Video games are not new. The very first video game was created in 1958, and the scene kept growing. Today, millions play games in an industry that out earns movies and music. Yet gaming has only recently truly entered the mainstream, and for this we can thank broadband internet.

“Broadband internet has democratised gaming, including here in South Africa,” says Glenn Du Toit, director of Acer Africa. “Online gaming used to be very niche. Then affordable and fast internet became available in this absolute boom in fibre to the home access. In South Africa, things changed fundamentally towards the end of the 2015 to 2020 period, and then the Covid-era helped make online gaming, especially community gaming, very popular.”

The democratisation of gaming

As a result, gaming is in a unique place, “What all that did, was to create communities of everyday gamers. It was what I call the democratisation of gaming that has taken place over the last five to six years.”

Communities focused on specific gaming genres, such as Elden Ring, Fortnite, League of Legends, and Counter-Strike, are flourishing. Competitive gaming communities are growing fast, and eSports is gaining acceptance as a popular extra-mural activity for schools.

“eSports in schools is becoming very popular. Although many of the learners have ambitions, not all the participants want to be professional players. Many enjoy it because they join squads, play with their friends, and even make new friends in different countries” says Du Toit.

Gaming’s growing diversity is also shaping gaming devices. Pre-built PC gaming systems, especially gaming notebooks, were once marginal in the gaming world. But today, gaming laptop adoption has created a market worth over $11-billion (Future Market Insights).

Locally, sales of high-end laptops have grown each year as gamers’ appetites for gaming on the go grows. PC vendors are responding by adding new features to gaming systems to accommodate the gamer on the move by enhancing connectivity and including the latest tech in the cooling process.

“As the technology improves, you can bring advances into smaller platforms. The fundamental technologies have been in place for years, such as high performing discrete graphics cards in laptops. But many of these only became ‘consumerised’ over the last five years, to a point where you’re getting that ability to deliver a notebook product that competes with a full-blown desktop.

“Some of the latest developments include notebooks with specialised cooling for overclocking. Overclocking is where gamers maximise the speed and performance beyond the factory settings. These are the technologies where Acer’s Nitro and Predator ranges standout.”

Gaming builds teamwork and skills

With broadband and better devices bringing more people into gaming, wider adoption encourages new types of gaming communities. More and more players choose pre-built systems because these perform as well as the custom-built machines of hardcore gamers.

Many people are joining the communities of popular games, finding new people worldwide to play with. And while professional esports has existed for several decades, amateur esports communities and groups are mushrooming, especially at schools.

“More schools are using eSports as a complementing alternative to traditional sports,” Du Toit says. “Schools are holding trail, participating in national schools’ leagues, and even competing against international school. In some cases, schools have introduced non-gamer participation in areas such as streaming their eSports events, and training learners to be Shout-Casters, or as traditional sports would call it, commentating.

“Most importantly, we are seeing schools use game-based learning in the physical classrooms using games such as Minecraft for Education, Scribblenauts and Portal 2 to teach math, chemistry and business studies.”

But aren’t games just mindless distractions? Wouldn’t it be better if kids kicked a ball or hung around with friends in real life? That view is very outdated, says Du Toit:

“I’m not a gamer. I’m that guy who likes traditional sports. But when I chat with gamers and look at what they do, including my kids, I see much more. I see people who take an enjoyable activity, make friends, build teams and work together.

“I’ve noticed how gaming can produce the same determination and skills that you get from traditional sports. And I’m not saying we shouldn’t kick balls around. We should! But don’t disregard gaming as the opposite of that. Many kids who play sports also play computer games.

“Where gaming stands out is how it helps us use and understand the modern connected world and is inclusive, allowing players to compete no matter their gender, geography, or economic status. eSports also allows learners who may have a physical disability to participate in a competitive environment against able-bodied persons. It really is for everyone.”

Building communities for and with gaming

Hence why we should build and support channels for gaming. eSports at schools helps develop teamwork and offers different activities for learners. But it’s often very unorganised. South Africa lacks structural organisations, such as facilities that help game fans create clubs and tournaments.

“You’ve got these little community gaming clubs, which are like a corner soccer club that started out in a field or park. Or that touch rugby club in the back of the Church yard. You’ve often got real talent in this little soccer team: how do you take it out of the park and into a proper field? That’s ultimately what we are doing.”

Technology companies like Acer are very involved in school-level esports, such as supporting the Acer Nitro ACGL open esports schools’ events and tournaments. Other supportive projects include Planet9, the social esports platform where anyone can arrange tournaments for free. These steps all help galvanise a new world of gaming, connected by broadband and the passion of players all over South Africa.