Undead Ed… Lets Zombie Dredd talk Clans and SA Gaming

*not an example of a typical SA gaming clan*

*not an example of a typical SA gaming clan*

I toyed with the idea of calling this article: “It’s time for Console Gaming in South Africa to Grow Up”, but realised that there is so much positive movement in the scene at the moment, many would see me as simply being controversial for the sake of hits.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  For the last two years, Zombiegamer has re-orientated its focus on to the local gaming community – both socially and competitively.  It was a conscious decision made to assist in growing community knowledge and awareness of the clans, events and gamers that make up the South African gaming community.

The success of this initiative is proved by the fact that last week we covered our 50th clan from South Africa.  A feat we’re quietly proud of, but also one we believe is only a small step in the “right” direction.  The problem is that it’s clearly not enough.  Somehow the clans and gamers need to start playing their part and getting their house in order.

I’m not talking about PC clans at all however.  Console clans can learn a lot about the structures that have theoretically been tried and tested by competitive players on PC in South Africa.  I’m also not claiming to be an expert in the field, but after seeing the responses of 50 clans, seeing the PS3 Battlefield 3 team shine and being witness to SA getting an opportunity to compete in Black Ops 2 for one million dollars, the time just seemed right to give Undead Ed the week off so I could bring you my thoughts on what the console clans of South Africa need to do to really make the world take them seriously.

Of course, the fact that no clan had come back to me for this week meant there was a gap in the schedule anyway.  And it is also exactly one of the reasons this article makes even more sense, as I currently have 18 clans with questions laying somewhere in their inbox or on their PC.  18 clans who at times hounded me for taking too long to get the questions to them.  18 clans who probably also bemoan the fact that no-one sponsors them or the “rest of the world gets everything”.  In fact, to make it worse, some are already sponsored clans.  Admittedly some may have disbanded by now.  I’m not going to harp on about it, or single people out, as I’m sure they don’t consider it a priority.  However, combined with failed tournaments operated by others and a number of other negatives that almost always go with the positives, it really got me thinking about what all those involved in SA gaming in the competitive console realm need to do to ensure that we grow rather than stutter to a timid halt.

So here’s the zombie guide to surviving the apocalypse, because if you can get your clan running correctly, the apocalypse might be a breeze.

Organise, Plan and Market

Marketing business salesGet yourself a management structure.  If you want to make it in the competitive world, you need to clearly define your roles.  And I’m not talking about in-game.  If you want to make your mark, you need to market.  To market, you need to know who will be responsible to do it.  Once you’ve done that, plot your future.  You need one, because hanging around for six months will be of no help to your plans to blag a “lucrative” sponsorship deal.  Don’t be a revolving door of players.  No-one takes any team seriously if they appear to be a group of session musicians coming and going.  Longevity is the key.  The most successful SA PC clans (and console clans) have at least four years of history behind them.

Then start marketing the hell out of yourselves.  It’s simple enough to start.  Get a website.  Des Kurz from MWEB Gamezone has said to me that they won’t even take a clan seriously without one – and I agree wholeheartedly.  Get yourself on the social networks.  Get a YouTube channel and rather upload quality footage than quantity of footage.  Even once you’ve done this, don’t think that being followed by 3 000 ‘team follow back’ followers means anything.  You are only going to look a little foolish to an astute observer.

Get yourself a decent logo.  The number of clans that have out-of-focus low resolution logos is getting borderline ridiculous and unfortunately in this society we live in, image is everything, so get that sorted out, and you will pull all the… erm, fans.

Most importantly – send out press releases to the local gaming sites.  Yes, some may ignore you, but all coverage is important.  I should not have to trawl your Facebook Page or Twitter updates (between the unnecessary trolling of your opposition) to find out you have a new video out, or that you just won a tournament.  Do yourselves the favour of telling people about what your clan is up to.  And use “proper” English when you do so.

