ESPORTS: African esports entrepreneur Kwesi Hayford points to the millions and millions of gamers in the Sub-Saharan region. Yet, there are hardly any dedicated computer servers there for competitive gaming to thrive. What gives? he asks.
Based in Accra, capital of the West African state Ghana, esports-obsessed Hayford (pictured, below) owns a gaming consultancy, co-owns a live-broadcast streaming-service agency, manages the national esports body and organises tournaments on site and online.
He encourages local schools to add esports and gaming to their curriculum because of the social and educational benefits for a generation growing up in the Digital Age.
When not lobbying the national government, potential sponsors and investors to take esports seriously, you can find Hayford on social-media site LinkedIn asking why international esports decision-makers and game publishers fail to add Sub-Saharan Africa to their international strategies.
After all, he wonders, how can esports be truly global if a huge chunk of the world with more than 1 billion citizens is left out?
“Unfortunately, apart from South Africa and Egypt, Africa is not recognised on all the international gaming platforms like the ones operated by Xbox and PlayStation. Consequently, most African gamers have to register their gaming accounts with a foreign country,” he tells MediaTainment Finance.
As an example, he cites a Senegal player who qualified in a major round for the EA Sports FIFA 20 Global Series online tournament.
The competition’s ultimate goal is to offer players the chance to enter the FIFA eWorld Cup, the video-game version of the FIFA World Cup, the world’s biggest soccer tournament.
Having registered as living in France, the Senegalese said he wanted to represent his country.
This is the replied he received: “The information you submitted says you are a residence of France. It says Senegal is the country you would like to represent. If you live in France, you are eligible. If you live in Senegal, you are not eligible.”
Africa is levelling up
UK-based Futuresource Consulting predicts esports will generate US$30m in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region in 2020. It says revenue is forecast to leap at a 25% compound annual growth rate from 2020 to 2024. The audience size is expected to increase to 42 million by 2024 from 26 million in 2020.
Some might argue the audience figures are conservative considering the progress being made in media and entertainment in Africa, once infamous for its epidemic-levels of copyright infringement.
In the Streaming Age, a new generation of African entrepreneurs and artists are bypassing the physical-media pirates to use digital tools like YouTube and social media to gain a global audience and business.
Today, those African entrepreneurs have caught the attention of multinational investors like global record labels Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group.
Netflix, US hedge fund Tiger Global Management (an early Facebook investor) and French media behemoth Canal+ Group have been major investors in Nigeria’s Nollywood movie productions.
Esports ventures in the West are drawn to the 13 to 34-year-olds that dominate the gaming demographics. The United Nations describes Africa as the world’s youngest continent; an estimated 60% of the population is under 25.
And, according to international mobile operators’ organisation GSMA, about 75% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population has access to some mobile-phone connectivity.
The football kick
Hayford argues that the potential return on investments stems from some fundamental facts.
Esports competitions like the Take-Two Interactive-backed NBA 2K League and Activision’s Call of Duty League are popular in North America. Riot Games’ League of Legends events are hits in Asia. In Sub-Saharan Africa, it is US publisher EA’s football-themed or soccer-themed FIFA video-gaming tournaments that resonate.
Almost 50 players in the elite English Premier League soccer competition alone originate from African countries like Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Ghana, Egypt and Algeria
As Hayford points out: “In Africa, everyone is a football coach because of their passion for the game. So, if there is an esports game like FIFA that limits Africans’ participation globally, you’re taking the region out completely.”
An emerging structure
Via his gaming consultancy/graphic-design firm Alisxta Innovation, Hayford also has interests in StudioHD, a streaming service provider that has hosted live events in Ghana for the United Nations and the Confederation of African Football’s prestigious CAF Awards.
Alisxta has joined forces with other Ghanaian gaming and esports organisations to form the Esports Association Ghana. Their efforts include hosting regular tournaments like the local edition of international online competitions, such as the France-originated ESWC (Electronic Sports World Convention).
