We entered 2021 with a world shut down. South African esports has always been reliant on real life “LAN” events as a way to come together to play, but the competitive gaming industry needed to move online and the opportunities to travel overseas to compete against the best athletes in the world were gone. Being a country so far away from Europe, online competition is tough for our local players, as they face a massive ping disadvantage. Despite the hurdles, South African esports flourished in 2021 with great highlights we can all celebrate as we move into a new year.
Towards the end of 2021, as international travel opened up, so too did new opportunities for players wishing to qualify for globally recognised competitions. It was the South African Fighting Games Community that immediately stood up to be noticed. In the first-ever Capcom Pro Tour Online Qualifier for South Africa, Fulufhelo “BillyD” Mulaudzi claimed victory and will now be guaranteed a spot in the Capcom Cup VIII overseas in 2022. The Street Fighter player followed his victory by signing to South Africa’s most decorated multi-gaming organisation, Bravado Gaming. Bravado followed BillyD’s signing with the inclusion of Tekken player Farouk “DaXpt” Suleman.
DaX was the winner of South Africa’s Red Bull Hit the Streets, a victory he claimed without ever losing a match. Goliath Gaming player Jabhi “JabhiM” Mabuza claimed the Hit the Streets victory for the Street Fighter tournament, his third year winning the title. At the time of publishing both JabhiM and DaX were in Las Vegas to compete in the Red Bull Kumite Last Chance Qualifiers (their prizes for winning Hit the Streets). This will see both fighting games players go up against the best in the world in one of the most highly recognised international tournaments for their respective titles.
Julio “Beast” Bianchi entered the qualifiers for the FIFAe World Cup knowing he’d be the underdog in his group. The Goliath Gaming FIFA player had dominated local events and his online performance had him facing off against previous world champions in the West Asia Region Qualifiers. With a passive ping disadvantage, Beast dropped into the lower bracket early on in the weekend qualifiers, but he proceeded to fight his way through with a performance that dazzled and delighted.
The two players that made the Grand Finals would guarantee their spot in the FIFAe World Cup. Even with a bad connection, Beast scored in the final minutes of his semi-final, claiming a spot in the Grand Finals and the World Cup. An African player had never qualified for the biggest tournament in FIFA, until now. Making history was bittersweet, because of the pandemic the World Cup was eventually cancelled for 2021, but Beast is now primed to requalify in 2022 and show what South Africa can bring to the global FIFA stage.
After a remarkable showing from South African Rocket League teams during the 2021 Intel World Open Qualifiers, where the local contingent dominated the top spots in the regional qualifiers against other African and Middle East teams, it was announced that The Rocket League Championship Series would include South Africa. Many times global series seem to miss that the country has a small but passionate esports community and the decision was a huge boost to the title. South Africa will have 3 Splits of Regional Events, so while the region won’t be a full participant in the RLCS season, the two best performing teams in the Sub-Saharan African tournaments will be guaranteed two slots at the Rocket League World Championship Wildcard event in 2022.
2021 saw another first, with two South African esports players being named in the annual Forbes Africa 30 under 30 list. Esports players have not featured on the list in the past, but for 2021 FIFA players Julio “Beast” Bianchi and Thabo “YvngSavage” Moloi claimed the accolade usually reserved for achievers from Business, Technology, Creatives and Sports sectors. The 30 under 30 list is arguably one of the most coveted of the year and the two players inclusion is a sign of things to come - Esports is here to dominate in 2022 and our South African players are ready to show the world what we’re capable of.
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