Where to now for SA esports?

South African teams were not able to get the results they were hoping for at the World Esports Games in China recently and that got us thinking.

03 April 2018 - 18:51
By Good Luck Have Fun
The full teams of both Bravado Gaming and Energy Esports line up for the final of the ESL African CS:GO Championships last year at Rage.
Image: Scott Peter Smith The full teams of both Bravado Gaming and Energy Esports line up for the final of the ESL African CS:GO Championships last year at Rage.

South African teams were not able to get the results they were hoping for at the World Esports Games in China recently and that got us thinking that maybe it’s time to start reining in our expectations for our teams at international events.

The annual pilgrimage to China is one of our local scene’s best opportunities to show what we all believe deep down about South African esports: We’ve got the talent and it’s time to put the country on the nerd map. That creates huge amounts of pressure and expectations on the players taking part, both from their teams and us watching at home.

Facing the facts

Unfortunately, things have not quite gone to plan over the last few years and there are only so many articles that can be written about the positives that can be taken away from another disappointing performance at an international event.

What we need is hard truths and direct, no-nonsense answers from someone who is not afraid of being open and honest or facing a backlash on social media for expressing his opinions.

Doing our best to phrase the questions in a way that wouldn’t get him into too much trouble, we turned to Trevor ‘kaNibalistic’ Morley.

We’ve highlighted the usual reasons many, many times before: Lag, the geographical distance to any established scenes making it difficult to practice at a high level consistently and the lack of money to allow players to actually earn a living out of playing games. Trevor had his own list to add.

“I would say the biggest advantage [European teams] have over us is the fact that they can play against five different tier 1 teams all with different styles. I can’t stress enough how important that is because when you get to a tournament not every team plays the exact same. So if you are able to scrim against different playstyles daily, it makes you much more flexible against any type of opponent.

Personally I believe the setbacks we face right now are:

1.) Lack of [local] tournaments (Dota and CS:GO). On one hand, yes, the ESL tournament that was hosted last year was amazing, production was something we’ve never seen before but that’s one tournament. The only other tournament last year to come close to ESL was Mettlestate, but the dates are months apart.

2.) Lack of proper sponsorship and funding: Sponsorship these days means much more than just giving a player a mouse and keyboard. Sponsorship needs to give you stability and assurance.

3.) Lack of new/young players: There isn’t an influx of many new players who aspire to be professional gamers. It might have to do with the previous two points I mentioned. Needless to say, we need more kids in high school to start playing at a young age and get dedicated while they are still in their teens. Those will be the best players in the country in the years to come.One last thing I want to mention is something that has been bothering me for years: Are you as a player using your time as efficiently as possible? Many players like to say ‘I play X amount every day’, which is nice, but are you actually spending that time to efficiently get better?

This can be taken into context with scrims as well. Are you just trying to win the scrim or are you actually learning from every round and focusing on HOW you won the round instead of the fact that you won the round.”

The great thing about everything on Trevor’s list compared to the usual issues mentioned is that something can be done about every single point he made.

Managing expectations

Nonetheless, the combination certainly makes for some daunting reading. With so much seemingly stacked against us, why then do we always have such high expectations for our teams at international tournaments?

Well, because we’re super passionate about games and we want South African teams to do well, but maybe it’s time we were a bit more realistic about what we expect our teams to achieve overseas, especially us fans.

“Personally I’ve always looked at baby steps. You have to win one map before you win a series, you have to win one series (maybe two) to make it out of group stages. I do think it’s time the people supporting need to stop this trend of being all supportive before they play, but as soon as they lose a couple of rounds or they lose a game, they start (GLHF: expletive deleted. We’ve got your back Trev, no offending anyone in this article.) on the players and their mistakes.”

So, where to now? Quite clearly, being the best in South Africa does not automatically translate into being competitive overseas, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to start bridging that gap.

“Nerves and confidence are the two biggest ones when it comes to CS for me. For instance, Fadey will play ten times more aggressively against us than he did against any of those teams, which already means he’s playing completely different to how he likes to play or how he is used to playing. Same with the other players, they aren’t playing their normal game, which they’ve studied and prepared for months.

"I definitely believe what Bravado are doing right now in the United States is one of the best ways to improve drastically. Huge respect to them for taking the initiative, but that doesn’t mean the teams left in South Africa can’t improve as well.

"We definitely have a lack of top tier players/teams, so that means that sometimes you won’t always be scrimming against the best possible opponent or some nights you might not even have a scrim. That being said it makes the time you spend watching demos or reviewing your own games much more important.

"It doesn’t seem we will get the influx of capital required for us to transform ourselves into  esports athletes at this stage, so most of the hard work will come down to us. We have to earn the right to massive sponsorships that can fly us overseas to compete at international tournaments.”

We really appreciate how kaNibalistic’s focus is always on what we can and should be doing to overcome the obstacles rather than falling back on excuses we can do nothing about, like latency.

Constructive criticism

We’ll concede that we’ve focused quite heavily on the negatives in this piece so far and it’s been pretty tough for us to do because we’re all about supporting the local scene and getting behind our boys.

We aren’t trying to criticise the teams and players that made the trip to China, we honestly can’t even imagine what an experience like that must be like. Both from an overwhelming ‘holy shit I’m playing games on the international stage against the best players in the world’ perspective and the incredibly stressful perspective of actually performing to an entire country’s inflated expectations.

What we’re trying to do instead is ask uncomfortable questions to find answers to help accelerate the closing of the gap between us and them.

It wouldn’t be a GLHF article without a happy ending. We have the talent and we have the passion, now we just need some patience.

“First of all I have no doubt in my mind that South Africa has talented esports players in almost every game and we have the potential to make it. All we need is time, and some investments wouldn’t hurt.

That being said it comes down to us as individuals and as teams to make the most out of our time. At the end of the day if it’s your dream to become a esports athlete there is nothing stopping you besides your own mentality.”

We did not put Trevor into an easy position with the questions we asked him and, to be honest, we’re still a little surprised he agreed to answer them. Thankfully his insight, expertise and boundless charm mean the following disclaimer probably isn’t necessary:

“Everything stated here is my own opinion and does not reflect the opinion of my teammates or the MGO that I play for, and I’m sorry if I offended anyone. I tried my best not to.”

But if anyone did take offence to anything in the piece please blame us, not him. It was our idea. Like us, he just wants the best for South African gamers, but sometimes that means looking behind the curtain and facing some hard truths.

This piece was written by Good Luck Have Fun, a website that tells local esports stories.

Good Luck Have Fun