ESL – inviting Africa to the esports party
When ESL Gaming and Kwese Sports announced their partnership in February to host the R2-million ESL African Championship, a few exciting things caught our eye. Firstly, the event would feature Hearthstone as a title alongside old favourite CS:GO, and secondly, it would really be an African championship, not just South African.
Naturally, being the professionals that we are, our first response was to figure out who we could talk to for some more information on the tournament. If only we knew someone at Kwese who’s been deeply involved in the local gaming industry for years, a fountain of wisdom and good advice.
How convenient for us, and you, that our old friend, Miles ‘B4dR0b0t’ Regenass, has recently joined Kwese Sports and is currently enjoying his new role as an esports producer. Enjoying is a relative term. It’s a dream job, but it comes with an African continent sized workload.
As we’ve mentioned, the games that will be featured in the ESL African Championship are CS:GO and, perhaps surprisingly, Hearthstone. We don’t see many local Hearthstone tournaments, so the first question on our minds was, quite simply, “Why Hearthstone?”
“It’s free to play, so there’s a very low entry point. You can start out on your mobile phone, a smart phone, and you can then maybe upgrade to a tablet and then if you’ve got a PC you can play it on that. So for Kwese it’s great because it’s more accessible. And from what we understand from the majority of Africa is that it’s predominantly mobile connected.”
South Africans are guilty of sometimes putting too much focus on the likes of CS:GO, Call of Duty and Dota 2. While these titles are engaging and entertaining to make tournaments out of, they are all games that require a few thousand rand in hardware to run. And for a lot of wannabe gamers, that’s just too much.
Coming from a background in African media, Kwese knows both the strength and depth of the market and the fact that most of the continent is limited to mobile platforms. While this focus on accessibility is something we love to see, there is one drawback to featuring Hearthstone as a tournament title for a player base that may not have money to burn - building competitive decks requires picking up card packs, which takes a long time if you don’t spend real-world money on the game.
Card slingers who play every day can eventually acquire enough in-game currency to build strong decks, but if you’re not willing to drop some South African rands, or Kenyan shillings, or Nigerian naira on card packs, then you can’t just jump in and start competing.
But anyone who enjoys Hearthstone and wants to play it at a competitive level is probably more than willing to put in the time to grind out those card packs. Plus, because you can play it on your phone it’s super easy to find time between things to get in a game or two. Like when your dinner date goes to the bathroom. Or a meeting gets boring.
The other title featured in the ESL African Championship is Old Faithful, CS:GO. Yes, we realise we just told South African gamers that they focus too much on CS:GO. The irony is not lost on us.
"I think the Counter-Strike choice has a lot to do with the partnership with ESL. I stand to be corrected, but from what I can see ESL is pretty much driving competitive CS in the world.
"StarLadder and DreamHack and E-League do their events, but if you look at ESL’s calendar for Counter-Strike it is massive. They’ve got all the Majors, ESL One, they do Intel Extreme Masters and then they run the Pro League.
"I think it’s also a logical choice if you understand Africa as a whole. I’ve been in contact with Kenyan CS teams and players, and, from what we understand, North Africa has a very strong CS scene. Obviously a lot of those players can play on European servers, they’ve got a good latency.
"And then we have a very healthy scene here in South Africa. The South African CS scene is doing really, really well at the moment. We’re seeing a much bigger roster of teams entering into competitions, which is good for the scene. And just look at how many events there are at the moment."
It’s pretty clear that Kwese and ESL are covering two bases here with their title choices - popularity and accessibility. CS:GO with its huge international and local following, and Hearthstone to bring competitive gaming to the African continent as a whole.
But with this focus on the entire continent, it’s easy to lose sight of the most exciting thing of all - the finals of the ESL African Championship will be taking place at the Rage Expo this weekend in Johannesburg.
"It’s very easy in esports to be South African centric, but the reality of Kwese and the responsibility we’ve been given in the esports team is to work in Africa as a whole. We’ll be in Kenya this year. We’ll be in Nigeria. "We do want to cater to the South African esports community, so we are having the finals for CS:GO and Hearthstone here at rAge in Joburg. And we’ll have North African teams qualifying for the ESL CS:GO and two of them will come down to rAge."
The combination of Kwese’s determined expansion into esports and the expertise they’ve gained from recruiting some of the old nAvTV team is sure to make for some pretty damn good entertainment.
We’re super excited to see how the South African gaming scene reacts to getting pitted against fresh African competition. The exposure to new opponents can only mean good things, for both competitors and for viewers looking for exciting new battles.
You can catch all the CS:GO action on ESL’s Twitch stream and Facebook page every Monday and Friday throughout June from 18:30, and if you’re a Hearthstone then we’ve got a Twitch stream for you and the dates you need to mark on your esports calendar, which we hope is an actual esports calendar, with pictures of your favourite teams and games, not swimsuit models or firemen, are Saturdays and Sundays at 7pm.
This piece was written by Good Luck Have Fun, a website that tells esports stories.