Telkom wants to turbocharge eSports in South Africa

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Telkom is driving the growth of eSports in South Africa and is urging businesses to support the local eSports community to enable the industry to grow.

This, as the South African eSports community is eagerly awaiting high-speed internet connectivity to score more participants.

eSports is currently the fastest growing sport globally, with a recent tournament hosted in Singapore recording 5.41 million peak viewers.

As its popularity increases, global investors, brands, media outlets and consumers are paying more attention to this disruptive industry that is currently worth $1 billion – with projections this number will almost double by the end of 2022.

According to Insider Intelligence, that shift has been powered by championing from mainstream celebrities like Michael Jordan, Drake and DJ Marshmello; an increasing amount of coverage from traditional outlets like ESPN; and, at least in part, the breakneck rise of Fortnite.

Amid the growth of the industry globally, Telkom believes the time is ripe for South African organisations to start investing in eSports to boost their brands.

In an e-mail interview with ITWeb, Wanda Mkhize, executive of smart home and content at Telkom SA, says although SA is experiencing exponential growth in numbers, the eSports audience and the industry at large is still relatively small in comparison to sponsorship and partnership opportunities available across other consumer passion points like sport and music.

“However, we are now seeing various levels of interest from brands looking to establish a presence in eSports as a direct result of its growth and increasing popularity of leagues and events such as ours.”

Ready player one

Mkhize believes it’s a great time for South African businesses looking to create impact for their brands to consider eSports as a category because of the growth in participation and viewership.

She notes that Telkom, through its acquisition of VS Gaming in 2017, made a decision to invest in the future of eSports in SA and is the brand at the forefront of growing the category in Africa.

At the time, City Press reported that Telkom paid R150 million to buy the eSports platform. It said the company was created using some of the services within Telkom’s Digital Gaming League operations.

“VS Gaming is largely responsible for the evolution of the competitive and social eSports scene in South Africa, having formed in 2008 as the Digital Gaming League,” Mkhize says.

She adds that VS Gaming has gone on to create various leagues and events that cater to gamers across the spectrum.

“At the very top of the consumer pyramid, Telkom and VS Gaming partner to present the Telkom VS Masters, the country’s flagship competitive eSports league. VS Gaming then extends down into more social competitive leagues through the VS Gaming eDiski League, VS Gaming Championships and High School eSports League, which attracts over 45 high schools from around South Africa. Outside of this, VS Gaming also runs mobile leagues through the Telkom Plus platform.”

Mkhize points out the VS Gaming league ecosystem alone caters to a gamer base of over 100 000 registered gamers in SA and is growing every season.

“eSports and mobile gaming as a category is definitely breaking into the mainstream and will continue to grow across participation and audience metrics.” Statista now confirms that Africa and Middle East are the fastest growing eSports markets in the world, she comments.

The world’s leading businesses understand that aligning themselves with a consumer passion point through sponsorship investment allows them the opportunity to effect meaningful change for their organisation across both brand and business metrics, Mkhize adds.

“Historically, big brand sponsorship opportunities have been heavily weighted towards sport and music. eSports and other lifestyle categories are changing this as audiences grow and technology evolves.

“Investing in eSports presents brands with an opportunity to speak to a consumer that research shows is highly engaged for long periods through the day and are more open to brand associations that benefit the growth and consumer experience of eSports, in comparison to fans of other categories. eSports is also a category that presents brands the opportunity to engage with consumers that transcend traditional demographic and psychographic profiles.”

Game-changing youngsters

According to Mkhize, being geographically situated in Africa, gamers are at a disadvantage playing against international counterparts and in global leagues due to the distance-induced latency, which is too high to maintain fairness against European or American counterparts.

She says this makes it difficult for elite South African eSports athletes to compete from here.

“Fortunately, through the efforts of companies like Telkom, our isolated eSports scene has developed a high level of self-sufficiency and has gone on to export an ever-growing number of globally recognised eSports athletes.

Schools such as Curro are also driving the growth of eSports in SA. The private education group recently upped the ante in the use of technology in education, claiming to be the first academic institution in SA to use video gaming to help build STEM skills.

Curro’s push towards a competitive eSports league was led by Cindy van der Merwe, project manager for Curro Sport, and Angela Schaerer, technology business relationships manager at Curro.

Schaerer notes: “During the lockdown, eSports became an amazing opportunity because learners couldn’t connect via traditional sports or clubs. The online world of Minecraft creates a perfect digital environment for learners to collaborate and play.”

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