A recent Ghanaian event, Volta FIFA 20 Championship (pictured, below), was organised by Eze1 TV, a member of the association.
Working with counterparts in other African countries, the association hopes to coordinate the region’s numerous local gaming centres (think of gaming-dedicated Internet cafés) into organised hubs.
One such move was last year’s launch of playarena.gg, an online platform opened to all African gamers interested in taking part in competitions under one reliable digital umbrella at the national and international levels.
Nodwin in South Africa
Nodwin Gaming, India’s leading esports organisation with interests in the Middle East, revealed plans to invest in Africa at international industry event Esports BAR in Cannes this year. It has since opened an office in South Africa’s capital Johannesburg.
Nodwin Managing Director/co-founder Akshat Rathee (pictured, below) says starting in South Africa makes it easier to expand into the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, especially the major English-speaking markets like Nigeria and Kenya.
“We are also acutely aware of the highly engaged individuals building esports in places like Ghana where we would want to build collaborations,” he adds.
Moreover, Nodwin’s partnership with the French division of ESL, the giant international esports organisation controlled by European digital-media goliath Modern Times Group, will create additional opportunities in French-speaking Africa.
“For me, Africa is similar to what India was in the esports space five years back,” Rathee says. “Coming from building an ecosystem in India, we were solid about the idea of doing the same in Africa.”
It has launched online tournaments for the Valve video game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive in South Africa. They include the qualifier event Inkosi Super Cup and the Umzansi Esports League.
Legions of young Africans have caught the esports bug with some players gaining international recognition.
Thabo ‘Yvng Savage” Moloi, a member of South African team Goliath Gaming, recently hit the headlines when he became the first African to be named a Red Bull Esports Athlete. This means he has the support of one of the world’s biggest consumer brands.
Morris Garrard, Research Analyst at London-based research group Futuresource Consulting, notes: “As the audience grows, more teams are expected to invest in African team talent, with South African and Egyptian gamers already starting to feature on international rosters.”
The obstacles faced when expanding into other parts of Sub-Saharan Africa include the following. Historical political and economic uncertainty. It is expensive for game publishers to instal dedicated servers anywhere. The investment returns in Africa are said to be too low to justify a commitment at this stage.
“Game publishers typically have exclusivity over these and invest in developed economies at the expense of smaller developing ones. This has led to the practice whereby many Middle East/African players will have to connect to European servers to play popular games like Fortnite, which has the unintended consequence of benefitting established esports economies and restricting the growth of new and emerging esports markets,” Futuresource’s Garrard (pictured, left) adds.
Local gamers and potential enthusiasts face expensive data prices for Internet and mobile connectivity.
“The biggest unifying force for esports growth anywhere is data prices and connectivity,” Nodwin Gaming’s Rathee explains. “We believe that it determines both play (game downloads and play times) and viewing behaviour (live streaming and watching esports). Both are imperative for customers to be involved in esports.”
But he is optimistic about Africa: “We have already seen the offshoots of data prices rationalising across the continent and this signals strong tailwinds for the sector.”
Futuresource’s Garrard highlights other barriers to entry in Africa. Tournaments require expensive production infrastructure.
With a low GDP per capita compared to developed Western and Asian markets, there is still limited consumer spending power in Africa. Statista says GDP per head is currently US$4,319 in Sub-Saharan Africa compared to US$67,426.84 in the US.
But Kwesi Hayford is not giving up of bringing a robust esports industry to Africa. He has launched a Change.org campaign called #ServersInAfrica, which urges the global gaming market to install more servers there.
As he tells MediaTainment Finance: “Africa will bring into the esports some new and diverse experiences. On social challenges, esports in Africa offers alternative career paths for young people and also helps combat social vices the youth engage in when their hands are idle. With esports, they can engage in something they are passionate about, potentially educational, tech-oriented and futuristic.”