With COVID-19 fast tracking digitisation in South Africa, we are fast becoming exposed to the hidden gems in various online platforms and one such gem is esporting. Formally known as “TV-gaming” in the South African context, this industry has surprised many and seen a major financial spike, which is resulting in the slow but unavoidable formalisation of the industry in South Africa.
Inspired by the #LockdownSA, rapper Cassper Nyovest has started an online campaign called #CassperStayAtHomeGames. The rapper used his new-found boredom of being homebound to challenge other celebrities in a game of playstation FIFA. He streams these online matches either on his Instagram Live or Twitch. His most recent opponent was Daily Show host Trevor Noah and the game garnered a viewership of over a 150,000, making it Cassper’s most viewed Instagram Live since he joined the app.
The interest in viewing such a game online could be inspired by a number of factors — one might even reduce it to the fact that these guys are mega celebrities in their own right, or the fact that people are generally looking for content to consume as a result of the lockdown boredom, however, you can’t take away from the growing interest in esporting events. The idea of just watching a playstation tournament instead of playing it yourself, was absurd a couple of years ago, but it seems the tide is turning in this regard.
According to Influencer Hub: “Since 2016, there has been a significant increase in esports viewers – both occasional viewers and enthusiasts i.e. viewers who watch it regularly… By 2021, Newzoo predicts that the annual growth rate will be approximately 14%. They also predict that the number of casual viewers will grow to 307 million. And that there will be 250 million esports enthusiasts, making the total audience 557 million.”
With the sporting fraternity being one of the hardest hit industries by the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation compels sporting codes to respond creatively to the challenges and, perhaps, esporting could be the answer if the strain of the pandemic persists. On 20 March Formula 1 announced the launch of a new F1 Esports Virtual Grand Prix series, featuring a number of current F1 drivers. The series has been created to enable fans to continue watching F1 races virtually, despite the ongoing COVID-19 situation that has affected this season’s race calendar. Of course, not all sporting codes can adopt this model or approach, however, this move should inspire other sporting codes to follow suite in finding innovative ways of not only monetising, but also adapting their sports online.
More people are starting to gain an interest in not only becoming spectators of esports but also become professional players and as a result, corporate South Africa is coming to the party by investing in the sports. In 2018, telecommunications company Smart-call invested R10 million in Mettlestate, a local esports content creation company. The stability that comes from a regular source of funding will mean that tournament organiser Mettlestate can create a steady stream of events. According to a PwC report on esports, total esports revenue in South Africa is forecast to reach R138 million in 2023, a 24.7% rise from the R46 million recorded in 2018. The report further states that, media rights will become the main challenge to the hegemony enjoyed by sponsorship, the success of streaming platforms in securing these deals will, in turn, help push streaming advertising up to R38 million by 2023. It will be interesting to see which television broadcasting corporation will bite first when it comes to securing or biding for media rights.
Needless to say, internet connectivity plays a significant role in fast tracking the growth and success of esports in South Africa. The rollout of 5G will also see an acceleration and uptake of mobile gaming and, by extension, even mobile esports which further presents more advertising and sponsorship opportunities. China is a prime example of how far esports can grow as not only a sport but a formalised industry that contributes to the country’s economy.
The South African government has always found it difficult to capitalise on most ecommerce industries, esports presents an opportunity for them to redeem themselves by ensuring that all the tools required to accelerate growth in the industry are provided, i.e. fast tracking access to the internet, investing in infrastructure and formalising the sector by recognising it through legislation. This will yield economic results for the rest of the country in the foreseeable future.