African Esports catching up to the rest of the World
Esports is a growing industry, with more than a billion people following coverage of games around the world. Asia and North America have been the biggest growth areas for esports, with Europe following close behind. For the most part though, Africa has been slower to get involved.
But this is beginning to change, with the launch of the African Esports League in Tunisia on 12th October 2019 and the recent announcement of the Nigerian Esports League by Esports Nigeria on 19th February this year.
What is Esports?
Esports is the name given to competitive video game leagues and tournaments. The concept is not new, with unofficial competitions being organised as early as the 1970s.
It was in the 1990s that we saw the early growth of esports popularity though. One of the biggest drivers of this was Nintendo, that originated the Nintendo World Championships in 1990 and the Nintendo PowerFest ‘94. Blockbuster Video also ran their own competition called the World Game Championships, with games like NBA Jam and Virtua Racing being chosen.
However, it was the early 2000s when the esports that we know today began to spring up. Major League Gaming, the World Cyber Games, and the Intel Extreme Masters are three of the longest-running competitions that began during the first few years of the new millennium.
In Esports, competitors play a video game on a console or computer, with most tournaments taking place in large arenas with spectators and the media present. They are very much like other traditional sports apart from the fact that competition takes place in a virtual world rather than on a court or pitch.
Major Esports Competitions
Esports competitions are organised by some of the biggest brands in the sporting, video games, and computer sectors. For example, the Intel Extreme Masters is organised by chip manufacturer Intel and is used to demonstrate the performance of its products.
Meanwhile, the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States launched its own esports league in 2018. The NBA 2K League is played using the official NBA 2K video game, using Alienware machines from its sponsor Dell. Each team in the NBA 2K League is connected to a team in the real-life NBA.
Players of the video games are different from the ones you see on the courts, and the leagues are independent of each other. This means that the outcome of one does not affect the other. Fans can even bet on games, with some sportsbooks accepting wagers on NBA 2K League games. Betting on the esports version is very similar to the traditional NBA league, so basketball betting guides like the one produced by Oddschecker can be useful for the NBA 2K League too.
Other sports like Formula 1, the English Premier League, the National Hockey League (NHL), and Major League Baseball (MLB) have all launched their own esports leagues.
Asia Leading the Way
MLB’s first esports league announcement stated that it intended to launch in China, focusing on the world’s biggest esports market. It has since gone quiet, with no further announcements almost twelve months later. Although it has recently launched an esports tournament for its real-world players to take part in.
The 2018 Asian Games, a continental multi-sport competition similar to the Olympics, featured esports, with several different video games on the roster. This included popular esports titles like League of Legends, Clash Royale, and Pro Evolution Soccer.
Despite topping the medals table for esports in 2018, esports won’t be included in 2022 when China hosts the next competition.
The total number of esports fans around the world is disputed, but some sources have reported it to be as high as 1 billion people. Around one-third of all these fans are thought to be Chinese, with the rest of Asia making up a significant chunk of the “esports enthusiasts” that watch games regularly.
Esports in Africa
Africans have been slower to develop an interest in esports and companies haven’t put a lot of effort into serving the growing demand. For example, Youssef Mohsen of Anubis Gaming said that he wanted to take part in global competitions, but publishers did not have servers in the region, preventing him from taking part.
Some infrastructure problems exist that are constraining esports growth. Data costs in some parts of the continent are much higher than elsewhere in the world, which can make online gaming prohibitively expensive.
This doesn’t mean there isn’t talent though. A group of esports gamers from South Africa made R3.78 million by taking part in tournaments in 2018. While this is small in comparison to the millions of dollars awarded by some of the biggest leagues, it’s significant given the difficulties that some Africans have in accessing global competitions.
South Africans have always loved video games, with millions of people buying and playing new titles every year. It is estimated that the country has around 40,000 dedicated esports fans that watch events regularly.
Esports in Nigeria
Esports Nigeria is the official governing body for esports in the country and aims to bring esports competitions to every Nigerian household. While this may be a little over-ambitious, the organisation has some sponsorship deals agreed and has launched an esports league for 12 different titles, seven console games, and five mobile titles including Call of Duty, FIFA, and League of Legends.
Esports have a long way to go in Nigeria and on the continent as a whole, but South Africa has shown that there’s significant demand and talent. If the video game publishers and sponsors decide to focus more on the African market then the fanbase of esports could increase dramatically in the region.
Esports as a whole also still has some work to do though. Its removal from the 2022 Asian Games and the recent announcement that esports won’t be included in the Olympic Games any time soon shows that those championing the industry are facing an uphill battle. But with 1 billion fans worldwide, it seems like only a matter of time.
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