A battle rages between two factions in South Africa’s competitive gaming scene.
On the one side, there are those who affiliate with Mind Sports South Africa (MSSA), lech helps run school leagues and lets gamers earn national and provincial colours.
Locking horns with the MSSA are professional gamers, and those who play in private leagues such as the Telkom DGL.
This is not a uniquely South African problem. As nAvTV CEO Nathaneal Slabbert recently told MyGaming, the best eSports teams in the world currently are not teams representing their countries.
However, the strength of South Africa’s national teams is at the root of the issue pro gamers have with the MSSA.
As Slabbert put it, being ranked 12th in the world is great for the MSSA, but the simple truth is that the teams they have sent overseas have not been our best.
“Which is a problem,” Slabbert said. “We should be ranked higher.”
Begging the question
While pro gamers raise valid concerns about the MSSA, the statement that we do not field our strongest possible national teams is never backed up with any more detail.
The MSSA holds play-offs in which its members may compete, and then selects teams based on the results.
Pro gamers seem to have an issue with affiliating with the MSSA, but whenever I’ve asked what exactly the issue is, I don’t get a specific answer.
It’s not the cost, as according to the MSSA’s website, it costs R100 per year to affiliate a club, and another R80 per year for members of clubs that are no longer at school.
“The MSSA has a specific set of rules and guidelines which teams do not agree with,” Slabbert told MyGaming. He said that this restricts players and teams to a certain degree.
“eSports is such a new and developing sport, that to apply conventional ways of thinking and rules to it, does not help its growth.”
Pro gamers bemoan the strength of our national eSports teams, but then also refuse to participate in the organisation that selects the squads.
The real issue
While team selection might come up as the main point of contention between the MSSA and pro gamers, the real heart of the issue is about how the two groups define “development”.
Both claim to want to develop eSports in South Africa, but each defines the term differently, whether they realise it or not.
For pros, development is linked directly to investment. The more money is poured into eSports, the better our teams will become.
Better prize money means more commitment. More money means the potential to play full-time, which should translate into more skilled players. It also means more international exposure, which all our local teams could use.
For the MSSA, however, development takes on a very different meaning.
It means running school leagues, and affording those who may not have access to a PC or console at home an opportunity to develop their skills.
As the recognised body for selecting South Africa’s national mind sports teams, the MSSA also has to deal with the same bureaucracy as our other national teams.
That means having to answer to government on topics like transformation, and everything that goes with it.
The pay-off is being able to hand out national and provincial colours, which in turn allows eSports to be recognised as a sport in schools.
Can’t we all just get along?
The bureaucracy that goes with being the selector of national teams is not something that professional gaming organisations want to be saddled with.
From where I’m sitting – comfortably in the middle of this thing – professional gaming organisations and the MSSA have two very different missions, and fulfil two very different roles.
The pros want more money in the system to encourage those already performing well to perform even better on the international stage.
The MSSA wants to develop gamers from a young age to the point where they may be able to represent the country.
Why can’t these two goals coexist? If the two sides work together, they could be so much greater than the sum of their parts.
Sadly, it seems the chances of that happening are slim.