It’s 2017 and that means it’s time to open the local server debate once again. If we look back at 2016 we can pinpoint a few moments where there was promise regarding servers and a large one being the visit from Riot Games. In the end Riot Games declared we are not ready for local servers and this of course upset a few people. Their decision was justified as South Africa still lacks a the player base to warrant such an investment, and yes bringing local servers is quite an expensive endeavour.
On the other hand, Overwatch launched and South Africa went through the five-stages of grief with regard to local servers for Overwatch. They are, of course, hope, denial, anger, disbelief and petitions. That’s right, the expected “sign this petition so Blizzard can give us servers” did the rounds, again, and to no surprise nothing solid came of it. So why don’t we have servers, and do we really want them?
Nobody cares about us
This is the feeling people get when it comes to pleading for local servers. Some gamers feel we’re forgotten since our gaming scene is not that big. This is true to some extent, but the issue is not only with player-base but also infrastructure. Installation, upkeep and maintenance is extremely costly for these companies and while they can trust some South African ISPs to hold down the fort, bigger companies need their own facilities to properly run their local servers. With Valve it was simple, they bought some equipment and let local ISPs run the show. When it comes to Blizzard and Riot Games things are a little more complicated as both companies would need their own branch in South Africa which would cost them an arm and a leg only to cater to a player-base smaller than that seen in one European state. “But, Australia has servers?” Yes, they do, but those servers also cater for the entire Oceania region, not just Australia.
This is the next big issue, our location. We’re deep south, surrounded by water, and the rest of Africa up North is not as large as the regions surround the EU, Australia and the Americas. Their player-base is ten times as big as ours. Bringing that infrastructure down here will serve South Africa and some close African regions which aren’t that big into gaming besides a few small, dedicated communities.
Do we need/want them?
This is the ongoing debate amongst some circles, the fact that some people feel we don’t need local servers as the exposure to Europe helps close the skill gap while others argue that it will bring more players who have given up due to being incapable of playing on European servers. While both these arguments hold validity, it’s worth touching on them a bit more. Take CS:GO for example. It has local matchmaking and local competitive servers which are privately hosted. Our CS:GO has actually gotten a lot better with very little exposure to Europe. Yes, a few teams head across every now and then and bring back some skill, but that scene has grown organically. Next let’s take League of Legends where the topic of local servers is possibly brought up the most. League of Legends players play exclusively on European servers, so naturally they’d be pretty decent? Wrong. While some players show off some serious skill the lack of local lobbies makes for an extremely poor competitive environment rendering the game almost useless when looking at local growth.
Dota 2 almost got it right, but the exposure to Europe only got us so far and as soon as local servers arrived we found ourselves back at square one where little to no growth was made to close that skill gap. Dota 2’s competitive environment has also slowed down a bit over the past few years with tournament hosts placing focus on CS:GO. Dota 2 is our only real example of what happens when we get local servers – nobody wants to expose themselves to Europe anymore. I also often bring up the skill jump from Dota 1 to 2 when local players were forced to play on EU, but now we’re stuck playing local matchmaking and we’ve seen very little growth in the past few years.
Do you think it’s time we got more local servers, or are you happy that we’re finally seeing some real growth?