By now, you would have heard of the wave of fibre installations sweeping South Africa. Social media has been abuzz with anticipation and barely contained excitement as the fibre revolution spreads across the country.

Telkom has stated that it hopes to have a million homes covered by 2018, with the focus being on metropolitan centres. (Source) Initial projections suggest this roll out will be a slow, laborious and expensive task. (Source) Despite the negative sentiment, this is at least a step in the right direction and a much needed investment in the digital infrastructure of the country.

Infrastructure key to growth in SA scene

Weak infrastructure has been a common theme in many discussions around issues in the local gaming scene. For example, low internet penetration was a key reason for a lack of gamers of colour playing online. (Source)

Insufficient infrastructure has also played its role in issues such as the struggle of downloading massive patches that fix game breaking bugs, an almost staple occurrence with any AAA game release in recent years. The overall price of internet along with unstable latency has made gaming online a precarious situation for South Africans.

The inability to produce a high quality stream, be it as a player or as an organisation hosting an event, can also be largely traced back to inadequate infrastructure. It can also be argued that this same issue is a factor in the small audience turnout that current local streams suffer from. With the coming of fibre, for those lucky enough to receive to receive it, the aforementioned problems can thankfully be banished and hopefully set the platform for growth in the local scene. So how exactly is the fibre rollout going to impact gaming in South Africa?

The most obvious and immediate benefit of the fibre rollout will be the the decreasing price of internet connections. More affordable internet leads to the next benefit of fibre rollouts – greater accessibility. A lower barrier to entry, primarily cost, can lead to a more inclusive gaming scene, something many have championed. Whilst greater accessibility on its own won’t magically create a more inclusive, diverse scene, it is undeniable that it will a go a long way in that regard. It’s not helpful creating an incredible and welcoming scene when no one can afford to actually be a part of it.

Looking specifically at the local eSports scene, the rollout of fibre has benefits that will specifically benefit the highest level of competitive play in the country. Creating infrastructure that levels up the top tier players in the country can only be a good thing.

Firstly, it will allow for high quality streams of local gaming events by hosts and casters. When the standard is set by global streams, audiences won’t stay unless they can watch HD level streaming without any lag. Fibre gives local streamers a reliable chance to produce a stream of expected quality.

On the other side of the coin, local streamers that are doing their best to product quality streams are generally rewarded with a poor audience turnout for all their efforts. More accessible fibre may leader to a larger audience as more people are able to watch streams at a decent quality setting. Especially when many local streams are too small to partner with Twitch and thus cannot offer lower quality options.

High speed internet, the likes of which fibre will bring, will also minimize the disadvantage that many local players face when playing online on foreign servers. Whilst distance will always matter and ultimately prevent South Africans from experiencing low ping games, there’s a huge difference between facing 160ms on a European server as opposed to +300ms.

Fibre isn’t the holy grail

There’s no argument that the rollout of fibre in the country is hugely beneficial to the gaming scene and will make for a much improved experience for everyone, directly and indirectly. However, it’s important to put the effects of fibre in perspective. There are still a lot of issues that we need to face that strong infrastructure can’t fix on its own.

Inclusivity in the gaming scene is not just an infrastructure problem. It still requires an active community working towards a more diverse scene and calling out problematic behaviour that impedes this goal.

A high quality event stream still needs casters that bring talent, passion and unique flavour to get an audience. Justified or not, some in the local scene have complained about a lack of high quality casters. It’s up to the local talent to prove those critics wrong and show that South Africa is not just a one hit wonder in the shape of Trevor “Quickshot” Henry.

Conversely, players need to work harder to create their personal brand and get their name out there. The established eSports scenes overseas have powerful storylines that are only possible due to the amount of work put into both team and player brands. The audience is already invested in matches on an emotional level.

Likewise, players can’t just stream and hope to achieve big numbers right off the bat. It will take a lot of work and perseverance to create a brand that will make people flock to a stream. No one is watching imaqtpie’s stream for a highly skilled League of Legends player. They watch it for his personality and the unique flavour of streaming he brings.

Casters and players aren’t the only ones that need to bring more to the table than just a fibre connection. The local community also needs to do its part to support local streams where and when they can. There’s no point complaining about issues if you aren’t actively supporting those that are trying to give you a high quality, entertaining stream.

Fibre is a great step in the right direction. It will serve as a powerful stepping stone that will enable a lot more to occur in the local gaming scene. For the casual gamer, lower and more stable latency along with lower waiting times when downloading patches is a boon. For many, that is where the benefits end with fibre and that’s all that’s desired.

For the eSports scene, fibre will be a great enabler but there is still a lot more that needs to be done to really capitalise on it. The reality is that we need more than just passion and fast internet to grow the scene. Kyle “CongoKyle” Wolmarans phrased it well in a series of tweets:

As the wave of fibre installations continues to sweep the country, the hope is that this will help make gaming in South Africa better and more accessible. Only time will tell if this is a point that signals massive growth in gaming locally, both casually and competitively.

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Glenn Kisela

I've always loved video games as well as writing, so mixing the two together was inevitable. When I'm not doing that, I do photography and design.

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