As the coronavirus (Covid-19) continues to surge worldwide and in Uganda, sports is one of those sectors still affected and in lock down. The National Council of Sports (NCS), in conjunction with the Uganda Olympic Committee (UOC), has developed standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the resumption of sports once the Covid-19 situation improves.
The SOPs have been developed in consultation with national federations/associations who have also crafted their own specific standards. As we eagerly await the resumption of sports, there is one area that appears to be on the rise: e-Sports.
E-Sports, I believe, will firmly be part of the new normal sporting landscape post-Covid-19. To this end I would like to explore the opportunities and challenges we have in Uganda in view of this reality.
Electronic sports is a form of sport competition using video games. It often takes the form of organised, multiplayer video game competitions, particularly between players, individually or as teams.
The e-Sport industry has been around from a few years now and is rapidly growing in popularity, viewership and prize money. Competitors from different leagues or teams face off in the same games that are popular with at-home gamers: Fortnite, League of Legends, Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, Overwatch,Fifa and Madden NFL, to name a few. These gamers are followed by millions of fans worldwide, who attend live events or tune in on TV or online.
Streaming services like Twitch allow viewers to watch as their favourite gamers play in real time, and this is typically where popular gamers build their fandoms. According to a report from Newzoo, a market analytics company, over one billion people worldwide watched e-Sports in 2019, including 165 million enthusiasts (frequent viewers, as opposed to occasional viewers).
The bulk of these enthusiasts watch or play from North America, China and South Korea. In addition there is a growing number of professional e-gamers earning a living from their e-craft. E-Sports in Africa and Uganda is also growing as well. E-Sports is now a multibillion dollar industry, hence the need to ask ourselves how we are positioning ourselves to engage in the growing industry.
I will look at some of the opportunities we have here. Uganda has a vibrant young population some of whom are already engaged in various forms of e-Sports such Fifa competitions via PlayStation or Sony Xbox. We do not have the exact numbers which are growing daily. The internet penetration is increasing as well. Uganda Communication Commission reports that we have 23 million internet users in Uganda. This is indeed a welcome development and needs to be broadened. Ugandan e-gamers can join the lucrative prize money circuit as part of the globalised e-Sport industry.
But there are challenges. This is a relatively new area and as a result we do not have a regulatory framework to guide the operation of e-Sports. In addition we have intermittent electricity cuts and the internet costs, access, reliability and speeds need to be improved if our e-gamers are to get the most from it. The cost of gaming equipment is also a barrier for players. For example, the new PlayStation 5 goes for $500 (about Shs3m).
As we embrace the new normal, we need to work on putting in place an e-Sports regulatory framework to guide the industry; we need to enhance awareness about e-Sports through formation of clubs and teams; and to improve internet access and speeds at reasonable costs. National associations/federations should pivot and embrace e-Sports. Uganda Chess Federation should be commended for having already adopt e-Chess with games going on national, regionally and internationally.
It is clear that e-Sports is going to be part of our new normal we need to purposefully embrace it going forward.
Dr Rukare is the National Council of Sports Council chair and Secretary General of Uganda Olympic Committee