Wesley Botton

By Wesley Botton

Chief sports journalist

SA joining the rush as Esports grow in popularity across the world

Becoming a successful gamer requires a lot more work than just sitting in front of a screen and pressing buttons.

As is often the case with new things, Esports is struggling to earn its place as a recognised sporting code, but in an age with millions of teenagers around the world locked to their screens, it’s only a matter of time before it receives the respect it deserves.

Even in South Africa, video gaming has taken off at a rapid rate and there are opportunities for players to make a living from it.

One of the players who is taking the country by storm is 19-year-old Fifa specialist Zaid April from Cape Town, who won the Safa eCup last month, qualifying for the global Nation v Nation finals to be held in June.

April, who played outdoor football in high school, signed with local team Goliath Gaming ahead of the 2023 season and he is showing tremendous potential in the popular Fifa game developed by EA Sports.

Hard training

According to April, though it may not seem obvious to those who have never competed in video gaming, it requires a lot more work than just sitting in front of a screen and pressing buttons.

As part of his training he spends time in the gym and with his team’s psychologist to help him prepare for the mental challenge of concentrating while he’s playing at the highest level. He also spends a great deal of time analysing matches which have previously been played.

“I practice five days a week for six or seven hours but a lot of that time is spent analysing games,” April said.

“I do analyse my own games sometimes but I focus on analysing the performances of the best overseas players.

“It’s about focussing on the small things to try and improve my game. There’s a lot of detail you need to pay attention to if you want to be able to compete at your best.”

Fifa gamer Zaid April
Fifa gamer Zaid April shares a light-hearted moment with teammates. Picture: Pregan Pillay

While April focusses on Fifa, there are a wide variety of games which can be very lucrative if you’re able to compete against the world’s best, and South African squads are launching assaults in a variety of them.

Goliath Gaming, one of the best teams in SA, also has teams which compete in Tekken, Fortnite, Starcraft, Street Fighters and Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:Go).

Despite its popularity, Esports has not yet been recognised as an official sport code in South Africa, but it does fall under a recognised federation, Mind Sports SA, which also oversees competitions involving board games, card games and robotics.

One day soon, however, it is likely to find its own space due to the growing popularity of video gaming, with massive prize purses available for the best of the best.

“There are lots of opportunities to turn professional and make good money, so it has become very possible to make a career out of gaming,” April said.

“It all depends on how good you are and how consistent you are, but if you work hard you can be signed to a professional team.”

Lucrative tournaments

And he’s not kidding. According to the website esportsearning.com, 14 international tournaments this year have already offered more than $200 000 (R3.6 million) in prize money each.

In 2021, the Dota 2 tournament International 21 paid out the biggest prize purse in gaming with $40 million (R725 million) split between 90 players from 18 teams. The winning squad, Team Spirit from Russia consisting of five players, took home over $18 million (R326 million).

While there are opportunities to compete in SA, however, April admits that it’s important to look abroad if the country is going to be able to stand out like some others have done.

The network connection in South Africa isn’t as fast as local gamers would like, so April looks forward to playing more overseas. International competition, he believes, will also help him to raise his game and make a name for himself at global level.

“I will take whatever opportunities I can to compete against the best players and teams,” he said.

“If you want to be the best, you have to play against the best, so that’s my goal.”

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