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The story behind the FGC in South Africa

Where is Africa on the video game map? We have answers!

The story behind the FGC in South Africa

When you think about fighting games and their communities, the first regions that come to your mind are Asia (mainly Japan and Korea), USA (along with Canada) and Europe. Recently, thanks to great results of some players from South America, that region also got more interest than usual. Yet, there are still some places that we hardly hear anything about. Let’s dive into a relatively uncharted, yet very passionate territory. Let’s talk about a country far in the south: South Africa.

Before we start, we need to thank Sigma.G19 for reaching out and helping writing down the article (by actually passing me most of what you can read below) – you have our deepest gratitude. The amount of work you put in it leaves us speechless. Your help was invaluable.

Africa on the Video Game Map

EMEA is a term used more and more commonly these days, especially in relation to fighting games. However, from my experience, many people do not know what does it mean so let’s explain it before going further. As you probably know, Tekken World Tour events are split into 3 regions: Asia, the Americas, and Europe. What about Africa and the Middle East, you may ask – this is why we have “EMEA”. It stands for “Europe, Middle East, Africa” – as simple as it sounds, it is a name referring to all these regions in one. Whenever you see a PR/communication representative having these letters in their title, you know they have all of them on their plate. This means that even though we are thinking about Europe in relation to Tekken World Tour, what it actually means is “EMEA”. If you take a look at the 2018 TWT schedule, you can notice that the first European event took place in Kuwait. TWT rules also describe the “Europe-Africa-Middle East” region.

Even though Africa may be officially covered, South Africa is one of the regions without any official representative. Retail games are mainly distributed by 3rd party companies, rendering any kind of gaming cooperation a challenge.

The Golden Age of the Arcades

The story has been told by many people: it was amazing to live in the Golden Age of arcade games, but as the consoles’ popularity was rising, Arcades were slowly dying, along with some of the communities that were established when people were meeting in shops/malls and fighting for their lives (which were actually coins needed for extra continues). It was at that time when Street Fighter, King of Fighters, Mortal Kombat or Tekken started becoming recognized as a part of the pop culture. It was at that time where, regardless of whether it was Akihabara or New York, the Fighting Game Community was born.

When thinking about the Arcades, it’s not only Japan or the US where all the action was happening. Believe it or not but South Africa was also a part of the Golden Age of the Arcades. South African Arcades, such as “Magic Company” or “Wonderland”, have been providing tons of entertainment since the late 80s / early 90s. Possibly the most magical place was N1 City Mall Wonderland in Cape Town. Tons of space, with each area following a different theme (castle, space, underwater). There were 2 floors packed with hundreds of different games across a variety of genres. Built at the center of a mall and standing opposite to the food court and cinema – you can already see the picture of it working as a heart and soul of the mall, being able to attract many passersby.

N1 City Mall Wonderland in Cape Town

What was arcades’ key to success? Accessibility. While most households could afford some version of the NES (similar to some European countries like Poland, South Africa’s market offered some NES knockoffs), consoles like PlayStation or PlayStation 2 were at a price not too many could afford. Video game arcades, cabinets at 7Elevens or laundromats provided some ways to access video games without having to spend an excessive amount of money at once. Youngsters from low to medium income households were attracted. It is not even an exaggeration to say that there were actual homeless players who would come to the arcades and play at an amazing level since they had even less money to spend. The less you have, the more important the money becomes and the stronger you must become.

Fighting games benefited from that environment. If you were good and knew what to do, you could spend a lot of time. But once you hit the ceiling in terms of single-player experience, a whole new world was opening before you – the world of playing against human opponents, not bound to AI. Mortal Kombat 2/3, Street Fighter II, King of Fighters 98/2002, Tekken 3/Tag Tournament were extremely popular. You could hit up any of the big malls on a Friday/Saturday afternoon/night, place your token on the machine and then actually had to wait in line for your turn to play. There were just that many players.

Unfortunately, as the time passed, most arcades failed to update their games, what resulted in South African players missing out on games like Street Fighter III, King of Fighters XI or Tekken 6. It was around that time that most of the players chose one of the two paths: they either left the gaming scene or moved to consoles.

