Tuesday 13 October 2015

Things don't come easy

Gaming has always had a problem in South Africa, whether it be the poor infrastructure, the high unemployment rate, the (at times) unreliable electricity supply, ping so high that most people from around the world would just find it totally unacceptable, or being just so far away from the mainstream.

However, we consider the above-named problems to be character forming (what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger!).

But there are advantages too!

South Africa has a wonderful piece of legislation called the Sports and Recreation Act, number 110 of 1998.

This Act makes government recognition of sports and sporting bodies almost automatic as long as the criteria are met.

Thus in South Africa, the national association called Mind Sports South Africa (MSSA) came into being in order to fight for accreditation for various types of gaming. Obviously there was resistance from the
status quo, but through dogged perseverance over a six-year period, the establishment finally caved in and gave the recognition that was being requested.

That of course meant that MSSA was dragged in to all the political issues of the time. The issues were obviously to do with apartheid and the abolishment of the same. It should be noted that MSSA was even present at the meeting featured in the film '
INVICTUS' wherein President Nelson Mandela had to personally intervene in order to allow the national rugby federation to keep the 'Springbok' logo.

Thus eSports in South Africa enjoys the full benefits of being a fully accredited sport as much as what rugby, swimming, football, and tennis are considered to be.

And, there are many benefits to being seen as a fully accredited sport.

Through the accreditation a lot of the 'sting' of being so far removed from the mainstream is much diminished. As an accredited sport MSSA has been able to organise and run Regional, Provincial, and National Championships throughout South Africa, but to also initiate school championships and leagues with the full blessing of the Ministry of Education. The level of accreditation at school level is important for the growth of competitive gaming, and MSSA is currently, thanks to its sponsor MWEB, involved in a programme designed to develop gaming clubs that are based at schools.

Thus through the fully accredited events gamers are able to earn colours, and those colours are then as good as hard currency insomuch that gamers can, and do, obtain sports bursaries to attend university.

So while there are few competitions that can support sustainable prize money, gamers are offered a huge incentive to win awards that will give them the opportunity of studying further. Thus the MSSA is able to create systems that lead to more than just gaming, but to careers that can ensure the long-term sustainability of gaming in South Africa.

The formal accreditation also allows MSSA to unlock access to the National Lottery.

In fact any club in South Africa which is affiliated to MSSA is able to apply for R200,000.00 in funding per annum. However there are criteria that need to be applied. The criteria include a developmental programme must be in place and that the club must have audited financial statements. Should the criteria be met the club may receive funding that has to be spent on equipment, kit, travelling expenses and entrance fees.

The lottery funding thus is a huge benefit for those clubs that are doing things within the legal framework, while those clubs that barely pay lip service to what is legal cannot, and do not, get a 'look-in'. Of course anyone in the gaming industry is well aware that it is those who are the least compliant who are often the most vocal.

But without doubt, the most important development is the actual formation of MSSA itself. Through having a democratic institution to which the member clubs are affiliated, each and every gamer is able to have a say on what is done, how it is done, and who does it.

It is only through such a type of association that the gamer really can make him/herself heard in a forum in which decisions are taken. It is through this type of structure that the gamer can take control over their own futures and help push gaming in the direction that they want to see it go.

Such a structure too creates a greater protection for the gamer as the organisation is not owned by anyone. No-one has a vested interest in it or may make financial gain from it. Its sole purpose is to serve the gamer.

However, it must be remembered that the organisation itself is a product of its environment, and even with its accreditation, there are still great challenges that lie before it.

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