I spent the majority of rAge 2015 covering the eSports – that is, when I wasn’t crushing Matthew Fick at the card tables or annoying Wesley in the Press Room, or throwing acorns at Dane in his totally awesome NAG Jam entry.
I’ve discussed the games, results and prizes at length, so I thought for this final wrap-up article I’d talk about my experience of the eSports this year, the current state of competitive gaming in South Africa and how the future looks. I’ve also included a summary of the winners for each game at the bottom, in case you want to catch up on who took home the trophies.
It’s growing – fast
The big takeaway from the eSports this year is that competitive gaming in this country is more popular than it has ever been before.
The easiest reference point for that, and indeed the biggest reflection of it, is in the prize pool.
Multiple DGL titles managed to pull in sponsored prizes valued at over R200,000+. That’s no joke, and local gamers are finally getting some reward and recognition for the hundreds of hours they put in to achieve these kinds of results.
This increase is really because of you, the viewer and consumer of these digital sports. The world turns on advertising, and the more eyes on these tournaments, the more interest, the greater support it gets from outside companies looking to get your attention.
Anyone at the prize giving on Sunday afternoon who saw beastly gaming notebooks and wads of cash getting handed out would no doubt have had the same thought I did – “Holy shit, this is a real thing now.”
Things are only going to get bigger from here, as more money coming in generates more interest from both players and fans in a repeating growth cycle that will benefit everybody.
Production value is a big deal
I’m not sure how many of you tuned into the streams this year, but if you didn’t you missed out.
Telkom’s DGL crew brought in nAvTV as a third party to handle the production, streaming and shoutcasting, and it added a whole lot to the event. I spent a lot of my rAge weekend watching most of the games live in the DGL area, but several friends of mine commented on how good the streaming was this year.
Separate, dedicated streams for every video game with easy-to-remember colour-coded names and proper schedules allowed those at home to get in on the action and excitement of the Championship games.
Judging by how lively the Twitch.tv chat was, many of you did exactly that. A huge part of the experience is knowing the backstory, the drama, the grudge matches and the rivals. The panels and the casters provide that, and it makes everything a helluva lot more fun to watch – people need a scene and a team they can get invested in.
Then, of course, there was all this:
Following the lead of the international scene, this year had player interviews after every match (that were uploaded immediately to YouTube), expert panels discussing the games and dedicated shoutcasters and analysts to talk viewers through the action.
Not a criticism on Telkom’s previous efforts, but this year’s production blew 2014 out of the water completely. The only thing missing for me was a spectator area that’s accessible to everyone.
The level of gameplay has improved as well
South Africans might love games, but our competitive gaming has never quite been up to an international level. Watching games in the past was sometimes a little bit like watching Bafana play soccer – entertaining enough, but you can’t help but feel like we should be better than this.
It didn’t feel like that this year. The games were exciting and the play was of a much higher calibre than before; whether it was DotA 2, Battlefield or Counter-Strike I couldn’t help but feel more invested than I ever had before.
Simply put, better play is more entertaining, more interesting and a lot more exciting to watch.
I have little doubt that this is due to the increased stakes – when hundreds of thousands of rands are on the line, it’s a strong incentive to put in the kind of work it takes to compete at that level.
The future is bright
Bigger prizes, more players, larger audience and better gameplay.
It’s looking better and better for eSports in South Africa, and to add to all that Telkom finished off their prize giving on Sunday with this announcement:
In spite of not knowing much in the way of detail right now, the DGL Masters looks set to up the ante and pour even more resources into growing eSports in this country. On top of that, we’ll be seeing these player booths put to some epic use:
These player booths (spotted at rAge in the DGL VIP section) will only add to the competitive scene’s legitimacy, and bring us further in line with the production level seen at international events.
Really though it’s the passion that makes me feel hopeful for things to come. Pulling up a beanbag in front of the big screens downstairs and watching the DotA 2 finals amid cheers and screams from the spectators around me, talking strategy with total strangers and sharing in the glory of the victory or the crushing defeat of our favourite teams, watching the stream with a two-minute delay and seeing the players jumping out of their chairs screaming and yelling, glancing at each other with a smirk as we wait for something epic to happen on-screen, discussing clan shuffles and the growth of eSports with a member of the nAvTV crew as we watched the prize giving from the balcony, hanging out with old school friend and LAN-buddy Rich Sjoberg as he scrambles around the DGL floor, running on no sleep and an infinite amount of caffeine trying to make sure things run smoothly.
Getting to see and experience that dedication, passion and love of the competition in person, to share in the culture and thrive on the hype is an amazing experience. I can’t wait to see what 2016 brings.
Telkom DGC Winners
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (PC) – Altitude Kinguin
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (Xbox One) – AI Carbon Astra (Team Astra)
Hearthstone – Dale “Pand3m0nia” Pon
Battlefield 4 – ApG.Blitzkrieg (Aperture Gaming)
League of Legends – eN.Re Vera (Energy eSports)
DotA 2 – bvd Dota 2 (Bravado Gaming)
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive – bvd Counter-Strike (Bravado Gaming)