The world as we know it may have come to a standstill since the global outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, but for video gamers everywhere, it only meant one thing, more game time.
The gap left by the absence of the major leagues opened the door for a new kind of spectator sport – e-sport.
With all sporting activity, along with other social and economic activity grounded, virtual or e-sports, has now become the real deal.
If you have any ambition of playing any sport, anywhere, any time, best sharpen your video gaming skills.
Stuck at home with not much to do, the virtual space has become a meeting place for thousands to connect, while maintaining all of the social distancing protocols as required by our current reality.
And while the world is still reeling from the negative effects the coronavirus has brought with it, all things digital has seen a marked increase since the lockdown period kicked in almost two months ago.
With everyone confined to their homes, the only way out was to go online.
What used to be a way to while away time – some might even call it time-wasting – suddenly became the thing to do.
The online space is definitely the place to be, something gamers have known all along.
But this is not a world of couch potatoes and gaming geeks only, you need to be in top physical shape, if you’re going to have a go at it for hours on end, says professional video gamer, Bjorn Webb, 23, from Kuils River.
Like many of his peers, Webb practically grew up with a gaming console in one hand and a toddler’s toy in the other.
But, he says, gaming has come a long way since the ancient arcade battles the older generation engaged in.
Right now there’s never been a better time for online gaming, says Webb, commenting on the growth of interest in e-sports since the national lockdown commenced at the end of March.
He said that although e-sports is still relatively new to the South African landscape, it has been getting a lot more exposure in recent years and especially now with the Covid-19 situation.
Webb, also known by his gaming handle or current in-game name, Nerff Me, is among a growing number of online gaming professionals going head-to-head in virtual battles fought all over the internet.
He is part of a squad that calls itself Gamers Unite Nations and is part of the organisastion’s African team.
Besides actual game play, he said, streaming platforms such as Twitch, are also very popular among gamers as it allows them to watch other people playing games, to interact with other viewers, or live stream their own game play to the world.
Among the most watched games are favourite titles such as Fortnite, Teamfight Tactics, League of Legends, and Grand Theft Auto V .
“I watch Twitch streams all the time. Watching anything game-related is the same to me as watching football on television,” he said.
From role playing games (RPGs) to massive multi-player, action-adventure to simulation, strategy to sports games, the landscape is vast.
Of course, the world of self-isolation and social distancing is not foreign or new to gamers and it allows players to socialise in a space where distance is irrelevant and, in a Covid-19 context, relatively safe.
“The one good thing, I’d say about this whole Covid-19 thing, from my experience, is that there are more people online, you’re meeting new friends and at the end of the day, I’d say gaming is getting a lot more exposure now,” he said.
“The game I’m very invested in at the moment is called Pubg mobile. It came out in 2018 and I’ve been playing it since the day of its release.
“Although this is a mobile game, the original game is actually on PC, but the fact that this game came to mobile makes it a lot more accessible because, everyone has phones. You can play whenever you want, where ever you want, how ever you want.”
In terms of the local and global gaming landscape he said that he expects mobile gaming to have an even bigger push in the near future. “It’s actually much bigger than what most people expected. There are huge tournaments and life-changing prize pools,” he said.
Although he’s been playing from a very young age, he only got in to the competitive scene about a year ago. This is where the real action is, where the stakes are high.
“Ever since then I’ve been playing in tournaments. I play every single day of my life. I do about six or seven hours a day, depending on my schedule,” he said.
“So in order to compete at my level, I need to maintain my health, physically and mentally.
“I can’t stress enough how important it is to look after your health. Get good sleep, eat well, maybe do yoga, meditate, go to the gym, whatever works for you, it’s very important that you keep yourself level-headed.
So what drew him to gaming? “I’m very competitive, I don’t like losing and I’m always looking for ways to improve my game.
“My brother and I, we always used to play FIFA and every time I conceded a goal or lost a game, I’d get so mad, not mad-mad but pretty mad,” he jokingly said.
“For me gaming is a form of escaping from the reality and entering a fantasy world filled with endless possibilities. I’d describe it as a culture. It connects people from all over the world.”