Online gaming has been a global trend for a while now. These games, which include action, adventure, simulation and role-playing, are played on platforms such as PCS consoles and, lately, mobile devices. Professional gamers play either for fun or for competition, usually with attractive monetary rewards.
The Pro Series Gaming (PSG), local gaming organising company, tournament held in Nairobi on April 7 had the highest cash prize in the region yet, with Sh1 million up for grabs.
Zambian Justin Banda won the tournament that brought together 39 gamers from East Africa. He was followed by Kenya’s William Omondi and Zambia’s Zaza Mwalele in second and third positions, respectively. Other Kenyans were Brian Diang’a, Adam McLaude and Baraza Jonah in sixth, seventh and eighth positions, in that order.
A little over a decade ago, gaming was virtually an unknown phenomenon among Kenyans. When gaming companies set up base in Kenya in 2007, it was an astonishingly ambitious move, potentially risky and nearly hopeless — since this arena was really off the beaten path.
Now, the local gaming landscape has transformed on a scale even the pioneers hadn’t foreseen, supported by the presence of high-speed internet connection and gaming cafes, such as Tric, that have set up base in various parts of the city to tap into the fast burgeoning number of Kenyan online gamers.
Kenya is now the fourth most popular gaming hub in Africa. The country has hosted two international gaming competitions so far, a feat unmatched on the continent.
Corporate sponsorship from entities such as telecommunications firm Liquid Telecom Group, who have provided high-speed internet connection during major gaming competitions in Nairobi, have been pivotal to this growth.
“While it is an emerging industry in Kenya and East Africa, gaming is now growing at an annual rate of more than 25 per cent, with African games and gamers moving into the global arena,” says Liquid Telecom Group's Chief Technical Innovation Officer Ben Roberts.
By the end of 2013, the video gaming industry in Kenya was worth $44 million (Sh4.4 billion) according to estimates from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), a figure that is expected to triple by 2020. Globally, gaming generated a total of $108 billion (Sh109 trillion) in revenue in 2017.
The development of the country’s digital infrastructure, notably the introduction of broadband internet in 2009 by the government, helped to accelerate gaming in Kenya, according to experts.
“No one imagined that by 2015 Kenya would be blazing the trail in the gaming front, not just in the region but on the continental scene as well. The growth has been accelerated by government support, corporate grants and shared spaces,” says James Karanu, a pioneer gaming investor in Kenya.
Today, gamers can find games and other players online on mobile games, PlayStation, Xbox and PC.
Besides e-sports, cosplay is fast emerging as the other favourite genre of gaming among local fans. Cosplay, a portmanteau of the words “costume” and “play”, is a practice which traces its origin from Japan. Participants, called cosplayers, wear costumes and other accessories of animation characters in anime, cartoons, comic books, TV series and video games.
Penny Njuma is a communication officer at PSG. She narrates: “In Kenya, the practice started at the Japanese Embassy as a cultural event. It was then a minor affair before Naiccon tapped into it and released it for trial in the Kenyan market.”
The decision was a masterstroke.