From geeks to superstars: the tale of professional gamers

Video game culture has also evolved over time hand in hand with internet culture as well as the increasing popularity of mobile games. Many people who play video games identify as gamers, which can mean anything from someone who enjoys games to someone who is passionate about it. And now Ethiopians are slowly becoming part of this subculture, writes Meheret Selassie Mekonnen.

Around 40,000 people are gathered at a massive sporting arena, cheering at the top of their voice. Judging by the size of the sporting facility and the number of spectators one would easily assume an international sporting event; perhaps a topflight soccer match or world class athletics event. One could not have been more wrong. And that person would start to realize that, soon as he starts to take notice of the composition of the crowed.

Most of spectators are seen dressed in costumes from a famous sci-fi or superhero movie. And the setup of the sporting facilities with mammoth TV screen dangling from the roof is surely not customary to regular soccer or athletic arenas. As soon as images of youngsters, who look nothing like the famous Christiano Rolando, Lionel Messi or athletic sensation Usian Bolt, appeared on the big screens, everyone would stop cheering and hold their breath. This is odd, one would remark.

Yes, it is the big day for the international electronic gaming community. It is an equivalent of the world championship in the gaming world. Most anticipated matchup between two gamer teams to clinch what is called the League of Legends.  The crowed grins and chuckles at every move the gamers make; and then quite down to grasp the balance of the match in progress. For sure, one has to be a gamer of some sort to even understand what was unfolding in the sporting arena.

This part of the world stayed away from the spotlight many years ago; but not anymore, it seems. A case in point is a recent documentary by Vice News entitled “The Celebrity Millionaires of Competitive Gaming”, which went viral upon its release. Nevertheless, professional gamers, as they are called, command a personal clout not less than those in the mainstream sports these days.     

“With hundreds of millions hard-core gamers and thousands of global tournaments each year, computer games are on their way to becoming the world’s biggest sports,” Matt Shea, reporter for Vice News, would comment.

The tournament took place in Seoul, 2014 in South Korea. It was the first time where League of Legends World Championships was held. The finalists topped 70 million gamers from different countries across the globe. Needless to say, the final match between “Samsung White” and “star horn royal” gamers’ groups was a highly anticipated climax for a year in the gaming community.

Known as the eSports or electronic sports, these days gaming is considered to be a sport and not only personal entertainment. Some 27 million people around the world watched the League of Legends final online. Not to mention, the capacity crowd at the sporting arena which was the same stadium that hosted the World Cup finals some years ago. And after hours of tough combat, “Samsung White” won a million dollars.

Similar tournaments are frequently held by different companies. The interest in eSports is surging from time to time as it is a profitable business. Last year, the global eSports industry generated revenue of 748.8 million dollars. Asia is the leading eSports market with over 321 million dollars in revenue. In addition, as of 2015, video games generated sales of up to 74 billion dollars annually worldwide.

Gamers who win such battles are treated more than pop stars. Fans line up to take pictures with them. The international media awaits their press conferences. Nevertheless, when hearing the term gamers, one might still imagine a teenager glued to a computer, who rarely leaves their bed room and a bit socially awkward. While it might be true for some gamers, the reality for the professional gamers is far from this.

Famous gamers earn millions. They have followers from around the world. Thousands attend gaming battles and millions watch gaming live stream. The fights, the shootings, the killings, the strategic thinking and everything about gaming attract gamers. Going from one stage to the other and team work is what they live for.

Gifted gamers take gaming as their profession and train hard. Of course, not all succeed. Some teenagers have gone to rehabs because of addiction to gaming. However, those who can find the balance rise to the top. It seems like the so-called geeks are the new cool kids on the block.

No doubt, the new eSports magna is coming to Africa; and most recently closer to home.  The Ethiopian gamers’ scene has not reached this level yet; but, it sure is rising. It all started with few gamers who used to meet up for a friendly match. Through time the competition started to attract other gamers as well.

Passionate gamers such as Simegn Tadese decided to create a venue for these gamers and now they have an event called named D5 Game Con. Simegn and his friends rent a café, organise the electronic devices needed and seats, then they send out invitations with their Facebook page and Viber group known as Ethio-Gamers. This biweekly gaming match is now held at Morning Star Mall. These gamers bring their own rigs to the venue and battle all day.

Strategy, First person Shooter and FIFA are among the renowned games they play. Winners get nothing except the respect of the other gamers; and it means a lot in the gaming community. Simegn says: “Each gamer pays 90 birr as entrance fee. That is spent on food and drinks. If we had adequate budget the games would have been for a prize.”

To the contrary, many professional gamers such as Carlos Rodriguez a.k.a Ocelote, Jhonatan Wendel (Fatality), Matt Haag (NaDeSHoT), Jang Moon Ho (Moon), and Saahil Arora (UNiVeRsE) are among the richest sports personalities these days.

Giant companies like Sony, Microsoft and Warner Bros. invest significantly in video games. Besides introducing new games periodically, huge companies sponsor and award gamers as well.

Coming to Africa, South Africa and Nigeria show a promising involvement in the gaming industry. According to Simegn, even though it’s a long way to go, their event can grow in to encompassing gamers from around Africa. Their prime challenge is securing sponsors. He hopes local or international companies see the potential in the gaming industry in Ethiopia and lend their support.

