MSSA SA Flag LogoI’ve avoided this issue that’s been eating away at our local eSports scene for a while now. However, maybe I can offer a new, slightly unique perspective on the organisation that “officially” controls eSports in South Africa. Mind Sports South Africa has been around longer than most of our readers have been alive. That doesn’t make them all that special, but it certainly makes them a dinosaur.

It has also been under the control of Colin Webster, who has been president for as long as the organisation has existed (14 December 1985 according to their Facebook Page). That was until December 2013, when new, young blood was voted in as president and Mr. Webster was assigned the role of General Secretary. Perhaps Mr. Webster would not have accepted this if it wasn’t for the simple fact that he had run out of terms to stand under the organisation’s constitution. Either way, conspiracy theorists have suggested that the newly appointed president (who is apparently still transitioning into the position) is merely a puppet controlled by the still ever-present Mr. Webster.

Simphiwe Maphumulo is the name of the new president, and he steps in to take over the organisation which is affiliated with SASCOC, and is the only organisation in the country that can issue players of “Board games, eSports, Robotics, and historical figure games (or Wargames)” their national colours.

The eSports community is currently on a rampage about how the organisation conducts itself and controls gaming, and to make matters worse, the new president is “new in the eSports arena,” but is “able to compete in Fifa and Tekken on a recreational level.”

eSports cannot therefore be considered high on his agenda, especially as he is a champion Morabaraba (board game) player who is “learning” as he goes along in eSports. Add the fact that the membership numbers of the MSSA are heavily weighted in favour of board games, it’s likely that the fight in eSports for better representation may be a longer one than expected.

Last year, a number of members from the Cape Town console gaming and eSports community decided to try to work with the MSSA to see if things could be changed from inside, as well as bring our expertise to the organisation. The group was made up of Glenn Alexander (2upGamers), Richard van Wyk (Games On), Nick Holden (Clan Hi5), myself and, later, a number of others.

We were trained as umpires and Glenn Alexander and Richard van Wyk were prepped as interim Western Cape Director of Gaming and Cape Town Director of Gaming respectively. In one of the first meetings with Mr. Webster, an interesting bit of information was revealed. The number of members in the MSSA was well over 32,000, but it was the way that number was made up that needs to be considered. 30,000 members were playing board games, while eSports only had 2,100 members.

That number of eSports players is well below the 5,700 players registered for this year’s DoGaming League. So why is the community so concerned with the MSSA and the way they operate, when it effects such a small group of players? Especially when the new president talks down to non-members, and the organisation only feels answerable to its members and not the public in general.

In choosing to answer only two questions from the more than 400 comments and queries generated by an article on MWEB Gamezone, it seems that Mr. Maphumulo is more interested in telling you to “take a hike” than engage in a constructive discussion about how to grow eSports in the country. It will take more than telling people you need to join to be able to comment on the organisation’s future (and then at threat of a contract that may or may not be enforced) that’s for sure.

MSSA_CT Regional_01I tried. As did the others last year. Cape Town saw four events operated by the team willing to “give it a try.” The first was the City of Cape Town Black Ops 2 Regional, which saw eight console teams also “give it a try”. Team XtaZ, who represented SA at the 2013 Call of Duty Championship, earned their regional colours and there was generally a feeling that it was a successful attempt at kickstarting Cape Town’s competitive scene with the MSSA.

In July, the FIFA 13 Cape Town Regional was held. This was then followed by the mainstream-news-bothering ‘North vs. South’ event hosted at both MWEB and the H.I.V.E. in Gauteng. In terms of marketing, one can claim it to be successful, but for some, the niggling suspicion that it wasn’t really doing any real good for the eSports community was starting to set in.

The wheels came off at the Western Cape Provincial Tournament when, after delays and short notice of the event, and amid some complaints by the female FIFA players of not getting their regional colours, only the Call of Duty console portion of the event really drew numbers. Colours were otherwise being awarded to players for simply turning up. All the while, advise against operating MSSA tournaments using the Swiss System and their flawed ruleset were being ignored, and the community (which featured around 50 signed up Call of Duty console players) in attendance decided they’d had enough of unanswered questions or evasive answers on how MSSA was planning to grow eSports in SA. As had the team that wanted to help. The tournament marked the end of the assistance of players and community members in Cape Town who were willing to volunteer their time and equipment.

Now, prior to this dissolution of a (slightly) functional partnership, there was a fair amount of positivity about what working with the MSSA could bring. National colours was a massively appealing one to many of the younger players, and none appeared bothered to pay for the annual membership. The possibility of real recognition for a generally maligned sport (or activity or even pastime if you prefer) was also appealing to the gamers, so it’s not clear what really went wrong.

Perhaps the old guard at the MSSA was too stubborn to hear what the players wanted. Maybe the players had too many expectations of how quickly change could be achieved. Whatever the reason, ask most of 2013’s MSSA members if they’ll be involved with the organisation again, and you will get a resounding “no!”

IMG_3473However, here’s the dilemma. In December last year, I piloted a school project. My thought was simple, do we really need the MSSA when others can simply do it themselves? Well, the issue is others can’t issue regional, provincial and national colours to pupils who can join the likes of the rugby and cricket players of the school and proudly display it on their blazers. And the pupils want colours. Of the 41 pupils surveyed on the day, 28 indicated that they would like the opportunity to play for colours, while many did admit to not knowing they could earn colours for “playing games” – a failing one can accuse the MSSA of.

The school program will be expanding in March, when I will take it to a new school, as well as return to the original school, where I will again survey the pupils. My belief is that this is where the MSSA may still have a role to play. If pupils want colours, then let the school affiliate with the organisation. Until another organisation can effectively get the backing of government and run trials to issue colours, who are we to stand in the way of growing eSports at school level by removing a reward that does not involve cash remuneration?

For those that would rather play for cash – or the opportunity to play in a major international event like ESWC or Call of Duty Championship – there are other organisations that already exist, and you don’t need the MSSA to OK it.

South African Flag_01Just remember that you can wear the SA flag proudly, but you will need to accept that you cannot go calling yourself Team South Africa without following a trial and selection process not a million ways different from every other sport out there. And yes, I paid membership fees to play club football.

That being said, I don’t deny the organisation needs some serious work on change (not that I’m that willing to offer any more ideas or advise, as we tried already). So, as much as we can call for the MSSA to change, will this particular dinosaur be able to? Or – to really dip our toe in cliche territory – can the old dog be taught new tricks, and will the leopard change its spots?

As much as I hope so, I’m more inclined to say fuck it, I can’t wait another lifetime. I’m just too old for this shit…

Read more about MSSA and their recent battles with the media and public:

Consider these alternative SA organisations: