Steve Whitford
Steve Whitford

SA leads in gaming industry

In South Africa, you can get Springbok colours for PC, console and mobile gaming. Furthermore, the gaming industry surpassed the movie industry worldwide in terms of revenue a year ahead of analysts’ expectation. In the United States, the average age of gaming is 45.

These statements are all placed right at the top of this blog to make you stop what you’re doing, read on and learn a whole lot of things you never knew before.

The fact is that while South Africa may be a tiny market in terms of game sales worldwide, we’re at the forefront of gaming globally. Why? Because the non-profit Amateur Gaming Association of South Africa (Agasa) has put in place a online gaming competition based on a federated model of Mind Sports South Africa (MSSA) for competitive amateur gaming with the aim of taking gaming to the Olympic Games.

Crazy? Maybe. Is it serious? Very. Agasa launched the first online gaming league, which is run on behalf MSSA, in 2006. The structure of the league follows a federated sporting model, allowing for competition at school, university and national level, culminating in national team trials (like in any other sport) and the appointment of players with national colours by Mind Sports who can represent their country.

Agasa plans to facilitate the first-ever African gaming continental in 2008, with gamers from across Africa competing to be crowned as African champions. How ironic that the continent that is the most backward in terms of technology will lead the world into a new era in one of its most technically advanced economic sectors. The continental is also the first step on a long road to the Olympic Games and has already been ratified by the International Wargames Federation of which Mind Sports South Africa is an affiliate.

The relevance of federated gaming
Johann von Backström, founder of Agasa, says since national colours were awarded for gaming for the first time in 2006, the natural progression has been to have countries competing against each other).

Despite Agasa’s efforts, together with Mind Sports South Africa it has received much criticism for awarding national colours for gaming. The critics are mostly ignorant of the magnitude of the gaming industry. And yet when Sweden instituted a federated gaming model in March 2007, it was hailed as a leader in e-sports.

Angel Munoz, founder and president of the Cyberathlete Professional League, which recently offered $1-million in prize money in its Halo III competition, praised Sweden for its efforts. “Sweden has been at the forefront of e-sports for many years and we are encouraged by this new initiative that should help elevate the sport’s status and provide pro-gamer benefits. The CPL fully supports this effort and hopes that other Western countries launch similar programs to further develop e-sports at a global scale,” he said.

However, South Africa is two years ahead of Sweden in the federated gaming space, positioning it to lead a worldwide move into federated gaming. Because once three consecutive African continentals have been run, South Africa can host a world championship. It could then apply for inclusion in the Commonwealth Games. This, in turn, would enable an application to the Olympic committee to be included in the Olympic Games.

Ignorant corporate South Africa
The problem for Agasa right now is that corporate South Africa thinks that gaming is for fat, lazy kids who don’t get enough exercise. If you look at the first PC team to be sent overseas with national colours in 2006, you’ll see that only one of the team members may have been seen as overweight. The team member in the bottom of the right of the picture also represented South Africa in hockey. In fact, many PC players have represented South Africa in other Mind Sports disciplines.

Gaming is an ideal opportunity for corporates in South Africa to reach a wide and diverse market in South Africa. For example, Agasa has an exclusive agreement to run a league of EA Games title Fifa and to administrate the public playing of the game.

Picture it: a stadium packed as South Africa play in the opening game of the Soccer World Cup, and in venues across the country, large screens display the game to gamers who simulate it on console, trying to secure a South Africa win in cyberspace while Bafana Bafana try to do it on the pitch.

A marketers’ dream, or so you’d think? But Agasa has approached many of South Africa’s largest corporates. For the most part, middle management is ecstatic about the idea. But when the concept is taken to the executive, it’s given the boot with comments about not reaching the broader South African population, failing to reach the black middle class, blah blah blah.

Never mind that a black player won the local round of the Fifa Interactive World Cup, played on console a few years ago. Never mind that he came third in the world in that competition. Never mind that more than 60% percent of the people who played in the previous Fifa Interactive World Cup qualifiers in Edenvale at the end of 2006 where not white … Yes, the national team in 2006 was majority white, but that does not mean that on the ground that people of colour aren’t playing the game in a big way.

The local market
There have been at least 600 000 PlayStation 2s sold in the country. PS3s, Xbox 360s and the Wii push that figure well over a million — and that is just console sales, never mind PC or mobile gaming. There are an estimated 200 000 people across platforms who take gaming very seriously and millions who play for fun. Gaming is not solely white and it’s not insignificant either. And the more exposure gaming gets, the more likely the number of serious gamers will grow as they see the opportunity to compete against other players.

And so Agasa soldiers on, and when multinationals figure out what it is actually doing, they will probably swoop down on the opportunity and South African companies will miss out on supporting what is truly a world first in technology world — a feat this country is unlikely to repeat any time soon.