TRANSFORMING ESPORTS WITH EKASI
Posted at: 2017-06-21 11:57:54
In an esports scene with a history of being quite cut and paste, with the same players, teams and organisations having a habit of showing up again and again in the spotlight, Ekasi Esports is a breath of fresh air. Renowned for their immutable air of positivity, they're an MGO with a mission: Uplift disadvantaged communities through the power of esports (GLHF: And just being lekker.).
Started as the first black-managed esports organisation in South Africa, the Ekasi team is dedicated to 'contributing to the growth of an inclusive, competitive and professional gaming ecosystem in South Africa,' as their website says. We caught up with Ekasi Team Manager Smilo 'Slim' Gosa about their plans for doing just that.
What's quite important about that goal (and possibly something many people don't think about) is that creating a diverse player pool is one of the surest ways to increase competitiveness and viewers in a country's esports scene. And something worth getting behind, no matter where your spawn zone is. But particularly so if you're from Soweto, where Ekasi is based.
"There was excitement from the existing community of gamers and tournament organisers's who've been running LANs in their back rooms, local community halls, and local shopping centres, and were unable to reach the milestones that Ekasi Esports has achieved.
The people in the community were excited to witness such initiatives that are focused on empowering the local youth to take part in mainstream gaming and esports.
The establishment has seen tons of growth with a number of enquiries coming from townships such as Tembisa, Garankuwa, Mohlakeng, Sedibeng, and Letlakajeng (North West), with the ages of candidates ranging from 16-28 years old. Such an example shows that, as much as corporates think there is no market in townships and suburban areas, we discovered 61% of households have consoles, yet the barrier to participation in esports is still of primary concern."
You may have noticed Slim touched very lightly on the role corporates have to play in creating a balanced local esports environment. This is something the Ekasi team has been thinking about since day one.
They know, more than anyone else, that their dreams will struggle to become more than just dreams without a little help from those mythical people that lay down internet infrastructure (GLHF: Here's looking at you, Telkom.), amongst others.
"We want to get corporate South Africa to invest in infrastructure on all disadvantaged areas and improve the community via the likes of reliable home internet connection.
The access people have to gaming and esports in Soweto is limited to local TO's and a few gaming lounges in different areas. In fairness, there is work to be done with us empowering potential cafes, TO's and grassroots MGO's looking to get into gaming, and some looking to competitively participate via existing SA esports tournaments and LANs."
Think of all the players just waiting to be unlocked in Soweto, and other townships around the country with poor access to internet and esports. The next Sonic or Castaway could be just one stretch of well-laid cable away from greatness and empowerment. We just need internet providers to starting downloading the DLC for us, and we'll be good to go.
But what keeps the guys at Ekasi grinding every day? What target have they locked their sites onto to keep them focused on their goals?
"The impact Ekasi is hoping to achieve for Soweto and gamers from disadvantaged backgrounds is to clear the barrier of entry to the esports industry, which basically means inclusion of both casual and pro gamers and get them to participate in most if not all SA based tournaments.
The vision of our ideal esport ecosystem in South Africa includes a unified and broad community connected in all sectors, be it education, sports, technology or communication.
We strive to continue our broad community initiatives, which includes: Spreading awareness of esports in schools via our esports day events, hosting annual LAN events and working alongside other partners who share our goal of needed growth in gaming, among other things."
Like we said in our article summarising what we learned from this year's RUSH esports event, South African esports needs growth. Whether it's getting a deeper player base to pick from so MGOs don't become so strong they imbalance the whole scene, or discovering even more female gamers in order to empower a different side of the community that doesn't get enough attention either.
The Ekasi Esports team knows this, and doesn't just sit around waiting for other people to get it done for them. They're building a community around them as they grow, throwing energy behind the initiatives they believe will achieve their goals the best. And they have some experience to offer other organisations wanting to do the same.
"Our advice to MGO's is to give the smaller guys in the gaming scene a voice to be heard. We often hear players are shocked to find us open to communicating with communities of any area, big or small. It comes back to the point we made a couple of days back on Twitter where it was often said, 'no one owns the esports scene', to which we replied, 'the space is for everyone to occupy, let's support one another'."
The local esports scene has the potential to be a positive space, used as a tool for individual and community growth. The Ekasi guys are a beacon of that positivity, and if you haven't already you really should check out their Twitter for some real feel-good, uplifting vibes.
"It comes back to the general Ekasi ethos of maintaining positivity in all we're directly and indirectly involved in. More so with the challenges experienced in this industry concerning esports, we can only go so far without the support of many entities that would need at least a few more paragraphs to mention."
Well, consider this one paragraph thanking all of these entities. You're not doing too badly by anyone's standards. (GLHF: And our standards are pretty high. Although we do enjoy the buggy mess that is PUBG, so maybe not that high.).
So what's next for an organisation that has a dream that needs constant love and determination pushing it forward?
"We're ecstatic to announce Soweto's second Ekasi Tech Fest & Gaming Expo happening on the 18th to the 20th of October, with more info and exciting developments posted on the website, www.e-kasifest.co.za."
If you're truly passionate about gaming in South Africa, get down to the Dlamini Multipurpose Centre in October and get stuck into the community. We know we would, if there were a Cape Town version of the Ekasi Tech Fest (GLHF: If you missed it, that was a massive hint.).
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