Esports rides on football to attract new audiences

Is marrying up with traditional sports the right way to launch esports into the mainstream consciousness?

24 July 2017 - 13:46 By Scott Peter Smith
Boasting a R1.5-million prize pool, the VS Gaming Festival saw a thousand FIFA 17 players battle it out last weekend at Gallagher Convention Centre, Midrand.
Boasting a R1.5-million prize pool, the VS Gaming Festival saw a thousand FIFA 17 players battle it out last weekend at Gallagher Convention Centre, Midrand.
Image: Scott Peter Smith

Is marrying up with traditional sports the right way to get esports into the mainstream consciousness?

The newly branded VS Gaming thinks so and they spared no expense in hedging their bets with a celebrity laden extravaganza, anchored to the popular Fifa football game last weekend.

With the winner walking away with R500,000 they intend to keep investing in esports whether there is a clear return on investment or not – betting that it will in the long run.

VS Gaming CEO Chamberlain Mokonyane says football has been specifically selected for this tournament to demonstrate VS Gaming’s larger objective of taking gaming into the mainstream.

“We aim to demolish all preconceptions that gaming caters only to niche demographics, to create a culture of spectatorship that will one day rival that of rugby, cricket and soccer,” he says.

With the recent Gallagher Estate event they may just make the mark on the spectators and with the winner of the tournament, Zuhair Ebrahim walking away with R500,000, someone who is not a pro-gamer, well, that can only attract even more competitors.

The finalists Brandon Nell and Zuhair Ebrahim prepare for the final Fifa 17 match. Ebrahim ultimately took the lead, walking away with R500,000.
The finalists Brandon Nell and Zuhair Ebrahim prepare for the final Fifa 17 match. Ebrahim ultimately took the lead, walking away with R500,000.
Image: Scott Peter Smith

Mokonyane adds, “The guys that won came from the open access side of the competition – not the pros.”

That does say something about making this accessible. It gives the impression that anything is possible and anyone can become a new sports star.

We aim...to create a culture of spectator-ship that will one day rival that of rugby, cricket and soccer
VS Gaming CEO Chamberlain Mokonyane

But the grand investment made into this burgeoning sport, pushing into the billions overseas, is harder to quantify in South Africa. While there is movement towards salaried players and the emergence of enough tournaments to warrant a full time training regiment, many esport experts not on the VS Gaming books feel the millions pushed into tournaments and the entertainment angle is misplaced funds.

Over the same weekend, the Rush esport convention saw a number of tournament organisers gathering under the same roof in the spirit of building gaming from the bottom up, creating spaces for gamers to compete and qualify for international events.

The VS Gaming Festival saw 1000 players battle it out and had a R1.5 million prize pool - for an esport that had never had such a tournament before in this country, sounds like a good start.

VS Gaming Fifa 17 finalists embrace at the end of the match with Zuhair Ebrahim (left) walking away with R500,000 on Sunday.
VS Gaming Fifa 17 finalists embrace at the end of the match with Zuhair Ebrahim (left) walking away with R500,000 on Sunday.
Image: Scott Peter Smith
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