Does eSports in South Africa belong on TV?

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This is an opinion I’ve been wrestling with for a long time. The question of whether eSports does belong on TV, when we’re already spending hours in front of our computers anyway. In the spirit of fair arguments I’ll once again highlight both the pros and cons of what having eSports on TV could do for South Africa, but I must admit I’m not all for it.

Jubilant family watching television as they cheer on their home side in a sporting competition; Shutterstock ID 112822024; PO: aol; Job: production; Client: drone

Who even watches TV these days?

Ironically the only time I actually watch TV is for sport; football and Manchester United (Sorry Gavin) more specifically. Other than that the majority of my time is spent in front of my computer screen either playing, or watching competitive tournaments. TV is actually very expensive as well. DSTV Premium is over R800 per month, where you’re bored to death with repeated content and the Kardashians. The Sport is probably one of the only drawing aspects of DSTV, but again all of that can be watched online. R800 can get you decent internet, at least a 4MB line which is sufficient for streaming online content. The added bonus of internet? Everything else is available at the click of a button.

There really is no need to own a subscription to DSTV or anything of that sort these days, especially with Netflix and the newly-advertised Showmax.

Should eSports be on TV?

This seems to be a hot topic today, both locally and internationally. Gareth Cliff and Cliffcentral invited Desmond Kurz once again to chat about eSports and more importantly “What is eSports?” Kurz answered perfectly, but I recall discussions where eSports on TV could be a thing of the future and then I saw this.

For a while I thought I was one of the few who felt it’s not really necessary, but it turns out I’m one of many. While I agree showing major tournaments on TV would be great, there are a few points which need to be addressed.

Firstly, the world is not ready to see eSports on TV. We all remember when ESPN showed Heroes of The Dorm (Heroes of the Storm tournament) on ESPN and Colin Cowherd threatened to quit his job if he ever had to broadcast it. This may seem like an isolated case, but after the International was showed on ESPN as well Twitter exploded with ignorant people berating the network for including gaming. Jimmy Kimmel also had his stab at people who watch eSports and these are two respected figures in the world of television. In Europe and North America eSports has been around for a while, so you’d think that the general public are familiar with the concept? Wrong, they still feel it’s a bunch of kids wasting their time, when in fact these gamers are earning more money in a weekend than most people will make in a year.

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Secondly, those who watch eSports via Twitch TV have almost a cult mentality when it comes to viewing eSports. The BIGGEST draw to online viewing is the chat mechanism. Twitch TV chat will always be the biggest plus point for online viewing and when I say it’s a cult mentality I really mean it. People flock in the tens of thousands to chat (usually spam nonsense) and participate in these viewing parties. Television will never come close to what Twitch can offer and of course it’s a much more personal interaction with the streamer or major tournament, even if they’re not paying attention to the chat.

Thirdly, viewership. Currently our major tournaments, without the help of CSGO Lounge and Dota 2 Lounge, are scraping at maximum 100 viewers, often around the 30s. This is just not enough to warrant a television channel. Sure, the exposure is great but if people continue to push for TV and it fails, we will lose out on a few opportunities which I’ve stated below.

Where I begin to consider why television would be good for eSports, the benefits are only prevalent in South Africa. We’re in a good space at the moment with regard to eSports. Bigger people are starting to pay attention and the government hasn’t really began to sniff the economic potential, since it’s a number so large our president won’t even dare verbally conquer it.

What we do need is exposure and that’s something we can get from television. While I still maintain that not many people would watch it on TV, if the media begin to pay more attention the companies with bigger pockets will pay more attention. Kurz mentioned the economic predictions of eSports in his chat with Gareth Cliff, and the growth is there. I’m not saying we need to sell out, but eSports is like a well tuned clock. If we want it to work, every single piece needs to tick together.

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Television would put a spring in the step of many gaming organizations in South Africa and there would be pressure from the top on many tournament hosts in South Africa. While prize pools for many conventional sports aren’t up for public display, there would be a large amount of pressure to up the ante. TVs involvement would mean these guys would receive endorsements from sponsors not necessarily involved with gaming, and with TV comes ad revenue which could be factored in. If channels are serious about including eSports all we have to do is strongarm them into proper payouts for the athletes involved. If everyone played ball we could take competitive gaming to a whole new level.

In closing

eSports is a ticking time bomb in South Africa, which is set to explode very soon. Whether television is the right step for eSports will always be debated in my mind, but where are right now I submit that it wouldn’t harm us in any way. The major upside, which didn’t really tie in to my argument above, is that it would force our broadcasters to be a lot more professional if they were to appear on TV. I guess I’m just afraid that when they try to get it going that it fails miserably and those who have been working hard in the broadcasting field (myself included) will lose out on an opportunity to really aid the growth of eSports. There are very few people in South Africa who actually have a clue as to what’s going on in eSports. Luckily Desmond Kurz knows what he’s talking about, but even he alone could lose out to someone who moves forward with the idea and messes it up completely.

Tomorrow some big network head could decided we need gaming on TV and without consulting those who know what’s going on, instead asks his cousin to show eSports and we’re now watching PewDiePie YouTube reruns tagged as competitive gaming. This is an extreme exaggeration, but to be honest it does sound likely knowing how this country works. Do you feel South African TV is ready for eSports?

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Last Updated: October 22, 2015

Kyle Wolmarans

Critical Hit's esports guy. I talk about esports and drink whiskey. I also write and cast for elsewhere - but my work here is independent of that.

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