After the Arcades

There were many talented players during the arcade days, and while barriers still existed to those who wanted to continue playing fighters – like getting a console, the game, a controller of choice (even nowadays it is hard to get an arcade stick) and then finding players to play against – there were people determined to keep playing.

Tekken 3 was a blast among PlayStation users in any part of the globe and South Africa was no different. It was a great foundation for what was coming for future titles on consoles. Some players from the arcade days found one another and started a small offline session for various games. They also had a presence at LAN events, like the now-defunct Organised Chaos LAN in Cape Town.

Those continued for a while, largely for Tekken, but the FGC we know it today started with Cape Town Showdown (CTS) back in 2011, an event put together by Ryan “SAPhoenix” Williams.

Quite the turnout for the first CTS

Prior to CTS, there were no real tournaments covering multiple fighting games in Cape Town (or even South Africa as a whole)… so the local FGC had never really been connected in a way that emulated the days of the arcades. It was really hard for people to test themselves in a tournament setting. In 2011, Cape Town Showdown made the impossible reality, with Tekken 6, Street Fighter IV, Mortal Kombat (2011) and Marvel vs. Capcom 3 competitions. As years passed, more people were joining and more titles were added to the line-up: King of Fighters, Soulcalibur and Guilty Gear.

Those were events made by players, for players – regardless of whether they were real friends or rivals. Players wanted to level up quickly and just hang out with others sharing common interests, so weekly offline sessions became the norm. It was finally the time for the community to celebrate together the games they love.

But everything comes at a cost. Everything related to Cape Town Showdown – tournaments and offline sessions – is completely non-profit. All expenses are on the tournament organizer who asked for hardly anything in return. When the word “passion” comes to your mind, it’s hard not to think about these people. Setups are donated by local players and overall tournament management is done by local players who are volunteering. External support is almost non-existent. There are some examples of events with some extra help, like a Mortal Kombat XL tournament where finalists from different countries traveled to Dreamhack Summer in Jonkoping in 2016 – an interesting fact, I actually met Sho_Kan, South Africa’s representative at that event – however, these examples are scarce.

Nevertheless, tournaments run by the community are always organized with a high quality in mind – international standard rules, insightful commentary, patched games with DLCs.

Coming back to Cape Town Showdown, the series gave birth to 6 big events, with many smaller activities in-between, such as offline session, ranbats, etc. And they played everything.

More videos can be found here.

Ryan continued serving the community as the primary TO up until 2016 when he had to step down to focus on studies and his career. He is still an active member of the FGC, he just doesn’t organize tournaments anymore.

When Ryan stepped down, it was Nicholas “Ennohex” Muir who continued his legacy and became the Cape Town Showdown TO, having already run CTS3 in the past. Ennohex has done his best for the community, providing equipment for the commentary (consoles, monitors, quality stream headsets), running offline sessions for 3 years and is probably the most reliable person in the South African community.

A snapshot from CTS3

SA and African FGC Nowadays

In the past few years, the SA FGC has grown quite a bit. Aside from happenings in Cape Town, the biggest local FGC areas are located in Johannesburg (with monthly sessions and tournaments at the Nexus), Port Elizabeth, East London, and Durban. RagnaXBL and TheLydonKing try their best to make things happen in Johannesburg through Johannesburg BeatDown. For Port Elizabeth’s FGC, Elamac is the head of Plan G. They really put a lot of heart in what they do.

The main method of communication is the South African FGC discord server, boasting over 800 members. It was opened in late 2015 / early 2016, at the beginning of Street Fighter V days. Its original intention was to make people across platforms get in touch – even though SFV can be played between PC and PS4 players, there is no mean of communicating across these two other than generic messages. The server kept growing and it eventually became a place for the whole SA community. What really helped here in the early days was SFV’s Capcom Fighters Network’s feature to select a flag from the country a player is in/from – something that, in my opinion, should be present in all modern fighting games… do you remember World Tekken Federation back in the first year of Tekken Tag Tournament 2 console release?

In the beginning, I mentioned that Africa, in general, is a part of the EMEA region. But if you look at the TWT rules, there is no online tournament for the Africans. One of the reasons might be the Internet connection, which is not of the greatest quality. Even finding ranked games can be difficult, so people focus on casual lobbies. Regardless, online tournaments do happen, with this year bringing around 10 streamed tournaments so far, including a Skullgirls tournament sponsored by Mike Z, with a signed copy of Skullgirls from Lab Zero for the winner.

