South African esports take centre stage
11 March 2021

Sam Wright

South African esports take centre stage

Sam Wright introduces us to some of the rising stars of South Africa's thriving e-sport scene.

The COVID-19 has of course had a massive global effect on how we do business and most industries have needed to pivot. But some areas have thrived in this time of uncertainty, none more so than esports, or competitive gaming. More people have picked up a controller during this pandemic and the esports industry has taken note.

True, the pandemic has also presented challenges – from travelling to compete at events to large broadcast teams being largely underutilised –but it’s also opened the door for South African players to make their mark. FIFA, specifically, has seen a huge boom during the national lockdown, with a new game released in October 2020 and a large number of opportunities for players to compete on a national and international stage. 

The launch of the new title in the popular football Sim franchise also heralded a change to the competitive aspect of the game in past years. With the pandemic affecting the globe, EA needed to change up the global competitions hosted in the past and move to a focus on virtual events. According to the League Operations Manager for FIFA Competitive Gaming Entertainment, Rushan Shekar, this meant a completely reimagined Electronic Arts (EA) Sports FIFA21 Global Series, with the focus moving to playing from home. This meant, for the first time in FIFA history, that South Africa was allocated three of its own qualifiers for the EA Sports FIFA21 Global Series. 

Over and above this, more South African tournament organisers began to realise the large player base of the game and, with that, even more competitions were introduced, including the Vodacom Super Cup with Mettlestate in 2020 and the eLaLiga Santander Fan Cup – an international competition organised by LaLiga and EA. South African FIFA players locally and abroad rose to the challenge and have put on incredible performances. Here are three SA players who are dominating South African esports:

Julio “The Beast” Bianchi

Hailing from Cape Town, Beast had a potential real-life football career before moving into esports. He’s currently in his final year of an accounting degree but still finds time to dominate the South African competitive FIFA scene. Beast has had an incredible FIFA21 season during lockdown. In November 2020 he claimed his initial “South African first”, going 30-0 in all his matches in the FIFA21 Weekend League and finishing in the top 50 FIFA21 players in the world for that weekend. He then claimed the GauFive FIFA21 eCup Grand Finals on Playstation in early 2021, taking home a winner’s purse of R10 000.

Beast is also one of the two South African FIFA players to qualify for the FIFA eClub World Cup 2021. He and teammate Kaylan Moodley were the first South African players ever to qualify for the event. During the group stages Beast also won two of his three games in fine style. While the pair didn’t progress, Beast has definitely made his mark on the international and local FIFA21 scene. He’s the player to beat if you want to make it to the top. 

Masoom Fakhi

Fakhi is signed to one of the biggest and most successful esports organisations in South Africa, Bravado Gaming. He’s been a competitive FIFA player for the past six years, winning numerous local tournaments, including qualifying for a Qatar-based EA event. Over the years Fakhi has always featured in the top players in South Africa but during the pandemic he cemented his position as one of the best in the region. While studying information systems at the University of the Western Cape, he also won the South African leg of the eLaLiga Santander Fan Cup Final. More than 21 000 players from Africa competed in the tournament and Fakhi won the African regional finals for South Africa.

He says he’s really excited to represent South Africa at an international event: “I’m so happy and excited I can’t put it into words – especially after such a tough game. We went into penalties and my heart was racing, but in the end, I managed to keep calm and get the victory.” With travel restrictions easing around the world, he’s now set to travel to Madrid for the 8 May Grand Final, which boasts more than R180 000 in prize money.  

Mohamed “KingCJ0” Alioune Diop

Two years ago well-known FIFA player KingCJ0 left South Africa to study in the USA. He also signed to the international football club DC United as their competitive FIFA player. When COVID-19 hit, KingCJ0’s dreams of travelling through North America to compete were put on hold. However, the Major League Soccer’s esports league, eMLS, pivoted in 2021 to offer a new online format so competitors from the 27 clubs in the league could play safely. As the DC United player, KingCJ0 competed in the eMLS League Series 2 Championship in mid-February.

The player made his way convincingly to the finals, where he lost 5-6 to New York City Football Club in a closely contested series. KingCJ0 says despite the hurdles COVID-19 has presented, he’s determined to fly the South African flag high internationally: “For my second year in the USA, after leaving South Africa to further both my studies and esports career, I think I’m on the right track and it can only get better from here hopefully. This is a good experience for the final main event, which will happen at the end of March.” 

KingCJ0 says he’s also proud of the South African FIFA players who continue to break barriers despite online tournaments putting many of the competitors at a disadvantage:

“I’m so proud of the lads back home. I personally know how hard it is to play in the conditions we’ve had in the past couple of years, hence my relocation ([King CJ0 is specifically talking about the ping and connection issues that plague many esports players based in South Africa]. Seeing them fight through the barriers in the eClub World Cup where all those connection issues are apparent because of the distance and them being located so far from the Middle East, is inspiring and should motivate every FIFA Gamer in Africa.

“They’ve made us vibrate, living every moment with them. I stayed up all night to practise with them before the competition so they could be ready for it. They fought hard and gave it their all. I have no doubt more South African FIFA players will make us vibrate as 2021 continues!” 

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Sam Wright