The rise of eSports is now strongly on the radar for many educational administrators at both high school and university levels.
While the general public is still mostly unaware of the increasing prevalence of eSports in South Africa, the rate at which the industry is growing is now granting real opportunities for people to create businesses and compete as digital athletes.
According to Statista, revenue generated from the gaming industry in South Africa is projected to reach R570 million in 2022.
This revenue is expected to show an annual growth rate of 12.17%, resulting in a projected market volume of R8.3 billion by 2026.
This has prompted many South African schools not only to develop their own programs that support students playing video games as competitors, but also to understand the opportunities that exist outside of gameplay.
eSports in high schools
eSports has been offered by some schools in South Africa for many years, but only as an extracurricular activity.
Due to the pandemic, there has been a dramatic increase in eSport participation in the country, with an estimated 10 million active players between the ages of 16 and 35.
For students, this shift to online gaming and competitive play is a result of many, if not all, traditional sports being sidelined as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions.
School sports teach important lessons and life skills beyond the classroom – particularly relating to teamwork.
Many have argued that skills practised and honed as part of being in a team apply equally to any sport, and eSports is no exception.
These important skills and lessons include strategic thinking, planning, working with others, social skills, and managing success and failure.
As a result, many schools in 2022 are already all-in, with on-campus arenas and practice facilities dedicated to eSports.
An example of this is Centennial Schools in Johannesburg, which we recently reported has spent R3 million on building the largest eSports arena of its kind in Africa.
The school’s new eSports arena features the following:
- 30 individual gaming stations.
- Spectator stands within the eSports Arena as well as 70-inch TV screens to watch all the action.
- A lounge area to relax and catch up on the latest pro tips.
- Six Xbox sim racing stations.
- Access to a café for refreshments and food.
Another testament to the rise of eSports in schools can be seen in the number of tournaments planned for this year, such as the SA National Online School Championships which took place on 25 June 2022.
The event was held by Mind Sports South Africa (MSSA) and comprised dozens of student teams and individual players who represented various schools from around the country.
“The growth of eSports starts at school level, as it is the breeding ground where champions are fashioned,” said MSSA president Colin Webster.
Titles played at the event included CS: GO, FIFA 22, Dota 2, League of Legends, and more.
According to MSSA, the top 10 eSports Schools in South Africa are as follows:
- Oakhill School
- Hoërskool Klerksdorp
- Northcliff High School
- Crawford College Lonehill
- Hoërskool Middelburgh
- Curro Roodeplaat
- Jeppe High School for Boys
- Monument High School
- Curro Klerksdorp
- Katlehong Technical High School
Challenges facing the growth of eSports in schools
While the adoption of eSports among South African schools is on the rise, there are major challenges that are preventing eSports from becoming a staple school sport.
These challenges are listed below.
Lack of infrastructure
Having a fibre connection is a must, as even a slight Wi-Fi lag is a competitive disadvantage. Unfortunately, many schools in South Africa don’t have access to adequate infrastructure to provide such a connection.
Additionally, the current state of load-shedding is a deterrent due to the interruptions it causes.
One of the main challenges in adopting eSports at schools is the cost required to do so.
Schools would need to invest in a large number of expensive products such as high refresh rate monitors, ergonomic chairs, desktop gaming PCs, headsets, keyboards, and mouses.
They would also have to pay for a whole building if a space is required, and buy a generator to avoid frequent load-shedding.
Another challenge that faces eSports in schools is finding someone with the right expertise to run the sport, which could be a costly venture.
For example, a geography teacher who has never played a video game in their life is not going to be the appropriate coach for a Counter-Strike team.
Gaming community experts will need to assist schools in understanding esports and engage with them to help teachers facilitate appropriate educational activities.
These experts would be the best possible way to help students shadow and learn from the best South Africa has to offer.
While many of these challenges can be addressed or may not be a challenge at all for some schools, others still find it hard to justify gaming as a school sport, as it does not fit the traditional mould.
This is compounded by historical claims that video games encourage violence, or that it is a mindless activity that encourages people – particularly children – to be unsociable.
Nevertheless, while it may take some time for a school’s CS: GO team to be as well recognized on campus as the First XV rugby team, there’s no doubt that the popularity of esports is rising fast.