Though, there are many gamers in Ethiopia who play in high schools, colleges and workplace, there isn’t any well-organized platforms. Some gamers go online looking for a challenger; mostly outside of Ethiopia. Events like D5 Game Con are anticipated to be the place for gamers. Now there are around 50 gamers attending the event. However, the event is marred with many problems like poor internet connection and frequent power cuts. And yet, it seems the passion has helped the group to see beyond the obstacles.

“If the opportunity presents itself, there are many gamers in Ethiopia who could battle in gaming tournaments. If there are appropriate venues with all the required equipment for them to train, the day where we see Ethiopian gamers in international arenas will not be far off,” Simegn explains. They also have a plan to organize tournaments and transmit live on YouTube for the international gaming community.

The gaming industry harbours many programmers, game designers and other professionals with related skills. Some Ethiopians are following the game making path. There are a few games launched and websites like that provide video games, gaming consoles and controllers. In the website, Injustice Play Station CD is sold for 1,000 birr and Sony Play Station 3 for 8,000 birr.

Programmer Yafet Getachew is a hard core gamer. He has developed a 2D game for mobile and is in the process of developing another one. He says there are a few talented IT professionals working on games, but lack of up-to-date equipment challenges them. On the other hand, those who have succeeded in making a game do face another obstacle - getting a licence. “In order to get a licence, the game has to be published on the internet. To do that, we need a credit card system. And that is not available in Ethiopia,” Yafet explains.

Yafet started playing computer games when he was six years old. He remembers the very first game he played—Rambo, the game was released after the movie Rambo. He fell in love with gaming as soon as he first touched a joystick. He studied computer science due to his passion for gaming. Like Simegn he hopes Ethiopian gamers would make it to the top. He appreciates the D5 Game Con and thinks it will be a platform to bring about best of the best.

Gamer Bede Adam a.k.a. Douchepool agrees with Yafet. He believes the more gaming events the better. However, he stresses the need for competition besides friendly battles. “Gaming events could also pave the way to get original games. If the organizes raise enough money they can purchase original games, of which we are short around here,” Bede explains.

According to him, most gamers play the fake version of games since the original ones are expensive. In addition to the cost, most original games are purchased online with a credit card. The lack of this system hinders gamers from getting access to original games. In this regard, gamers who have relatives abroad has a better chance.

Bede is a big Fan of FIFA games and he once asked a relative to buy him one for 35 dollar. He plays daily at least for an hour. “I am very competitive and games engage me. For me, games have a certain driving force,’’ he says.

His passion for gaming has been part of his life for as long as he remembers and he wants to change the scene of Ethiopian gamers. He and his friends have a business plan in hand where game tournaments will be held and winners can be able to earn professional gaming laptops, headphones.

Previously, gaming tournaments with a prize haven’t been attempted in Ethiopia. Bede says now an individual who is a member of Ethio-Gamers Viber grouped has organized a onetime battle. Gamers will have to be in groups and battle in the game Dota 2 to earn 10,000 birr. The gamers in the group are currently practicing and the battle is expected to take place soon.

Bede is a kind of gamer who follows every tournament and newly realised games. He is now eagerly waiting for a game called No Man’s Sky, whose release has been anticipated in the gaming community for the past six years.

There are numerous subscribers like him who watch gamers online. Besides professional gamers, he also follows YouTube sensations like KSI who is well known with the gaming community for making fun of games and transmitting live on YouTube. KSI, a 22-year-old Briton, is now a self-made millionaire solely with income from live streaming. Online streaming Medias like Twitch also make as much and are esteemed by gamers.

Amid the few female gamers, Rediet Abate, an architect, a.k.a. Prodigy has been playing computer games since her childhood. She started up with a game sold along with Miyota DVD. She is now a member of gamers group called Tikur Anbesa (Black Lion). She and her fellow gamers play Clash of Clans game with other groups. Adwa, Axum, Abyssinians, The Walyas and Ethiopian Mob are some of the clans in Ethiopia.

Rediet says even if gaming is valued in the world, gamers could face problems from the society. Though gaming requires unique skills, it is often considered a child’s thing. “Many people think gamers are isolated from the society, but it isn’t true for all gamers. We have our own community that embraces us regardless of distance. For me, gaming is my passion and I just cannot stop,’’ she says. Though mostly regarded as geeky, she also enjoys reading comic books, especially those of Marvel’s. She is currently reading Sand Man.

She is only interested in playing games for the sake of her passion, but, she wishes to see those with exceptional skills be part of international tournaments. Like the other gamers, she is confident things will change in the near future.

There are different types of computer games varying in level and theme. For example, casual games are the easy ones - that can be played by anyone. Meanwhile, serious games are designed primarily to convey information to professionals. Educational games are aimed at improving science and technology.

Depending on the theme, characters, setting and goal of the game, few game types are action games, adventure games, action adventure games, role play games, simulation games, skillful thinking and vehicle simulation games. One of the earliest games Spacewar was famous in the 60s. The earliest known video game competition took place in 1972 at Stanford University playing Spacewar. The prize was a year's subscription of Rolling Stone Magazine. Things are changing now. Over time, technological advancement has improved the quality of games.

The number of video game developers and programmers is also increasing. Due to the wide acceptance of computer game, there are many video game museums around the world including the Computer Games Museum in Berlin and the Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines in Moscow and Saint-Petersburg.