In Johannesburg, South Africa Jabhi Mabuza, known as ‘JabhiM’, got his first taste of gaming in the arcades around Alexandra Township. He entered his first tournament to play Street Fighter, a game requiring quick wit and mental toughness. He described how this first tournament went,
“We practiced on the previous installation of the games to try to get ourselves ready for the tournament. We got there, we didn’t know the mechanics, it was totally different from what we’d been playing. Luckily, we had someone who was impressed that we were doing that, and he said, ‘You know what? Come practice on my console until you guys can afford your own console,’” he said.
Mabuza went professional two and half years ago, travelling to tournaments in Cape Town and Japan and gaining a coveted gaming sponsorship.
He spoke about his career, “It’s in the best place possible. Especially considering how hard it is for a fighting game player in South Africa to get sponsored. But the one thing that I have in mind is definitely to get myself to a level where I can compete with the other competitors outside the continent. Because I was in Japan, and I felt the skill gap there, so now it’s covering that skill gap. With being sponsored, I feel like I can get there quite quickly.”
A veteran of the South African gaming scene, Thulani ‘LighteRTZ’ Sishi made his name in the multiplayer first-person shooting game Counter Strike. For Sishi, who played rugby before an injury cut his career short, there are plenty of parallels between esports and traditional athletes, “Believing in your own skill set, believing in your own decision making and ability to know you’re making this decision for not just yourself, for the rest of your team to prosper.”
Sishi now spends most of his time managing the team at Goliath Gaming, the South African multi-gaming powerhouse representing some of the country’s top talent. Goliath was founded in 2017 by Sishi’s mentor Ashton Muller.
At Goliath, gamers have access to a sports psychologist, yoga lessons, a gym, PR team and a manager – all to prepare them mentally, emotionally and physically for the high stakes competition. Muller talked about the problems faced by African gamers, “The immediate issue with being able to compete with the rest of the world pretty much relies around internet and the fact that we are actually such an isolated region. So, your most competitive regions, where most of the big stuff happens on the international stage, like your $40 million tournaments, that stuff’s in America, in Europe.”
But the team at Goliath believes they have a fighter’s chance to change the game, especially after one of their players became the first gamer from the African continent to land a sponsorship deal with Red Bull. Thabo Moloi – ‘Yvng Savage’ – is one of the top-rated FIFA players in South Africa and is ranked 73rd in the world. He talked to CNN about the growth of esports, “Some people might look at it as a joke or whatever, just making money off games for a living, but then there’s actually good money in e-sports. Some people I know, they’ve been buying houses, cars, from playing video games. So, it inspires me to do better also, and I want to be at that level.”