Africans have been slow to embrace esports but now, two Kenyans are raising awareness of esports among the continent’s youth population.
eSports is acknowledged as one of the fastest-growing industries in the world. Over the last 2 decades teams and leagues have surfaced in many different locals. Asia and North America are still the largest esports markets but competitors from Europe and Africa are gaining notice as they win tournaments and attract fans.
African esports players and viewers have challenges that esports aficionados do not face in other parts of the world. The major issue is Internet access…..there are many regions in Africa where there is no Internet access at all and even in those areas where there is Internet, he access can be weak or spotty.
Now African gamers and sports betting enthusiasts are working to overcome those hurdles. Africa seems determined to collect its share of a $1 billion global esports market. One consulting firm projects that the gaming industry in Africa will increase by 12% over the next three years.
Until recently, Egypt and South Africa were seen as the countries that would lead the industry in revenue in Africa. Thabo “Yvng Savage” a South African esports athlete, made history by being the first African player to pick up Red Bull sponsorship. Yvng is the top-rated South African FIFA player and is ranked 73rd in the world.
Now East Africa is fielding a pair of new stars as well. Sylvia “Queen Arrow” Gathoni and Brian Diang'a "Beast" are putting Africa more firmly on the esports global map.
Queen Arrow’s accomplishments are even more noteworthy because she is….well, a “she.” Gathoni is a law student who games professionally, demonstrating her expertise in the fighting game Tekken 7. In many areas of the world women account for 35% of all gamers but, according to Gathoni, it’s only a fraction of that in Africa.
She is, however, determined to help change that. "We don't have many women, so you don't have a support system from people who share the same gender," Gathoni told CNN. "I have to make sure that I'm an example to other women, and other people who aspire to be in the gaming industry."
Gathoni has been playing professionally since 2018, even though she’s still in her early 30s. She’s ranked 13th in Kenya and is now sponsored by a global brand.
Sexism is an ever-present challenge, says Gathoni who plans to use her law degree to help address the issue. But, she acknowledges that facing the sexism means that she has more challenges than the next player. "There's some men who do not like the idea that I've made it as far as I have," Gathoni said. "They say that the only reason that I've gotten signed is because I'm a woman and it's not because of my hard work and my skill."
Gathoni hopes to use her prestige to get laws passed that deal with the harassment and that women face. She also wants to see authorities more thoroughly regulate micro-transactions -- in-game purchases of virtual items.
For Gathoni, even though she will be armed with a law degree, esports is still a viable career path. "Right now, for a lot of people, it seems like we are just wasting our time, resources and energy,,,"I really hope that will change in East Africa, and here in Kenya."
Brian "Beast" Diang'a’s story would also go over well in Hollywood. Diang’a was born and raised in the Kibera slum. As a kid he spent all of his spare time in a local gaming den called “After Homework.” Over time he became one of the world’s top Mortal Kombat players, though it didn’t come easy. "We would go without food for days, (and) no water," Diang'a told CNN. "The whole of high school I was wearing one pair of shoes." But through gaming, Diang’a found purpose. "The good thing about Kibera is you are low and you can't go any lower than where it is. The only place left for you to go is to go higher. So I just kept pushing myself and telling myself I don't have limits."
Diang’a watched YouTube tutorials and studied other players online to hone his skills. He didn’t have his own console but was able to start entering local tournaments while still lin his teens. Slowly, his career took off and now he’s a much-viewed player, both in Kenya and throughout the world. Diang’a hasn’t forgotten his roots though. He still lives in Kibera where he is involved I growing the local industry. He runs gaming dens for local kids.
The growing availability and popularity of multi-functional gaming console is helping to grow the video game market in Africa. It’s estimated that by 2026 the sector will experience a 12% CAGR. Thanks to the region’s expanding youth population, gaming will grow proportionally more than it would in other regions.
In addition to East Africa, South Africa is seeing strong growth in its video games market. There are approximately 11 million gamers in South Africa with many players involved in free-to-play social media models.
In addition to South Africa and Kenya, the other African regions that are expected to experience significant growth in esports competition include Nigeria and Uganda.
Diang’a commented, "When the first tournament was held in Kenya, I think the registration at most was 12 people. Currently I work with Pro Series Gaming and every week we host tournaments for different platforms -- mobile, PC, and console." Diang’a is satisfied to report that he expects that as many as 50 players will register for those events.
AfricanBusiness.com spoke to South African teen player Sam “Tech Girl” Wright. Wright said, “When you’re playing, everyone’s the same. It doesn’t matter if you’re disabled, or what colour your skin is, it doesn’t matter what gender you are. When you’re in that game, you’re on an equal playing field. And I think that’s what makes it really fun, especially at this time.”