Expos: the long-time home of SA esports tournaments

Conventional wisdom in South African esports circles when it comes to staging a successful esports tournament with a live audience would suggest that one should attach one’s competition to an existing expo of some kind. Whether it be rAge, EGE or RUSH, we can all think of a successful event with a decent-sized crowd on hand to cheer on their favourite teams at one of these expos. I’ve had the pleasure of commentating at several of these events as a CS:GO caster. This article is thus concerned with titles such as DotA2 and CSGO in particular, so please keep that in mind when reading this piece. 

Mettlestate Casters Tiny & Geemax

One of the more obvious reasons to attach your esports competition to an expo is for additional foot traffic. This is usually in order to capture the casual gamer who might not necessarily be there for that particular esport, but is at the gaming expo immersing themselves in gaming nirvana.

As a passing casual gamer you might perhaps be tempted to stop and stick around long enough to be captivated by whatever esport is taking place after being exposed to the sheer spectacle of the esports tournament. Perhaps you might even become a fan after initially being wowed. And then there’s the less than enthusiastic parents being dragged around by their kids that might simply be looking for somewhere to sit for a moment. It’s a tempting prospect as a tournament organizer to capture all of those additional bodies as it makes for a more exciting live event to have full seats – for spectators, viewers on stream and sponsors.

The problem with expos

Holding an esports event at an expo, while exciting, is not exactly ideal. Expos are not the best environment for spectators. Hearing the commentary and therefore even following the game is often a big challenge as there is an incredible amount of noise pollution in these spaces. Other events and stands wage volume wars with the esports tournaments in trying to vie for the attention of punters. The constant activity can add to the excitement for a while, but eventually becomes draining and diminishes the experience. It’s different as a spectator when everyone is there to appreciate the spectacle of the game itself and are united in that goal.

As a player or member of the broadcast team there is seldom any respite from the relentless noise and bustle when you’re not working. There’s not usually provision for green rooms (quiet rest areas) for anyone involved with the tournament or quiet practice areas for players as the expo facilities are geared towards maximizing and selling all the space to exhibitors. As a case in point, here’s Bob Yuill’s article on VS Gaming’s Dota 2 Masters Finals at EGE where he briefly mentions this.

Throughout the years there have been a few instances where games have often started at strange times and can be rushed by the time constraints of the expo and the venue itself. I remember a grand final in 2016 starting on a Sunday morning an hour before the expo started to an empty grandstand. Not great for anyone involved.

Are dedicated esports events viable?

Standalone esports tournaments with a live audience are a rather unusual occurrence in South Africa. They are the norm in the top tier of competition overseas but are far from it here. In Europe, esports events a decade ago were often add-ons to trade shows and expos, just as we see locally.

It’s very possible we’re nearing the point that standalone events are becoming more viable with the highly successful running of last weekend’s Valkyrie Challenge CS:GO Invitational produced by Mettlestate and hosted at the Evetech Studios in Centurion. All 140 tickets were very quickly snapped up. That’s right, people had to pre-book tickets and couldn’t just show up expecting to get in. Mettlestate had previously hosted the similarly well-attended Samsung Galaxy CS:GO Championship Finals earlier in the year, also with tickets having to be pre-booked. Rather a different concept to attending an expo and trying to find the esports stage(s).

The major difference between the Galaxy Championship and the Valkyrie Challenge is this: Galaxy was the very top tier of CS:GO teams in competition whereas Valkyrie was a showmatch of two female teams that are a level or two below the top male teams in South Africa. Which makes it all the more impressive that the attendance and enthusiasm for the event was so great.

Valkyrie Challenge Winners Energy Finesse

I’m not even going to talk all that much about the actual match itself. It’s been covered more than enough by others. What I will say is, congratulations to Energy Finesse on beating out Amaryllis Gaming 3-0 in the best of 5 series.

What can we take away from Valkyrie Challenge?

The real story here is that a standalone esports event in South Africa was full and well supported, even without it being the very highest calibre of local teams. This to me highlights the strong potential viability of standalone events and that us local esports fans will show up to a well-run and well-advertised tournament. That makes Valkyrie in some ways a landmark event in the local scene. More standalone esports events are something that I feel tournament organizers across the most popular titles should take a keen interest in pursuing in future. It can only be a good thing for local esports to eventually separate ourselves from mother trade show – just as our counterparts in more developed countries have.

The Valkyrie Challenge was the brainchild of Sam Wright, also know as Tech Girl. I interviewed her briefly at the event. Here’s a short excerpt from my video interview with Sam: “…a lot of people – and we’ve spoken about this before – focus on the girl aspect…but the fact is this place filled out with people who just wanted to come watch esports. Most of them didn’t know anything about the teams playing. They just wanted to come watch esports and I think it wouldn’t have mattered whether we had girls or guys or aliens up there.They just wanted to watch esports. And it’s proved that we can have standalone esports events. This is what it’s all about. I think we had 140 people here just before we started the game, which is amazing. 140 people came here and wanted to watch esports.”

And you should totally watch my video! 🙂 It includes the full interview with Sam, a little of the behind the scenes at the event as well as interviews with all the main protagonists on the day – including winners Energy Finesse, Sharon “Shazz” Waison, Barry “Anthrax” Louzada and Damage Control’s Christopher “Apocalypse” Lautre. Check out my Valkyrie Challenge Interview Video below.