Will South Africa ever join the esports arena?

Albert Sheng • March 20, 2022 1:40 am

Esports is experiencing a golden age right now. With a total global audience of half a billion viewers, it has far evolved from its early days of casual LAN gaming. The business side is worth nearly $2 billion, with annual growth expected to exceed 11%. 

Much of that growth is coming from two major markets at the moment, India and China. With a population of over 1 billion apiece and growing internet connectivity, esports is exploding in popularity in both countries. 

Meanwhile, many experts are also casting eyes on Africa. The continent as a whole is comparable to India/China, with 1.2 billion people and increasing internet and mobile connectivity. And at the apex of it is the small but growing African esports scene in South Africa. 

The current status of African online gaming

Online gaming and esports require improved connectivity and economic base. Both have been absent in Africa in the past. Only a handful of countries like South Africa and Egypt had the necessary conditions for the growth of online competition. 

In fact, South Africa and Egypt were the founding members of the Confederation of African Esports, the governing body of esports in Africa. Founded way back in 2008, it hosts annual official matches in various games like Dota 2, Tekken, Fifa, League of Legends, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. 

With increasing internet connectivity and a growing young online audience, other countries like Nigeria have joined the list. In all these countries, mobile gaming and the popularity of platforms like Twitch are on the rise. 

CSGO doninates South African esports scene

If you take a look at the history of esports in South Africa, the numbers are heavily skewed in favor of CSGO. Be it in the total number of professionals, active esport teams, or total career earnings, Counter-Strike is the game that towers above all else. Dota 2 and Overwatch do have a fanbase, but they trail CSGO by a significant margin. 

Weekly tournaments are hosted by outfits like Telkom Vs, ACGL, and Mettlestate. Apart from CSGO, they also organize leagues, cups, and tournaments in Dota, FIFA, Overwatch, and Call of Duty. Meanwhile, the top professional teams in the country are ATK, Bravado, and Goliath Gaming. Aperture and White Rabbit are also prominent. Teams from Bravado have won over $150,000 in tournaments. 

With the growing popularity of esports events in the country, many online sportsbooks and casinos have even started accepting wagers on major tournaments. While playing at online casinos is still forbidden, South Africa has morphed into a country where anything goes. Loopholes are allowing companies like Betway to advertise real money gambling on TV.

South Africa’s position in global esports scene

As of 2022, the top-ranked South African team is ATK, with a rank of 78. Goliath Gaming is at 136 and the next highest-ranked team from the country is DNMK Esports at 227. In DotA, the country does not even have a team in the top 150. 

The same is also true for League of Legends and Valorant. In Fifa 21, Goliath Gaming’s Julio Bianchi is the sole South African esports athlete in the top-100 player rankings. But it is not all bad news for South African esports. 

Athletes have performed well above expectations in many recent international events. In 2020, Thabo “Yvng Savage” Moloi became the first South African to be sponsored by Red Bull for Fifa. He is another player on the Goliath roster. 

In the recent past, 2018 was a good year for CSGO in South Africa. Some of its best players were picked by the massive Cloud9 gaming team. The ATK arena squad performed pretty well under the Cloud9 roster, playing in the prestigious IEM Katowice and the Dreamhack Open Leipzig 2020. 

Can South Africa reach the top of global esports?

In a global ranking of countries based on their success in esports, you will notice a pattern. While big nations like China and the USA have a presence, they get stiff competition from smaller countries as well. For instance, Sweden, Denmark, South Korea, and Finland have produced some of the best esports athletes in recent years. 

Finland has Topson and JerAx, two of the greatest Dota players and international champions. South Korea single-handedly spurred the birth of esports with their obsession for Starcraft and League of Legends. Players like Rogue and Maru have dominated the sport, winning millions of dollars. 

Denmark is famous for its CSGO teams like Astralis and LoL players like Bjergsen, Wunder, and Caps. Neighboring Sweden is yet another European powerhouse in esports, especially in CSGO. Olofmeister and Krimz are widely regarded as some of the best players on the planet. 

South Africa has 10 times the population of nations like Denmark. With the right infrastructure and a nurturing environment, the country should be ranking much higher than its current position. India, which has never had a major presence in global esports is making waves in the Valorant arena. 

Multiple Indian teams are competing at the highest levels in the top 20 rankings. There is no reason why South Africa cannot emulate this. The main issue is a lack of grassroots-level participation. A local esports tournament in other nations attracts sizeable crowds and hundreds of participants. 

In South Africa, this is still not the case. But with more young players joining the scene, things will improve significantly. The potential is already there, as shown by the performance of South African players in CSGO and FIFA. With some attention and investment, things should get better for South African esports. 

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