If there’s one thing that can be said about South African gamers is that we love the idea of esports. Despite the local passion for the industry being unquestionably…well, passionate, I think we lack a lot of the raw resources and opportunities to set up a scene that can stand toe-to-toe with established giants such as South Korea or the United States.
It’s not really the community’s fault though; the heart and drive are there but the established esports foundation that is waiting to be built on? Well, it’s not exactly at a level where being a professional South African gamer fulltime is a recommendable career path. That being said it’s certainly growing, probably faster than a lot of people expect.
With the introduction of a dedicated esports channel on DSTV and South Africa recently competing in the Overwatch World Cup, it seems like we’re certainly making strides to put our name out there. Just this month Red Bull hosted our first national Street Fighter tournament, bringing in reigning champion of the Capcom Pro Tour Kanamori “Gachikun” Tsunehiro to spread the world and help develop the local fighting game scene. So naturally we sat down with him and spoke about his mission to spread the good word of combos, blocks and all sorts of knockouts.
It’s clear that Gachikun is passionate about growing the fighting game community, with an emphasis on the “community”. In his eyes, that’s the key to growing the local esports scene. “You can’t play in isolation, on your own,” Gachikun explained.
Those who are already experienced players should welcome new players and engage them. Those who are new to FGC shouldn’t feel shy to proactively join the community.
Yet as simple as that sounds I doubt it would be as easy in practice. That’s the thing with fighting games: To be competent, let alone good, you’ve got to wade through hours of complex combos and dense systems that can feel incredibly intimidating to new players. It’s a problem that Gachikun can recognise within his own experiences:
In Japan I remember that there was a period when I witnessed players drifting away from the game. Because of that experience, I felt the need to make sure that the players are well taken care of and that we need to put continuous effort into growing the community. I was approaching new players and teaching and talking to them.
There’s certain responsibility that comes with being one of those players that’s “made it”. Let’s be honest, without a community that can support itself then most sports would just wither and die. The responsibility isn’t just on new players to get involved, it’s on older players to support them.
Coaching is critical and that it’s the responsibility of the top players to open up that path for the others.
Which isn’t to say that everyone is promised a shot. I think it goes without saying that esports as an industry is one treated with a lot of speculation, especially after this year’s exposé run by Kotaku which shed some light on an industry that’s still in need of much scrutiny. We asked Gachikun about this and his opinions on the so-called “esports bubble” that could burst at any time.
“I don’t think it’s a bubble. Especially for the younger generation the game is more than just about playing and watching,” he said.
I get the sense that amongst the younger generation there is a strong culture of viewing internet broadcasts. I think that’s only going to get bigger in the future and like in football and rugby, there will be a stable culture base.
That being said, Gachikun didn’t mince words about the scale of the fighting game community in comparison to other esports titles. Especially in South Africa, fighting games have never competitively taken off like shooters and MOBA’s and it’s something Gachikun is very aware of:
In all honesty I think it will be a challenge to catch up to [the current esports heavyweights]. I don’t feel inferior in any way that FGC is a minor game in the e-sports scene. I enjoy fighting games, I will continue to play fighting games and I will do whatever it takes to grow this scene.
Yet how does one go about doing that? Especially in a country where fighting games are underrepresented within the local esports scene, not to mention lacking the longstanding infrastructure to maintain such a scene. Once again, according to Gachikun, it’s the people that make it work:
In Japan, FGC was popular even before the term esports was coined. This is because there were many locations throughout Japan where the players could gather to play as well as compete in tournaments. No matter how small in scale, when events are organised to bring people together, that scene motivates and stimulates the players to actively participate.
Which is pretty sound advice, I think. That’s what really draws fans and players together when it comes to esports, right? Sure, the skill is impressive and the dream to one day make it big in this strange little culture is appealing to some but at the end of the day I think what keeps people coming back for me is the sheer excitement of it all.
The fervour and the excitement that comes experiencing a competitive moment surrounded by people that know exactly what you’re feeling. I’ve never been one for sports, you might be able to tell, but even I have to admit that there’s a wonderful underdog attitude when it comes to esports communities.
It’s the passion to make it something bigger than the sum of it’s parts, the drive to spread the love for something that you know not everyone will appreciate but just enough people will to make it truly special. Here’s hoping that happens for the local fighting game community in the near future.
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Last Updated: November 26, 2019