eSports has become a buzzword these days but games like Ayo in Nigeria, Lintonga in South Africa, and Ampe in Ghana were the pastime of the average African kid back in the day. These outdoor activities afforded children the opportunity to build social skills, develop strategic thinking, and most importantly – have fun.
The emergence of video game consoles like Sega, PlayStation, Xbox, and handheld consoles like Nintendo’s Game Boy and the PlayStation Portable introduced children to many game titles belonging to diverse genres.
Their popularity spurred people to open gaming shops where kids (and adults) would spend hours attempting to pass difficult missions like “Demolition Man” in Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, or score more goals than the opponent in the Pro Evolution Soccer series (1995 through 2020).
Although PlayStation has maintained an enviable consumer base since the 2000s, mobile gaming – thanks to the growing smartphone and internet penetration – is ushering in a new era. According to GSMA’s 2022 State of Mobile Connectivity Report, 240 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are connected to the Internet.
Technology has revolutionized the scene, transforming players of foreign titles into game developers. What’s more, African game developers are killing it. Last year, Evans Kiragu – Kenyan developer and CEO of Mekan Games – participated in a 5-month game development accelerator in Cape Town. The result? Mr President – a hyper-casual game Kiragu and his team developed at the accelerator – rose to the top of the Android download charts last year.
African game titles have also begun appearing on Google Play Store and the iOS store, a trend that’s spotlighting the continent’s rich heritage. Gebeta by Qene Games – an Ethiopia-based game development studio with Aki and PawPaw: Epic Run – a creation by Nigerian studio Blueportal – are fitting examples.
Interestingly, that’s not all. Electronic sports, fondly called eSports, is a new segment that adds a competitive flavour to gaming and is touted to be “one of the biggest and fastest growing industries in the world.” Statista expects eSports to be worth $1.8 billion by 2025.
Although Esports is highly popular in Asia, Europe, and North America, the niche is gaining ground in Africa with local and regional competitions being organized regularly.
eSports, the new oil
Games have traditionally been played for fun, but what happens when multiplayer competition with rewards meets online streaming technology? eSports games fall into the following categories: first-person shooter (FPS), a multiplayer online battle arena, real-time strategy, etc.
Prize money in esports is typically funded by various sources, including sponsorships, advertising, and revenue from ticket sales and merchandise. This price is often split among the top performers in a competition, with the winners receiving the largest share of the prize money.
In 2021, The International Dota 2 tournament offered a total prize pool of over $40 million, making it the largest prize pool in esports history. However, that is expected to be topped this year with Saudi Arabian esports organizer Gamers8 announcing a prize pool of $45 million for its 2023 event, The Land of Heroes.
One unique fact about eSports is that viewers can watch players live from anywhere across the globe. A stable internet connection is required, though. While there’s some disagreement on whether eSports is an actual sport, one thing can’t be denied: it’s a fast-rising, lucrative trend that Africa must jump on.
Interestingly, eSports has a sizable followership in Africa with 21 countries from the continent belonging to the International Esports Federation (IESF).
Curious about the eSports setting in Nigeria, Technext spoke with two sources to get a pulse of this budding yet optimistic gaming segment.
We begin with Rage Gaming, an eSports team primarily focused on Call of Duty: Mobile. Rage was birthed from a merger of two now-defunct clams – Legion and Fury. According to Aladelo Seun (Senez) Aladelo, Co-owner and Team Manager, the team has participated in so many tournaments that keeping score is “difficult.”
Senez shares that Rage had competed in some elite contests like GamrX and Mobile Mayhem, the latter being international. Fortunately, Technext watched Rage’s most recent match in Mobile Mayhem, which was hosted on Trovo – an interactive live-streaming platform designed for online gaming.
When asked for a backstory, Senez credited his interest in eSports to a profound love for video games since his formative years. “The thrill of experiencing the competitive nature of gaming being streamed on the internet and having it seen by a large audience at events or brutally are bigger moments to enjoy and relish in,” he responds to Technext’s question about what fascinates him most about eSports.
Next up is Austin Nwosu – an eSports player who realized that he bested many of his friends while playing competitive titles like FIFA and Call of Duty: Mobile. His desire to explore this talent and possibly profit from it led him to Esports in 2016. “What I love most about Esports is that it’s a do-or-die affair, meaning the competition is extremely high. So, no matter how prepared you think you are, coming to a tournament filled with experienced opponents makes you realize that many people are trying to get better, and that revelation fuels you to improve too,” he says.
When asked to comment on the state of eSports in Nigeria, Aladelo and Nwosu believe the West African country is blessed with many talented players.
Nwosu claims Nigeria’s youthful population over the country is a significant advantage as he expects more players to emerge. And while he acknowledges the support from the government, he feels “more input from the public authority, private investments, and more game servers” will go a long way in repositioning Nigeria for excellence.
The dearth of game servers in Africa is a deeply rooted issue that makes it difficult for, say, PUBG players in Ghana to keep up with the speed of players based in Pakistan. Often called “lag”, this makes online gaming frustrating for African gamers.
Many petitions have been signed by African players seeking the establishment of local servers to improve their gaming experience. Fortunately, the situation is changing as Activision – publishers of Call of Duty: Mobile – launched a server dedicated to Africa last year. Other popular online games like FIFA are yet to have servers on the continent, a situation that the publishers must address to guarantee true inclusion among gamers.
eSports will boom, so support it now
eSports is a multibillion-dollar business, but investors in Nigeria have yet to embrace it as they have in Asia and America. In August 2017, Amaete Umanah and his cofounders founded the African Gaming League, which hosted its maiden competition in four locations throughout Nigeria. Kwesé Sports of South Africa and ESL have joined up to provide esports to African players. However, the leagues have other challenges, since Africa continues to lag behind the rest of the globe in terms of supporting entrepreneurs and gaming firms.
Despite being a nascent offering in Africa, eSports is set to become a big deal. However, this can only work when governments across the continent make strategic investments. For instance, the authorities can sponsor future tournaments and call on the private sector to do the same.
The government can also work with telecom operators to improve the internet speed so gamers can react quicker when playing titles like PUBG Mobile or Call of Duty: Mobile. They should also strongly consider building eSports arenas where players can convene and compete. This will convey a great sense of unity similar to what a football match offers.
Recognizing eSports as an actual sport should increase its credibility and position Africa as a choice destination for international contests.
While there is still a lot of work to be done to improve the state of eSports in Africa, several stakeholders have already taken a bite of the pie and their actions have propelled the industry to its current level and they hope to take it a notch higher. Watch out for what developers, potential investors, and other stakeholders think about the state of eSports in Nigeria and Africa.
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