Sponsorship is probably a dirty word

SponsorshipDon’t however send out an email expecting sponsorship.  You need to work for it.  And definitely do not send out an email asking for sponsorship if you have only been together for two weeks, have 12 (your family) YouTube Channel subscribers, and are “growing”.  You need to prove yourselves.  And you don’t need sponsorship to do so.

If you find yourself in a position to get a small whiff of a sponsorship deal, ask yourself what you can offer a sponsor in terms of exposure, and in return, what that sponsor might be willing to give you for said exposure.  We do not sit in a position in gaming where sponsors will get much mileage from branding you.  PC clans have the opportunity to attend regular LANs, where there are a fair number of people attending.  Don’t think your LAN with your cousin and neighbour counts, as you need to understand that a sponsor is a business and whether you like it or not you are his commodity when you get sponsored.  You’re selling their product.  You will most likely need to become better organised, better behaved and better managed, or you will lose your t-shirts and other benefits quicker than you can say “sponsorship”.

The sponsor will expect your website to have regular visitors, so regular content updates are a necessity (bringing us back to press releases and appointing members to deal with content on your site).  Twitter, Facebook and YouTube should really be the kind of numbers that would rival any amateur sports team (and remember you are most likely only that – an amateur team – because for now you ain’t making a living off gaming.  Except the guys that win $400 000 in LA…).  Try to ensure that the majority of your followers and reach is South African.  These spaces are then ripe for branding.

Support.  Support.  SUPPORT!

Support! Do it for the cute animals.

Support! Do it for the cute animals.

This probably seems obvious to you, but it’s not always followed through with.  In the last year I have run out of fingers and toes counting the number of events and tournaments that have not got off the ground or came to a stop about halfway through.  There are community members and businesses that have put time and effort into trying to bring you your favourite game in some sort of tournament.  Sure, there are the success stories, but there really should not be any failures at all.  Failing to support even the smallest of events can have a detrimental effect on other potential tournaments or events if an organiser spots a poorly supported one.

When asked “what needs to be done to raise the profile of competitive South African gaming,”  most console clans appear to have a similar response.  They almost always mention LANs and Sponsorship in the same (or adjacent) sentence.  While partly right, it’s partly wrong too.  I am in full agreement with the LANs, but then a mindset change might be needed (see later).  They also need support.  12 entrants in a LAN tournament is simply not feasible, whether sponsored or not.  In fact, if it was a sponsored event, 12 entrants would be simply appalling and would mark the end of that sponsors support.  Heck, 12 should be minimum entrants for a community driven online tournament.

I have my suspicion over why support is so lacking at times.  It’s probably simply the attitude that “there will be another one sometime”.  This is usually verbalised as “I want to attend, but…” or “When is the next one?” or even (after the fact) “I didn’t even know about it :(”.  Sure… the forum you visit every day had a few posts a day about it, and a few gaming sites even ran articles about it.  Yes.  South African gaming sites.  Not CVG.  Or is it that the prize at the end is just not enough?

This general apathy is what needs changing.

However, in recent times, the FIFA community in Cape Town has bucked this trend.  Generally, host a FIFA tournament and you will get players attending -even with three events in one weekend.  It might also explain why two Cape Town based FIFA teams (or clans if you like) have bagged sponsorships well before most Call of Duty or Gears of War clans have.

Change your attitude to everything

This positive message is brought to you by zombies... Think about that.

This positive message is brought to you by zombies… Think about that.

Up until now, everything has suggested exactly this.  However, there’s more to it than that.  Some of the tournaments and events can’t offer prizes.  Believe me, I’ve tried to get small sponsorships for some of the community tournaments and it is not easy.   So don’t go in thinking you are going to walk away with a prize.  It will kill the community and will not help anything.  Maybe just play for the bragging rights once in a while.

