Esports has been present since the 1900s, but it wasn’t until late 1990 that it started gaining popularity. The first recorded Esports tournament, the Intergalactic Space war Olympics, occurred at Stanford University in 1972. The game was titled Space war, and the prize was a one-year subscription to Rolling Stone magazine.
The Esports industry began to take shape during this period, developing into a more advanced professional industry that would amass millions of players and fans worldwide.
In Africa, however, Esports wasn’t widely recognised until 2017, when the Africa Esports Championship (AEC) took place. Before this, there were small-scale Esports events like the South African Gaming Championships (SAGC), which began in 2005 and was a notable tournament, the first of its kind on the continent.
The Gaming Championship featured games like Counter-strike, FIFA, and Unreal Tournament that had players from South Africa and neighboring countries participate in the event.
Another notable small-scale event that took place during this period was the West African Gaming Expo (WAGE). This began in 2013 and was aimed at promoting Esports in West Africa. The event featured exhibitions and tournaments such as FIFA, StreetFighter, and Call of Duty.
In 2017, with the launch of the African Esports Championship, which featured several African countries, including Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria, and Tunisia, Esports events and gaming in Africa rose to a new level.
The AEC was broadcasted online to a global audience and featured games like FIFA, Mortal Kombat, and Call of Duty and had a prize pool of $10,000.
Gamers from Nigeria participated in several games, including FIFA and Mortal Kombat, where they performed impressively. Nigeria has been involved in other esports events and hosted the first African Games for Esports (AGE) in 2020.
The AGE featured over 300 players across Africa and was the first Pan-African Esports event in Lagos, Nigeria. The tournament took place in June 2020 and had players competing in games like Tekken, FIFA, PES, and Mortal Kombat.
The tournament was organized by the African Esports Championship in partnership with the Nigerian government and aimed to promote and develop Esports in Nigeria.
The African Games for Esports (AGE) featured individuals and teams with a prize pool of $50,000. The tournament was held online due to the Covid-19 Pandemic, with players participating from their respective countries, although the matches were broadcasted online for global audiences.
This event was a major milestone in the growth of Esports in Nigeria and Africa as a whole, as it helped in creating a platform for skilled African players to compete and showcase their talents while raising widespread awareness of the potential of Esports in Africa.
The Nigerian government and some privately owned organizations like Gamr Africa, having recognized the emerging trend in the Esports industry, have taken conscious steps both nationally and locally to avoid being sidelined.
Esports, which involves video gaming at a professional level compared to how video gaming was seen in past years as a leisure activity, can now be taken as a full-time professional job as it involves different players, from those developing the games to those providing platforms to play these games and the players themselves.
Nigeria has a large population and a massive percentage of young people with access to devices with at least one game on them. With time and continued practice, these young people keep improving at these games until they get to the stage where they can compete with their peers and those from other parts of the continent and earn from their wins.
The country is also replete with gaming centers and esports communities where young people can participate in different video game competitions to earn the title of the most skilled player, cash, or both.
Esports in Nigeria hasn’t gotten to where actors in the industry envisaged it to be at this time due to some challenges faced in the country, such as inconsistent electricity, slow internet speed, and low-end devices. However, the country is ranked as 117 among players from countries earning from the industry, with about 6 players earning a total of $15,666 from four tournaments, the highest award winning game being PUBG making up the total amount earned from Nigeria.
The country has to its advantage a growing population of young, talented and dedicated gamers who are working actively to change the narrative of the Esports community through improved internet services and advanced gaming technology. With time, gamers in Nigeria and Africa will gain the recognition they need and get the support they deserve.