south african esports

South African Esports viewership debate – my 2 cents

I’m a huge South African Esports fan. I live for our local community and desperately want us to achieve the same level of success that the European scene has achieved. Overseas, Esports is big business. I could throw a stack of numbers at you but I don’t need to. You’re a gamer – you likely know.

However, in South Africa we don’t see the same success. We have six figure prize pool tournaments running (seriously, 3 this year alone) and yet we’re excited if we get 1000 concurrent viewers on a live stream. That’s less people than the number of views most mid level youtubers get on their videos.

I’ve heard all the arguments as to why South Africans just don’t jump on board the Esports bandwagon. Access to data is a big one, “sustainability”, the complete lack of content creation by players and the list goes on. Here’s the hard truth: something like 150 000 South Africans are on Twitch every month. What do you watch on Twitch? Live streams and Esports. Why aren’t those users watching local Esports? Well, as per the above, maybe it is a lack of marketing or a lack of knowledge about local players or whatever other new excuse we’re throwing out this month. Don’t get me wrong, all this reasons are just and have foundation. But there’s more to it (I think).

My belief?

south african esports

Nobody cares. South Africans are a weird bunch. We follow American trends like sheep. Remember those queues outside Starbucks on opening? Or the people who camped outside Krispy Kreme to be the first in at launch? We have incredible coffee spots and gourmet bakeries locally but none got that sort of reception on opening because the truth is, we love whatever the overseas market tells us we should. Which is why I think we need to stop focusing on converting the local market and let the international guys do it for us.

We need more teams and players competing overseas. We need an SK Gaming/Luminosity rags to riches story. If you’re unfamiliar with that narrative here’s a quick recap: Luminosity was a Brazilian CSGO team that packed up all their belongings and moved to North America to follow their Esports dream. They lived in a tiny house, sharing rooms and practicing as much as they could. Over time they started winning more events, placing, beating big teams. The larger Esports community fell in love and very soon eyes turned to Brazil. Fast forward a few years and that Luminosity line up is now SK Gaming’s. They’re one of the best in the world and their story inspired other Brazilian teams to make the same moves. The Brazilian Esports industry has seen an increase in viewership and support. There are various factors for this but there is also no doubt that Luminosity/SK’s fairy tale story had a role to play.

As a community, we need to push to have more teams and players on the other side of the ocean. We need that fairy tale. We need a South African to be picked up by an international team or for a team to slog it out till they start making waves.

This is easier said than done, but it can be done. Alternatively we need to pump those Esports marketing budgets into bringing the big names here. Those big teams draw crowds who will be introduced to their local equivalents. They’ll be exposed to more of the local teams and hopefully fall in love, the same way I and many others fell in love when we started actively following South African Esports.

How do we do this?

south african esports

I don’t know. That’s the truth. It costs money to send teams overseas. It costs money to bring them here. Hell, let’s be brutally honest: the best teams in the world aren’t going to get out of bed for our six figure tournaments and they’d eat our top tier guys for breakfast. But maybe we need to see some of their academy teams making the trek?

Also, can we just appreciate what we’ve done so far, for a minute?

“In Europe this doesn’t happen…” “Overseas players get salaries…” etc. We’re comparing apples with oranges right now. Our scene is where the international Esports community was maybe 5 to 10 years ago? We cannot expect to have all 150 000 local Twitch users suddenly jumping on our streams. It takes time to build a community and to weave story lines that capture hearts, minds and ultimately engage a viewer to come back for more. Time. As a South African Esports broadcaster I can tell you that where we were this time last year compared to right now is incomparable. The level to which we’ve risen is impressive and we should be patting each other on the back (for a little bit anyway). We’ve had small local events that have booked out in hours. We’ve had crowded rooms cheering and supporting. Hell, we’ve had crowded venues. I worked at the ESL Africa Championship during rAge and had a chance to speak to fans in the jam packed stands. Some had never seen Esports before but they were excited, they were amped and they were beyond impressed with the design and set up.

south african esports

Why? Because it was international level. It was the Starbucks they needed. I had the same response at the Samsung Galaxy CSGO Championship from n00bs to Esports in general. Yet that place was full and it was a stand alone event. People just need to see, they need to experience, they need to feel the emotion we feel every time we see our favourite team or player work on a stage. We start by creating an air of FOMO. You weren’t at that rad Esports event this past weekend? WHY?! How could you miss it?

The way we’ve grown in a year is commendable. We should be proud and excited. It has taken many of our overseas counterparts a good few more years than us to get where we did.

Now, it is time for the next step. I do think it is time for our players to start heading to Europe to start banging on doors there. To start laying the foundation and weaving stories that will inspire. We need a few brave folk (possibly with deep-ish pockets) to be the entry fraggers and pave the way for the rest. We can berate local organisers for not having enough eyeballs on a stream and wasting money… but tell me – what would we have if they weren’t trying?

