National esports – The dilemma local esports will need to deal with eventually

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Last week, the MSSA-endorsed national esports teams competed in the 9th IeSF World Championships in Busan. Of the various results the national teams posted, two stood out more than any other. The MSSA reported that the League of Legends team were “edged out” 23-7 in a sub 26 minute game. Meanwhile, their Counter Strike: Global Offensive counterparts were obliterated 16-1 in one match.

In defence of the LoL team, they were playing against the 2016 IeSF world champions, Korea, so it was always going to be an uphill battle. Regardless, one would be hard pressed to argue against the common sentiment that our national esports teams are in shambles.

A scene with aspirations

It’s no secret that those in the SA industry have massive goals for the esports scene. People have worked tirelessly to make big strides, from bringing in sponsors and creating awareness to developing and nurturing talent, both in game and out.

The results of all the hard work put in have been on display for everyone to see. You look at what VS Gaming and Kwese achieved at rAge this year and how impressive the whole setup was. That’s just the tip of the iceberg however, with other orgs such as ACGL, ZombieGamer and MWEB, amongst others, all doing their part to take the scene forward.

The constant thorn in SA esports, despite the resounding success stories, has been the national teams. The issues surrounding the national teams and the cause for all of it have been discussed in great lengths before (a simple Google search will reveal it all), so this article will not go in depth around that.

The short of it is, the MSSA has alienated the majority of the SA esports industry and thus prevented South Africa from ever being allowed to reveal its true power on the international stage – in country colours. Many may not feel this way, but it serves to undermine all the hard work of those dedicated and passionate about the local industry.

As previously stated, South Africa is a scene with aspirations of greatness and going toe to toe with the best in the world. It’s an enormous goal to set for such a small country, but that hasn’t deterred the passion and energy of the esports community. However, when a national organisation serves to undermine everything that is being built and worked towards, it’s difficult to simply dismiss it as harmless incompetence.

SA esports doesn’t have the luxury of a fumbling organisation representing it in any capacity. Numerous articles have been written around this national saga and the consensus is always the same – ignore it and move on. But what if the scene can’t afford to do that? What if, by ignoring it, local esports is robbed of an amazing opportunity?

A new hope

The most interesting aspect of the debacle surrounding the national teams was not so much their abysmal results, but rather the community’s reactions. The majority went the route of ridicule and amusement as these results were not entirely unexpected given the teams were fielding subpar players in relation to the professional scene.

However, and this is where it gets interesting, a minority were annoyed, even angry, that the community chose to mock the players instead of support them. To be clear, no one should condone or encourage harassing the players representing our country. The blame for this complex issue does not fall on their shoulders, despite some arguing that these players are exploiting the situation for an easy holiday and quick fame.

Still the idea of supporting the national teams, given the political landscape, is one many reject wholeheartedly. Despite this, some argued that if the community wanted the results to change, they needed to do it from within the organisation. The strongest teams in the scene needed to step up and compete for the chance to represent the country. It’s an argument that has often been echoed by those leading the national esports scene. Is there some merit to this school of thought?

Whilst a lot of work has gone into the scene, there is still a long way to go and headaches that need to be dealt with. Whilst sponsors are coming into the scene, there is still hesitation and uncertainty which makes for skittish brands. On top of that, credible participants in the scene threaten the progress of the whole community with their actions.

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There was the scandal around a local YouTuber “jokingly” threatening to rape a woman and many noted how pro players in the scene came to his defence. There is the more recent saga around Orena pulling out money from a tournament after the fact and they have yet to seriously address it. Following that, the public feud between xTc Gaming and its players reveals the volatility of the scene.

The learning pains aren’t just coming from those responsible for pushing the scene forward. The reality of local esports is that viewership and the lack of local support is a mounting issue and people are split on how to tackle it. It’s an issue that needs to be tackled sooner rather than later as sponsors need good returns on investment (ROI) and low viewership hinders that significantly.

For a scene with aspirations to compete on the global stage as an equal, these are serious concerns that can’t be overcome with passion alone. With that in mind, is it so farfetched to look to national esports as a new source of hope to help propel the scene forward and ultimately achieve the mainstream success and awareness it so badly craves?

It’s hard to argue against the merits that governmental support for esports would have. It would increase the credibility of the scene tremendously in the eyes of businesses as well as significantly increase awareness of what happens in local esports. Increased credibility and awareness means a larger viewer base and that in turn leads to more sponsors and money pouring into the scene. All of this is exactly the boost the scene would need to potentially tip it over and create a sustainable, highly successful industry that’s attractive to everyone.

The way forward

If there’s a benefit to having the national esports scene and the local esports scene working together, what are the steps that need to be taken to make this happen? The obvious route is to have people join and attempt to change things from the inside. With enough people, there could potentially be significant changes enacted that can clear the way for a beneficial future for everyone.

The biggest hurdle towards this route however is the current leadership of the national scene. It has shown it is willing to antagonise, belittle and attack anyone that does not buy into its vision without question. Those in the leadership team that choose not to attack lack the backbone to stop it. Together, it makes for a sombre display of leadership and with that, there is hardly cause for optimism.

There has been talk in the past of creating an alternative national esports organisation to push national esports interests in the right direction, but this would prove immensely difficult to do. An already established national organisation with all the right ties and connections, means trying to usurp them would take a lot of time and financial investment, both of which are already in short supply.

Of course, the final route is to continue on as we always have. Ignore national esports and those that lead it and carry on – business as usual. Continue to mock national teams and be dismayed at what could have been, had stronger, more serious teams represented South Africa.

It is not an easy issue to tackle and there will be many divided opinions on the best way forward. But a harsh truth needs to be acknowledge and that is, the community still cares. That national teams continue to be mocked and ridiculed shows that people do pay attention. It’s also undeniable that the benefits of having a functioning and healthy national esports scene would be hugely beneficial to the overall scene and propel it to greater heights. Korea has already proven that a highly engaged government and infrastructure makes all the difference in the world.

The local scene will continue to grow and those pushing it will commit to doing their best and put in 120%, but all the while, CS:GO scores of 16-1 will continue to plague the scene as the national teams implode and remain outclassed. For a scene with such big aspirations, is it truly too farfetched to imagine fixing that problem, despite the odds being stacked against it. Greater things have been achieved with less, this South Africa’s history is testament to that.

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Last Updated: November 17, 2017

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. May or may not report you to the relevant authorities. I'm also a big fan of English Cricket. Ask me about the ICC.

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