Local gamers out to bask in the sun

Gamers playing a video game of football during the 2022 DigiArt Fest at Acacia Mall in Kampala. Photo/Pius Kibazzi. 

What you need to know:

  • The proliferation of video-gaming and e-sporting events has provided opportunities for youth to be identified and trained to compete on a pan-African and international level.

Since its creation in 2019, Arudem—Uganda’s first professional gaming and e-sports brand—has morphed from a hobby for gamers to a vibrant pop culture engine.
Currently administered by a 10-strong team, Arudem has managed to build a community of about 5,000 individuals across the globe.
“We have received mostly positive feedback from our gaming community,” Ivan Kibuuka, the Arudem founder and team leader, tells this publication, adding, “We have found that people want to be affiliated with Arudem because then they’ll be seen as that person who is the cool gamer.”

Kibuuka says Arudem has “invested a lot in refining all our visual brand identity touch points to embody” coolness.
“We have found that it’s a little difficult for people who are not interested in gaming to wrap their heads around the concept, therefore, an opportunity for us to bridge this knowledge gap,” Kibuuka says of the non-gaming community.

The most popular online video games are Battle Royals like Call of Duty: Warzone, Fortnite and Apex. First-person shooter games like Halo Battlefield and Call of Duty Multiplayer are also popular. 
“There is a good number of gamers using consoles and an even bigger number of gamers in our community using PCs because of the good graphics cards that are needed to play some of the current AAA titles like ‘Call of Duty’,” Kibuuka says of the gadgets gamers much prefer.
Such has been the growth that the Arudem Hangout will be launched this year at Fast Sports Fusion within the Design Hub on 5th Street, Industrial Area in Kampala.
Arudem will continue using its administrative office space on Old Port Bell Road in Kampala as its main office location. 

Although the digital art industry in Uganda is showing signs of growth and expansion, it is still dogged by a host of challenges. These revolve around lack of skilled labour, finance, data and exposure, clear definition of what this sub-sector is, female gamers, etc.
It also hasn’t helped matters that the Ugandan society still looks down upon the digital art industry that includes illustrators, animators, video game developers, graphic and motion designers, coders, videographers, photographers, and musicians, among others.
“Funding and exposure are the greatest challenges facing the digital art industry in Uganda. We learnt this after doing a survey at the beginning of the year,” Laurean Ntaate—the founder of Tribe Uganda, a creative’s guild association—tells this publication.

David Mugabo, an animator, graphic and motion designer, reckons the limited “appreciation for digital artists” translates to “their projects are getting less funding.”
“The market is still small because the audiences do not yet understand the power and influence animation has, and some audiences get challenged when it comes to picking animation for their projects,” Mugabo, the founding director of the Olijinz Studios in Kampala, says, adding that “high taxes and shipping costs have affected prices on the local market.”

Comic books
The same problems afflict the comic books sub-sector. Brian Humura, the founder of Kab Comics, says owing to this, few people “use comic books as a viable option for storytelling and communications.”
Unlike others, the digital creative economy was positively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. At least in Humura’s book.

“In a strange way, the Covid-19 pandemic might have enhanced the need for the digital creative economy. There were more funded projects that needed to be tackled by creatives participating in that space,” Humura says.
In its African Trade Report 2022 titled “Leveraging the Power of Culture and Creative Industries for Accelerated Structural Transformation in the AfCFTA Era”, the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank) notes that video gaming is emerging as an important source of skills development. It adds that gaming is a source of income for Africa’s youth. 

According to the Afreximbank report, globally, video gaming and e-sports generated a revenue of $1 billion in 2019. Africa’s video gaming industry is projected to grow 12 percent by 2025, led by South Africa and Egypt. The proliferation of video-gaming and e-sporting events has provided opportunities for youth to be identified and trained to compete on a pan-African and international level.

The Kab Comics stall where comic books and Nyege Punks NFT vests were on sale during the 2022 DigiArt Fest at Acacia Mall in Kampala. 

The growth of Africa’s video gaming industry is constrained by limited connectivity and soft infrastructure. Video gaming has empowered youth economically, socially, and creatively. Despite its popularity, the industry still suffers from lack of fast and stable Internet connections, soft infrastructure, and high tariffs on related equipment.
Ntaate tells this publication that the bottlenecks should be removed not least because the gaming industry “will not only create more opportunities but grow the economy as well.” 
Humura concurs, adding that “digital arts can generate employment opportunities for the youth through comic books, animation, Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) and filmmaking.”
Bastion for men 
The other challenge is that this sub-sector is still male-dominated. Ntaate believes women can be coaxed into the sub-sector “by creating tailored projects that involve the feminine gender and encouraging partnerships with women-based organisations.” 
Humura adds that women already participating in the industry should “encourage their peers to join by doing more training and providing employment opportunities.”

“The future of digital art is tending towards NFTs, in my opinion, because of the liberty they provide artists and not to mention solving the problem of ownership of digital assets,” says Natasha Karungi, aka Kashushu, a self-taught illustrator.  
Although adoption of NFTs is still in its infancy in Uganda, Humura reckons the country has “a crop of talented artists, who have made great strides in the industry.” He points to the presence of “two Ugandan-created NFT collections with our upcoming NyegePunks collection being the third.”

Digiart fest 

All of this comes after the staging of the sixth edition of Uganda’s annual comic convention of illustrators, animators and video gamers dubbed DigiArt Fest. The event was held from December 16 to 17, 2022, at Acacia Mall in Kampala under the theme “Digital Art, the next frontier.” The festival brought together the skills of creatives in animation, comics and video games under a common objective of uplifting the industry of digital art in Uganda.

The event opened with a game jam for video game developers from Uganda and other countries to create games that will be shared publicly on the www.tribe.ug website portal. Exhibitions from comic book artists and animators were showcased.  
The first edition of the event was held in 2017, and has over the years attracted thousands of visitors from all walks of life. The aim of the DigiArt Fest organised by Tribe Uganda is to promote collaboration among digital content creators and businesses from other sectors and a platform to showcase skills and production processes.

“We had more curious parents attend [in 2022], something that gives us hope for our future industry as we strive to involve more of the younger generation,” Ntaate reveals, adding, “Our attendance was lower this year due to the Ebola scare, but our online audience continues to grow.”
While Kibuuka was thrilled to exhibit “The Arudem Hangout”, Humura basked in the glory of showcasing “our awesome superhero series Ndahura and Tales our new comic book which sold out.”
Ndahura is our superhero fantasy series about the Batembuzi Dynasty, while Tales is our new series that features two short stories that are more grounded in reality,” he added. 

According to Humura, the NyegePunk prints showcased at the sixth staging of the DigiArt Fest allowed owners to be entered into an exclusive whitelist for the upcoming NyegePunks NFT collection that is due to be released next year. “The whitelist is an exclusive list of people who will have the privilege of seeing the entirety of the collection before the public and minting their preferred NFTs for close to nothing.”