A professional gamer from Lagos has emerged victorious in a thrilling “Street Fighter” battle, eliciting thunderous cheers from the crowd. This momentous event, which would have seemed unimaginable just a few years ago, signifies the blossoming of eSports in Nigeria.
Located in an upscale district of Lagos, a futuristic-themed venue attracted several thousand visitors for a colossal video game tournament on Saturday. Throughout the day, exuberant young spectators cheered passionately as the competitors engaged in intense battles, accompanied by electrifying performances by local Afrobeats stars, Victony and Crayon.
The tournament featured popular eSports games such as “Call of Duty: Mobile,” “Street Fighter,” and “FIFA.” The extravagant spectacle of the event exemplified Nigeria’s ambitions to become a leader in electronic sports, despite the country’s economic and logistical challenges.
Presently, South Africa dominates the African eSports scene due to substantial investments, closely followed by Egypt and Morocco. Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Kenya also demonstrate promising growth. However, Nigeria possesses qualities that make its neighbors envious, yet its journey is not without hurdles.
Nigeria’s greatest strength lies in its massive population, surpassing 215 million inhabitants, making it the most populous country in Africa. Renowned for its competitiveness in business, sports, and music, Nigeria’s population is predominantly young, with three-quarters of its citizens under 25.
Kunmi Adenipebi, chief of operations at Gamr, the organization behind the tournament, admitted that determining the exact number of players in Nigeria is challenging. Estimates range from 60 million to at least 3 million players. The immense pool of Nigerian players can be attributed to the country’s broadband internet penetration, which currently stands at 48%, predominantly through smartphones, and continues to grow.
However, Nigeria’s potential is counterbalanced by widespread poverty, frequent power cuts, and subpar network quality. The country currently has a limited number of professional players, although the global COVID-19 pandemic has witnessed a steady rise in their numbers.
Chike Okonkwo, co-founder of Gamic, an organization promoting eSports, sees it as a tremendous opportunity to uplift Nigerian youth and alleviate poverty. He envisions eSports becoming a viable means of livelihood. On the tournament grounds, Akintoye Arogunmati, known as “The_Arogs,” one of Nigeria’s top professional “FIFA” players, shared his journey. With eyes fixed on the screen, the 25-year-old revealed that he earns an average of 300,000 naira (420 euros) per month, ten times the minimum wage.
While Arogunmati’s achievements are commendable, he acknowledges the numerous challenges he faces as a gamer in Nigeria. The high cost of equipment and generators, coupled with the scarcity of reliable electricity, poses significant hurdles. Additionally, the suboptimal network infrastructure inhibits the gaming experience for African players, who suffer from higher latency due to the geographical distance between their locations and the servers hosted in Europe, North America, or Asia.
Arogunmati expressed frustration, stating that the increased ping negatively impacts African players’ ability to compete on an even playing field. Despite the dazzling neon lights and state-of-the-art screens that adorn the tournament venue, professional players lead a contrasting reality. Even for champions, life as a gamer offers little enjoyment, and the rewards are disproportionately low.