Online gamers are thriving during the lockdown as other competitive sports remain shut down.

The global sporting economy finds itself in disarray as countries move into extended lockdown periods effectively putting the breaks on competitive sports. Esports and online gaming though has bucked the trend and is actually thriving in a time of significant uncertainty. 

“To be honest, the lockdown is a dream for many gamers,” says Jaco Sauer, a 40-year-old regional sales director for an ICT company. Sauer told Wits Vuvuzela, “It is almost like an instruction to stay home and game.”

Sauer however, is not your average sales director. He is a casual gamer, as well as the founder of the ClanWars Gaming, which he says was born out of a need for community-based gaming. “We aim to provide the community with a structured, professional and well-run experience,” he said.

According to Sauer, ClanWars and esports have seen growth and an increase in engagement since the lockdown began on March 26 in South Africa. According to Sauer, from March 26 to April 23, the traffic to various ClanWars sites has increased by 20%, whereas the usual growth is around 3% generically. 

“I think a lot of people that might not have had the time before took this as an opportunity to at least investigate what it is about… Since we are predominantly online based, it has not really affected us negatively,” he said.  

The organisation, originally known as Battlebros, promotes local gaming talent through both competitive game play as well as creating platforms for streamers and shoutcaster talent. ClanWars focuses mainly on first-person shooter games such as Battlefield and Call of Duty, for both casual and professional gamers.

Sheree Buchholz, or better known by her gamer tag as ‘Endseeker707’, is the 30-year-old community manager for ClanWars. She monitors the social media accounts and moderators all the organisation’s platforms. “Online gaming has seen a huge uptrend during lockdown. I have seen people who thought online gaming was a thing for children come online with the rest of us and have a fantastic time,” Buchholz told Wits Vuvuzela.

Sauer says that gaming is a sport like any other and should not be treated differently. “The very nature of sport is not defined by its physical actions, it is defined by the concept that we take a game, add rules and structure it to be competitive. In this sense, ‘esport’, while not physical, is by definition, a sport.”

Similarly to high performance sports, gamers are able to become professionals and compete in esport tournaments. “Teams play for a position in the semi-finals and finals [of an online tournament]. At the end of the season, we apply a relegation system where clans (teams) are then moved up or down in divisions based on the performance in that season, much like soccer,” explained Sauer.

Buchholz currently plays for two competitive teams, including Gunslinger Girls (GSG), an all-girl team, as well as Evil Maniacs (EVL), a team she founded. “The teams are made up of many different people – husbands and fathers, mothers, businesspeople, students and most importantly friends.”

However, unlike many mainstream sports, gaming has the advantage of allowing fans and gamers to experience what it’s like to play in a professional setting. “The reality is that only about 10% of all gamers ever turn professional, yet there is this huge amount of people that enjoy gaming and want a feel for what competitive gaming is about,” said Sauer.

Just as many sports hand out awards for exceptional talent and performance, so too does the gaming community. In 2009, Sauer was named as an official BFV DICE friend, making him the second person in Africa to receive this title. Buchholz was the first to be awarded the DICE friend title, as well as being the only EA Game Changer in Africa. These are prestigious awards given for leadership to prominent figures in the esports community.

While ClanWars does not offer prize money in its competitions, many gamers and clans can make money by securing sponsorship or by streaming their games online. In 2019, Epic Games hosted the first ever Fortnite World Cup, a battle royale shooter game, where each participant earned $50 000 for qualifying and 16-year-old American, 

Kyle ‘Bugha’ Giersdorf, won $3 million dollars after winning the competition.  

FEATURED IMAGE: Lockdown is a dream come true for many gamers, who participate in various esports whilst all mainstream sporting events wait to begin again. Photo: Niall Higgins