eSports on the rise in Africa

October 11, 2017

Africa’s interactive online professional gaming, known to many as eSports, is on the rise, commanding huge audiences online and off.Most sports fans are oblivious to the scale of competitive online gaming. eSports, is already bigger than most traditional sporting competitions and the powers that be in African sports understand its reach and value.In the latest move to bring eSports closer to the mainstream, it has been announced as a full medal sport for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, France is being considered. Stakeholders are already working toward the inclusion of eSports into the Olympic Games and this will also bring opportunities for players from African countries to compete at the global stage. Some people might not think that online gaming has much in common with their local sports club.One plays games indoors on a computer and the other outdoors on a field. As it happens though, eSports, or online multiplayer video game competitions, share quite a few similarities with traditional sports.Increasingly, one thing traditional sports have in common with eSports is money.The latest African market forecasts interactive games market revenue to grow 9% by 2020. Game revenue from consoles, online, mobile and PC will account for 22.1% of all African consumer spending on media and entertainment, and advertising revenue associated with those games is set to nearly double.When it comes to the professional versions of these games, global eSports revenue including consumer spending on events, advertising and sponsorship, but not including merchandise is set to reach US$300 million in 2020.Growing from just US$3 million in 2013, that’s a huge increase in a relatively short amount of time. There’s no question that eSports is garnering big interest by advertisers, brands and media companies. Strangely though, until relatively recently, few people in Africa outside of its players and audience were even aware of its existence.In terms of the global market, eSports audience tops 500 million and generates hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue and is attracting billions in investment.It’s able to fill venues and live streaming video platforms largely for online gaming, attracts more than 80 million gamers a month.The most popular multiplayer games include Counter Strike: Global Offensive, League of Legends, Starcraft, and Call of Duty, although the largest prize money is won in Defense of the Ancients 2 where its players compete annually at an event called The International, with a multi-million-dollar prize pool. That same trend will definitely be the case in African market in coming years and those who are already in the industry will experience huge benefits.eSports games are played by teams of multiple professional players in tournaments that often offer lucrative prize money. Pro-players can be salaried, play in official teams, become celebrities and are considered to be internationally recognised athletes.Games being played are variations of those that were popular when your blogger was a tween and teen. Fighting games, strategy games, first-person shooters and multiplayer online battle arena commonly known as MOBA games are all alive and well in competitive gaming.

In African markets like Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, League of Legends and Dota 2 are two of the of the most popular MOBA titles. In countries like South Africa, data available shows that well-followed games include Counter Strike: Global Offensive, Call of Duty: Black Ops III and Halo in the first-person shooter category, and the strategy-focused Hearthstone and StarCraft II. World of Warcraft, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game, takes the place as the most played in the fantasy and quest genre in Africa.Just like traditional sports, eSports needs an audience and in African countries it has viewers in droves. More than five million people play non-professional eSports on a regular basis but the audience for eSports is even larger than just those who play themselves and who are presumably predisposed to enjoy watching others do the same. Watched online via streaming platforms and Pay TV like DSTV, eSports boasts over 10 million fans. Individual games can be watched by tens of millions of people, rivaling audiences for broadcasts of traditional sports like football.eSports aren’t just watched online. Tournaments are also played and televised live on channels like Supersport from stadiums or gaming arenas. Despite women accounting for a third of the gaming population, eSports is currently dominated by a young male viewership in Africa. When it comes to professional female players, the numbers are worse. Regardless, the audience represents a sizeable chunk of Generation Z. Unsurprisingly, with the growth in attention to eSports and recognition of its audiences’ high disposable income, brands are starting to pay attention with RedBull heavily involved in countries like South Africa. Due to the nature of eSports, with its online and offline presence, there are multiple avenues for advertising.Most obviously, brands can sponsor the game tournaments, celebrity gamers, or the teams. In recent dealings, a huge global brand your blogger is aware of, is planning to become the first commercial partner of an eSports Series in whole of Africa, for which it will receive naming rights, on-ground activations, content integration and general branding.Gaming houses, where professional teams live and train, can be sponsored as well and in countries like Egypt and South Africa such facilities are already in existence with Nigeria recently following suit. Brands can also put money behind streaming rights or launch their own streaming platforms such as DSTVs newly announced eSports broadcasting or ZUKU Pay TV dedicated channel.The next three years will see marketers, broadcasters and sports leagues taking more of an interest in gamers and gaming as they seek ways to be relevant to Generation Z.  One of those ways will be to engage with the influencers, commentators, ex-players, social media celebrities that Generation Z trust. An advertisement or endorsement by one of their own will likely go a long way with this media-savvy audience.As eSports moves closer to the mainstream, some African universities now have representative teams and even award scholarships, just like in field and court sports. Perhaps due to the synergy with the popular FIFA multiplayer games, a number of top African soccer clubs, including Kaizer Chiefs in South Africa have already added eSports teams to their stables.I’m not sure how big eSports will be in Africa compared to real sports but it’s definitely a possibility that it will be bigger than so many traditional sports.That means it’s only a matter of time before Cape Town, Cairo, Lagos, Nairobi eSports teams join the fray.In Africa, for Generation Z, eSport is sport and not what older folks want to portray it. While am not suggesting that physical sports are going anywhere, there’s no denying the audiences and revenue are being attracted to eSports in Africa.Generation Z are the main viewers of eSports, and as such, it represents a great way for brands to interact with the demographic.

Contador Harrison