mark. These educational roadshows were offered for free, to everyone, and in two languages. The first is English and the other is the language targeted that month.
Speaking of exciting concepts with a global footprint, tell us about the iGatherings. The calendar looks packed, and they seem like a next-level networking opportunity. How hard are they to organise? How effective can they be?
Catering to a guest list is strictly limited to 200 prestigious c-levels our famous iGatherings ensure intimacy and exclusivity, with attendance only secured through invitation. From luxury restaurants to sunset cruises and pool parties, the renowned series of iGathering events take place across three continents. Hotspot locations such as Sofia, Armenia, Canada, and Belgrade amongst others expect 2022's calendar to be packed with opportunities to meet the right people in the right place.
Before signing off, tell us a bit more about yourself. How did you get into the iGaming industry? What was your career path — in SiGMA and before?
I chose the iGaming industry as it offers an innovative and competitive market to explore but is also volatile. Sectors in this market offer plenty of opportunities for growth, and qualified professionals in this sector are always sought after.
I left my home country almost 5 years ago to start a new adventure and chose to settle in Malta because of the country’s laidback lifestyle and climate.
I joined SiGMA as an Intern, moving up the ladder to an Account Manager and now appointed to the Head Of Business Development. I must say that it wasn’t an easy path as I had to work and study at the same time, but all in all, it was worth it as this whole journey lead me here.