And complaining about a ruleset that doesn’t suit you, or one that stipulates an age restriction due to the fact the game itself has one, is just a waste of breath.  By all means, input is acceptable, but do so in the most helpful manner possible.  Keep in mind that anything you say – and how you say it – may be spotted by a potential sponsor or supporter of gaming.  Raging is an ugly thing to behold, even those rooted in the scene – imagine how horrific it must seem to an outsider.

For console gaming, the main change might need to be an acceptance that while there is a perception that PC gaming has “everything”, it only seems like that because it has a continuous support base that probably outnumbers the console competitive scene by, well, lots.  The numbers speak, and if 50% of PC gamers lazily decided not to play in Dota 2 in DGL, there would still be around 350 players that will.  The closest console success to this number was the recent MWEB Gamezone Ladders Beta which saw 880 games and around 100 teams playing over two platforms.  However, the actual number of active players was probably pretty low, with a fair number of registered teams not actually playing a game.

In fact, DGL appears to have deemed operating console based tournaments as a waste of time, as the majority of tournaments they host is for PC.  This means that other than MWEB’s efforts – and last year’s MainGaming ladder – independent tournaments are the only option for console gamers.  The great thing about the SA gaming community is that when they have to pull together, they can, but it’s usually for a “cause” that’s above grass roots level.  Once again, that needs to be taken to all levels, and needs to be an ongoing effort.  Look, it’s hard work, but no-one said any of this would be easy.

However, what the MWEB Ladders did bring to the fore – and what seems to have been partly lost again in the build up to the CoD Championship – is that good teams can manage to be good teams over both Sony and Microsoft’s consoles.  South Africa’s small numbers per console platform could be increased by a simple acceptance that playing (when financially possible of course) on both consoles will increase the potential for a larger pool of competitors.  This is again something the “shooter” community can learn from the FIFA players, where some (as an example) PS3 players have beaten their Xbox 360 opponents with ease on the “wrong” or “other” console.

Another potential mindset change needed is by organisers and players together.  It might be the right time for teams to become more “local” and for organisers to start investigating and sitting with the MSSA to get teams to the point where your “local” team can play in provincial trials for your province’s colours.  That would be followed by – you guessed it – National trials for Protea colours.  However, for this to be a reality, console clans will need to learn from the PC competitive scene.  The formation of clubs is key to this concept working.  On the flipside, the MSSA will also need to speak directly to the console competitive scene to help lay the groundwork correctly.  However, the positive spin-off of this is that with teams going “local” the potential for sponsorships increases again, as LANs will then form a greater part of the annual competitive circuit.

Play for pride.  That’s the lesson we should learn from the PS3 Battlefield 3 “Team of South Africans”.  With that, almost all of the above can be achieved.  It just took them to have a goal.  For them it was participating in the World Nation’s Cup.  For Call of Duty players the carrot is event bigger in LA.  And maybe that’s what every year should be a preparation for.  Play the small tournaments, build your team and get yourself slots in the big tournaments hosted around the world by MLG and ESL.

And before you go off accusing me of dreaming (or an over abundant use of Salusa 45) think again, because come this weekend, this is exactly what will happen, and the team that goes to LA will be exposed to the operations of console clans who have more “professional experience” in their trigger finger than this old zombie has grey hair… and I have a lot.

It’s time for Console Gaming in South Africa to Grow Up.  And I’ll be honoured and happy to be along for the ride with all of you.

This piece was born out of a desire to keep pushing South African console gamers, gaming and clans, as well as a fantastic informal conversation with another man passionate about the same.  Thanks to Des Kurz from MWEB Gamezone.

If you are keen to feature in our weekly clan profile, or simply want us to help you with some coverage, please feel free to contact us at info@zombiegamer.co.za and we’ll think about – after you’ve sent us a sample of your braaaaaaiiiiinnnnsss.

About Zombie Dredd

Wannabe gaming journalist. Wannabe zombie. And sometimes clan leader of OAP. Clint O'Shea when in his human disguise.