The concept of eSports is one that a lot of people are still getting to understand, if they’re not already familiar with it. Most of us understand that it has something to do with competitive gaming, but beyond that it can seem like a strange, foreign world. And sometimes when you talk to an eSports enthusiast, it only starts to sound like more of a far-fetched idea! The last few years have shown us, however, that eSports is to be taken seriously, and that as far as African markets are concerned, the South African industry could be on the verge of becoming a fairly massive one.
The definition of eSports is actually a fairly simple one. An article about the betting industry surrounding the movement stated it clearly: eSports encompasses any kind of event where players compete against one another in video games. It is further implied that prize money is on the line, and at the professional level it is understood that there’s an audience of some kind. In some cases this means people packing live stadiums to watch gamers on a stage, with game screens blown up for everyone to see. In others it means people streaming online to tune in for live events. And altogether, these events have proven to be every bit as popular as some more conventional sports. Viewership for major eSports tournaments now regularly approaches what we see for huge sporting competitions.
South Africa is not viewed as one of the early hubs for eSports, but as stated, it’s coming on strong and shows the potential to develop a major industry.
Last May, an article on the future of South African eSports took a very interesting approach to analyzing potential growth, looking not just at the professional gamers who are already earning money in major events, but also at young people who might be coming up into the system. This is not unlike how we tend to analyze ordinary professional sports. Over time, systems come into place to get the youth involved and trained, and entire generations of athletes rise up. Said the article, South Africa will eventually have thousands of players coming out of school each year who already have competitive gaming experience. In other words, while the pro scene in South Africa may not yet to compare to some in, say, the U.S. or East Asia, the infrastructure is being put in place to grow the sport.
On the professional level too though, some of the numbers relating to eSports in South Africa are beginning to impress. According to recent reports, South Africans playing formal eSports earned R3.78 million in 2018, not counting any sponsorship revenue. This still pales in comparison to some of the numbers you see overseas, and yet it was up by R240,000 from 2017, showing stead and fairly lucrative growth. The top 10 gamers alone in South Africa earned R2.6 million on the year.
All of these factors combined – growing understanding, an expanding base of young competitive gamers, and increasing earnings at the professional level – set South Africa up as one of the true up-and-coming eSports locations in the world. The next five years or so should bring about significant growth, and a whole lot of fun (and possibly money) for all involved.