If you hadn’t noticed, esports is kind of a big deal.
Stretching around the world, the community gets bigger every day. There’s earning potential, millions of fans and brand placement keeping everyone happy in the global market. I mean, who isn’t in on this?
Say what you want about 2020 but to put things in perspective, the gaming industry saw — to no one’s surprise — another boom in revenue having risen to nearly $180 billion worldwide. Yes…it’s that big. But while the majority of top players are based out of the U.S. and Europe, the gaming community is seeing significant growth coming out of Africa.
Now, it should be noted that the upswing in gaming in Africa was predicted by Research and Markets in their August 2020 report. The consulting firm forecasted a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12% between 2020 and 2025 with South Africa and Egypt at the forefront. But outside of those provinces, the community is sparse.
That is until a pair of promising gamers from Kenya picked up a controller and began making waves. Thanks to Sylvia “Queen Arrow” Gathoni and Brian “Beast” Diang’a, eastern Africa is on its way to becoming a centerpiece of the continent’s growth. And their lights are burning as bright as any others.
Laying down the law — literally — is 22-year-old phenom Sylvia Gathoni. Playing under the gamer tag “Queen Arrow” (yes, Oliver-Queen-inspired), Gathoni daylights as a law student at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa. But in her “grind time,” she’s a Tekken dynamo having participated and succeeded in several tournaments.
Gathoni is considered a trailblazer for women in esports as she is one of only a few female gamers in all of Africa. While she may be outnumbered (only 35% of gamers worldwide are female), she’s determined to inspire other females to become part of the community.
“There are very few female eSports players in Kenya. I can chalk it up to societal mindset that it’s a “guy thing,’” Gathoni says in an interview with KenyaBuzz. “Sometimes I feel that I have to work extra hard to prove that I’m just as good if not better than most of the guys in the industry.”
Gathoni drew influence from her elder brother having spent their early years flying through game cartridges and discs with flashing iconic names like Super Mario and Contra. But once they acquired a Playstation 2, she took an immediate liking to the iconic fighting franchise Tekken. It was through this violent tournament style game that she would begin her fight to the top.
In 2016, her first year in college, she realized her potential and began searching for esports tournaments. And by 2018, Gathoni had hit her stride and become the first woman in East Africa to be sponsored by a global brand — U.S.-based XiT Wounds. As we move into 2021, she has no plans to slow down and instead continues to prove how much women belong in the gaming arena.
“I can hold my own against the boys,” Gathoni says.
And when it comes to goals, she has one thing and one thing only in mind.
“Be the best. That’s all there is to it.”
Gathoni’s Kenyan counterpart, Brian “Beast” Diang’a found the inspiration to become a gaming success in his own backyard.
Born and raised in Kibera, considered one of the most poverty-stricken areas in Kenya, Diang’a grew up with the mindset that the only place to go was up.
“The good thing about Kibera is you are low and you can’t go any lower than where it is,” Diang’a says in an interview with CNN. “The only place left for you to go is to go higher. So I just kept pushing myself and telling myself I don’t have limits.”
Diang’a’s love for gaming began as a child in one of the few positive outlets in Kibera; a gaming area called “After Homework” where he picked up Nintendo handheld consoles. Using this time to stay out any potential trouble, he found purpose in the booming industry. Unfortunately, Diang’a was unable to afford a console of his own, so he spent countless hours scouring the internet for game tutorials and observing other pro gamers. Soon enough, it would all pay off.
In 2014, Diang’a entered his first local tournament. And then another. And another. It wasn’t long before the “Beast” moniker hit the airwaves and became a thing of legend.
Today, he has more than lived up to the name as he is currently one of the most accomplished Mortal Kombat players in Kenya. Since his rise to prominence, he’s used his success to give back to his birthplace, where he still resides, in the form of tournaments that continue to rise in participation numbers.
“”When the first tournament was held in Kenya, I think the registration at most was 12 people,” Diang’a says. “Currently I work with Pro Series Gaming and every week we host tournaments for different platforms — mobile, PC, and console.” He states that tournaments have had as many as 50 participants at a time.
While the country struggles in the online arena due to its lack of resources, it is people — no, heroes — like “Beast” and “Queen Arrow” who can help bring the continent together and bring their esports community into a new era.