We should be sharing and encouraging everyone we know to watch. We should help them carry the load rather than demand they do all the dirty work for us. Because if they stop, then what?

Here’s something to wrap your head around. There are 10 players in a game of CS and/or Dota. Say each has roughly 300 Facebook friends. That’s 3000 pairs of eyeballs we could be telling about Esports. We don’t need expensive content or fancy overlays. We need 10 players to share the stream link and tell their friends they’re playing (and I know the players, for the most part, don’t. I’m friends with enough to know that). We need to constantly be engaging with the overseas scene to learn and make them see who we are.

Brad Kirby from Kwese said “Africa, stand up” at rAge this year. He’s spot on. Each and every one of us needs to stand up and push our message to the already established community overseas. Their support will bring the local support. While we’re doing that, concurrently, we need to start doing as much as we can locally to share, encourage and educate.

Build it. They will come. (I was going to run with “Here we go…” but I’m pretty sure Mettlestate has trademarked that one already.)

6 Comments

  • Reply Apostolos October 12, 2017 at 06:52

    Well said Sam, maybe we shouldn’t get the best in the world but like someone in the top 10 to come here and play against our guys. I used to play action netball and we used play against teams from England, New Zealand and Australia. Ever year there is a tournament either here or there. But this stems from a board that arrange this. Maybe instead of companies sponsoring events and blah blah blah, there should be a committee. They should organize tournaments and get the sponsorships. You have teams pay a registration fee once a year or month to be apart of this. Then you know who and what your numbers are. Need to arrange local tournaments at least once a month or buy a server so you can monitor local play as moving computers week in and week out might not work so well. This needs to run like a sport and not a business. I remember once a month there used to be a LAN session around the corner from my house at The Sports Club Hall. Unfortunately LAN is a dying art but this is what needs to be done, if you want more eSporters, there has to be some sort of league game. I know games are quick but best of 3 and you get points. Just an idea, I am a gamer but don’t follow eSports, not even the stuff on DSTV but am glad it is on my local Telly.

    Love your work and keep it up

    • Reply Devon October 12, 2017 at 08:37

      @Apostolos I agree with what you’re saying and there is such an organisation (I think it’s still around) called MSSA and I think that was their very purpose. The issue however was a lot of disagreement and misunderstanding from both sides and the running and controlling of esports in SA.

      • Reply stubbywanApostolos October 12, 2017 at 12:05

        Hey Devon, well MSSA has been doing a piss poor job if you ask me. I think they are trying to run it like a business and not a sport which is what it is. Normally more a\worried about the cash in their pocket than the well being of the sport. Action Netball and other action sports are the same, more worried about how much money they can make off the players than promoting the sport. Every year we complete against Australia and New Zealand and England. Australia and New Zealand are leaps and bounds ahead of us because the best players get chosen, here in SA the players that can afford the costs are picked. I would like to see eSports make a mark but without the proper ground set, we are running in circles and going nowhere fast. Since last years rAge, I haven’t heard or seen anything to do with eSport except the stuffs on SuperSport

  • Reply Mathew Clarke October 12, 2017 at 08:40

    The other issue in SA is that there is still that stigmata about gaming that its only for kids and it really does fall onto marketing and letting the country know that this is a serious sport because when you speak to people about e-sports you mostly get a reply of “why would i want to watch a bunch of kids play games, I’m an adult bla bla bla”

  • Reply B4d R0b0t (@streamjunkie) October 12, 2017 at 09:30

    Obviously this has been bothering me for years now & could easily be a reason to give up, thing is growing up in the “local is lekka” era of radio I have seen the results of what happens when a group of people in entertainment work towards a common goal. The result of that goal is Black Coffee, AKA, Jack Parow, Die Antword and the list goes on and on. That excludes the robust music industry in the 11 native languages we have.

    2018 is going to be a kick ass year for esports 🙂

  • Reply Rob Kaletsch October 12, 2017 at 10:09

    Great article as usual Sam – the schedule of events was not well published for those peeps viewing games remotely via twitch. The challenge lies in the fact that the event organizers make money through foot count in the expo and to publish viewing times for online platforms does nothing for their interests. Whilst I understand their position to gain maximum exposure for the suppliers participating at the event and recovery of costs involved with hosting such events, it does not help the Esports cause within the country.

    I.M.O. There needs to be a holistic view for these types of events that cater for both people going to the venue and supporting the live event versus those that want to view the matches via online platforms. It requires a long term approach to build the community numbers which will then ensure that both online and expo events receive decent viewership.

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