Sigma has spent the last year and a half doing research on the African continent as a whole – we hope some of you will find these links useful. Other than that, you will always find someone on the discord server.

Random Select 4

When Cape Town Showdown took a bit of rest after CTS6 in 2016, there wasn’t really a fighting game tournament in Cape Town. A large part of that was due to people waiting for the next Tekken (TTT2 at that point did not generate that much interest), many players did not carry over from SFIV to SFV. The scene went through a bit of a reset.

To keep things going and find out which games there was any interest in, Sigma proposed the idea of another tournament series, focusing on the growth of smaller/unknown games alongside the already-established games. Random Select was the result, with the first even happening on December 9th, 2017.

Random Select 3 got a lot of attention from passersby

Origin of the name? The fact that KoF players in South Africa play randomized teams to show a mastery of all the characters. There were many strong KoF players in the area many years ago and they were doing this. Additionally, KoF happens to be one of the games Sigma spent most of his time playing as a child, so he named it as such. SNK also sponsored the first Random Select, which featured Tekken 7 and King of Fighters XIV.

RS1 had 39 participants for Tekken 7 and 34 participants for KoF XIV. For someone from Asia or US these numbers may be low, but for people in South Africa, they were truly remarkable. There was also international competition in the form of a Thai Tekken Legend, “Di Llong”, who was a part of the SA FGC 5 years ago and became friends with local players. Nowadays he goes by the name CTS|HachiBachi.

So the idea was simple: host a popular game alongside a title had hasn’t received as much attention, in order to bring some spotlight to a smaller-scope game. If there was enough interest, smaller games could receive their own events so that they could receive the full attention they deserved.

Random Select 2, called Random Select Z, was a release event for Dragon Ball FighterZ, organized at UCON, an otaku and gaming event at the University of Cape Town.

Random Select 3 was a Tekken 7 exclusive event, hosted at the Sun Exhibits at GrandWest Casino.

And now, in just under a year, Random Select 4: The Fourth Dimension is happening. Featuring both Tekken 7 and DBFZ, the two games that they have focused on for the past 12 months. When the registration opened, 22 people signed up and the estimated number of participants may be around 50 or even more.

Random Select 4 also introduces an area for people to just bring their setups and play. While the tournament is the main attraction for these events, Random Select is more like a celebration of fighting games than just a tournament series. They want the community to get together and play the games they love, with people who share their interest for more than just games that are being featured at the tournaments. And this is the essence of the Fighting Game Community.

The Final Words

We are nearing the end of the article and one thing is certain: activities in the South African FGC (and Africa, in general) still don’t have enough spotlight. If you want to keep in touch with them, make sure to follow their social media accounts: Twitter, Instagram, YoutubeTwitch, and Facebook.

It is true that Random Select 4 takes place on the same day as Tekken World Tour 2018 Last Chance Qualifier in Amsterdam, but make sure to at least watch the rebroadcast of the event. We are sure it will be a blast!

I really hope that the African FGC will keep growing and who knows, maybe one day we will see a Tekken World Tour event in Africa? Fingers crossed, my friends!

Last but not least, here are some closing words from Sigma:

While I am Tournament Organiser for RS, nothing would possible without my FGC family that help with everything required for the tournament’s success – from running the brackets, donating setups and prizes… There is no hierarchy here – without even one of us, these events would not be possible. Most importantly, I pay my utmost respects to all those in the past who have put in the time and effort to keep the scene alive, not for their own furtherance but for the growth and longevity of the community.” 

My message to other smaller scenes is that, before all else, the players make the scene. So whether you are 5 or 50 players, keep playing the games you love and you’ll find something marvelous may come of it.

Former writer for SDTEKKEN, TekkenZaibatsu and 8WAYRUN. Used to play Tekken and Soulcalibur competitively, currently focuses on helping tournament organizers and the community in general.Works in the video game industry and has been credited in multiple titles, including Ultra Street Fighter IV, Street Fighter X Tekken (PC), Mortal Kombat XL (PC) and Injustice 2. Teaches math and English. Loves pandas, red sneakers and ice cream.

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