Mind Sports South Africa: bringing gaming further into the mainstream

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Since 2005, students have been able to earn their national colours for gaming, which enables them to apply for university bursaries under the “sports” category. They’ve even been able to earn Protea Colours for representing the country at international events. That’s because gaming is no longer a pastime enjoyed only by a small handful of people; no, gaming is now so mainstream, it has been recognised by the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee recently as a “Category One” sport, which puts it on par with sports like rugby, cricket and tennis.

Robert Botha and Ian Pillay at the Protea Awards 2011
Gamers Robert Botha and Ian Pillay received their Protea Colours in 2011.

These developments are thanks in large part to an organisation called Mind Sports South Africa (MSSA), and particularly its President Colin Webster, who had been campaigning since 1998 to get gaming – also referred to as “esports” – recognised as a legitimate sport worthy of the same accolades and opportunities afforded to traditional athletes. The success of the campaign marked a distinct change in the perception of gaming, and MSSA has worked tirelessly ever since to bring it ever more into the mainstream.

The organisation was founded in 1985, and has been an affiliate of the South African Confederation of Sport and Olympic Committee since 2005, when its mandate was to govern and promote board games and table top war games. In 1998, MSSA’s mandate was extended to cover electronic gaming as well, and since then gaming has experienced a meteoric rise to mainstream acceptance. Today, many international tournaments are held annually where gamers gather to compete for money, prizes and bragging rights. Some gamers even play for a living, thanks to corporate sponsorships.

In an interview with HTXT, Colin Webster said that while South Africa is behind the rest of the world in terms of its acceptance of gaming as a mainstream sport, things are slowly improving. He says companies like MWEB certainly see the value of gaming in general, as they support the South African gaming community by running local servers for the most popular online games. MWEB also supports MSSA in getting local gamers to international competitions, where they play in Starcraft II, DOTA and Counterstrike tournaments against teams from other countries.

Through efforts like these, the international exposure South African gamers are getting is improving, which in turn improves their skills. Webster pointed out that at last year’s IeSF World Championships in South Korea, 15-year-old local gamer Gabriella Isaacs placed second in the Starcraft II women’s division, and our very own (and only) professional gamer, Robert “PandaTank” Botha was ranked the 12th-best Starcraft II player overall.

MSSA also brings international pro gamers to South Africa to play our best and brightest in a further bid to expose our players to international competition. The most recent import was Romanian Starcraft II player, Silvu “Nightend” Lazar, who spent time at a few local schools telling kids about professional gaming this past March. His trip wrapped up with a competition held at Internet Solutions in Johannesburg, in which he worked his way through a host of local Starcraft II gamers, culminating in a showdown with PandaTank, which he won.

Webster went on to say that today’s schools are much more accepting of gaming as a legitimate pastime, although there is still work to be done to improve things further. Many schools now have esports clubs whose members participate in inter-school events like the upcoming National Schools Championship being held on the 21st of September.

The next Mind Sports SA event will be held between August 3rd and August 10th, 2013, and it will be an online Starcraft II tournament that is open to any South African high school student. MSSA will arrange and co-ordinate the event, which will run via European Battle.net servers. Participants will have the opportunity to earn their provincial colours for playing, and medals will be awarded for 1st, 2nd and 3rd places in both the men’s and women’s divisions.

While esports is not quite popular enough that school teams are accompanied by hordes of pupils egging them on with war cries, it’s certainly in a much better place now than it was ten years ago thanks to organisations like MSSA and the hard-working people behind it.

For more information on the competitive gaming scene in South Africa, including details on all upcoming MSSA events, head on over to the official Mind Sports SA website.

Deon du Plessis

Deon du Plessis

Deon got his first taste of PC gaming at the tender age of 11 when his father bought an 8088 XT, ostensibly to "help him with his homework". Instead, it introduced him to Leisure Suit Larry, King Graham, Sonny Bonds and many more, and Deon has been a PC gamer and hardware enthusiast ever since. He landed his first professional writing gig in 2006 at a prestigious local PC magazine, a very happy happenstance as he got to write for a living about things he loves - tech, PCs, gaming, and everything in between. He's been writing about it all ever since, and loves every minute of it.

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