A Multi-Million Rand Sport - Business Media MAGS

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A Multi-Million Rand Sport

In 2018, South Africa did send young men to play football at the Fifa World Cup, except they weren’t part of Bafana Bafana, writes Kevin McCallum.

Bafana hadn’t qualified for the World Cup in 2018, but 16-year-old Thabo Moloi and 19-year-old Shiaan Rugbeer, the champions of the VS Gaming Fifa qualifier held at the Monte Casino complex in Fourways, Johannesburg, did (pictured above and below). They represented South Africa against the rest of the world that year, and went to the tournament with some serious spending money, having won R400 000 from a total prize purse of R1.5-million.

The tournament was the first global serious qualifier put on by VS Gaming, the e-sport subsidiary of Telkom, which is also the headline sponsors of the Telkom Knockout, a Premier Soccer League competition that is played on the field. Wanda Mkhize, who is the executive for Content and VS Gaming at Telkom, said shortly after last year’s tournament that South Africa had in excess of one million FIFA players, the most in Africa, a staggering number.

E-sports attracts loads of money and millions of players all over the world, so why does it feel like it has not yet been taken seriously by all big corporations? Perhaps because for some it still sounds like a bunch of kids hiding in dark rooms playing video games? Perhaps corporations and investors are unsure as to how to enter and leverage the sport. Audiences have gone through the roof, two South African teenagers earned R400 000 for playing “video games”. Last year, South African e-sports players earned a combined R2.8-million.

Adweek, the prestigious American advertising, media and technology magazine, described it best when it wrote: “E-sports is either the best kept secret or the most poorly marketed piece of common knowledge for brands.

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“Do a quick search, watch a few documentaries, and you’ll realise that the e-sports industry is primed for investment regardless of the connection (or lack thereof) to a brand.”

Massive audiences, hyper-passionate fans and influencers capable of launching titles to new levels of popularity make it the perfect place to find and cultivate new advocates. But for some reason, most non-endemic brands still struggle to find meaningful entry points into the category.

“Whether it’s a lack of relevance or simply an unfamiliarity with the space, investing in e-sports can seem daunting to marketers.

“Luckily, as more brands move into the category, universal truths start to emerge that can help newcomers better navigate and evaluate the landscape,” Adweekreported.

Nielsen Sports, which analyses data and provide insights on the sports industry, produced an E-sports Playbook to help brands understand the ecosystem of e-sports. As well as the endemic such as “computers, processors and peripherals” being strong in the market, there has been a 13 per cent growth in the share of sponsorship by nonendemic categories, such as “snack foods, men’s grooming, cars and insurance”.

The e-sports community is engaged and passionate, like rugby, football or any other sports fans, but they are also interactive, talking to each other about strategy and learning. Their stadiums are their couches, but they also attend tournaments held in arenas.

SuperSport realised the importance of e-sports and the crossover potential a few years ago and since May 2017 has had a dedicated channel for e-sports, having signed a deal with GINX E-sports TV. “The deal with GINX is a massive leap forward and signals our intention to embrace the newest sport out there. There is a real buzz around e-sports and we want to be part of that,” said SuperSport CEO Gideon Khobane.

Formula One has embraced e-sports enthusiastically, Murray Barnett, head of Global Sponsorship & Commercial Partnerships of Formula One notes that the “response has been astonishing …

E-sports is an integral component of our future as we continue to develop F1 into an entertainment platform that can reach wider and more diverse audiences”.

In January, the Cape Town 10s, a rugby tournament held in Green Point, announced a partnership with Mettlestate, an e-sports sports tournament organiser and production house. E-sports were played on the fields of Green Point as rugby players did their thing. No one wants to miss out.

Image: Thabo and Shiaan

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