Gamers trim down for COVID-19’s new norm

By Melissa Talbert August 24, 2020
Gaming tournaments before COVID-19 Gaming tournaments before COVID-19

Jamaica’s gaming industry has the potential to impact the economy in a positive way but it is, strangely, one of the industries that have the challenge of COVID-19 to cope with.

Although the gaming industry does not require face-to-face interaction and is ahead of the curve in terms of dealing with the new norms that come with COVID-19, tournaments, where there are those interactions, have taken a hit.

Dexton Graham, founder and CEO of eSports Jamaica, organizes tournaments for his company.

It has always been a dream of his to emulate the ones he witnessed watching the NALCS (North America League of Legends Championship Series). He recalled in a personal blog post, “I was totally blown away by the skills on display but more so at the whole set-up, seeing a whole arena filled with people cheering on players, hearing commentators (shoutcasters) calling out plays, talking about what the players can do to win, calling out spells and skills filled my heart with excitement.”


He continued, “in that moment I decided I wanted to see this happen in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean and ultimately take a team from this region to the world championship.”

Like most ideas, for them to become a reality, funding and other resources are paramount. According to Graham, his organisation “normally gets sponsorship for tournaments that are held at venues.” But with the absence of tournaments because of his eagerness to follow COVID-19 protocols and avoid influencing crowds, there are no reasons to reach out to sponsors right now.

Still, Graham who is also a gamer and goes by the moniker ‘theav3ng3r’, realises that  “the current economic state would adversely affect our sponsors' ability to sponsor any event.” Some of the organisation’s sponsors are Pizza Hut, Jamaica Esports Initiative and Island Sports Network (recently changed to Flow Sports App).

Hopeton Cherrington, a tournament organizer for the Jamaica eSports Initiative (JEI), says COVID-19 forced the organisation to cancel all tournament-like activities and continue to utilise online platforms. Cherrington explained, “we are in the planning stages for events for next year since COVID-19 forced us to cancel all activities for the remainder of the year. We hope all will be well by then, God’s willing.”

The pandemic has encouraged JEI to use Discord more than ever. Discord is described as “reliable for staying close.” The app serves as a place for friends, gamers and other communities to talk and hang out often.

According to JEI’s website, they have an event on Discord scheduled for today, August 24th at 6:00 p.m to 9:00 p.m.

Esports Jamaica is also coping online where they host online eSports events.

Though the organisation has “minimal expenses running the business at the moment” and is able to manage its operations easily, Graham says prize pools for online events are kept “at a manageable level like from US$20 to US$200.”

It’s latest event called ‘Nexus Cup’ was held on May 12. Teams competed in a game called League of Legends for a share of a US$350 prize pool. This was sponsored by the Jamaica Esports Initiative.

The organisation also held tryouts/qualifiers to select players to represent Jamaica in a regional online tournament with other members of the Global Esports Federation on July 30.

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      The esports industry developing in Jamaica - but not necessarily at the fast rate most of its well-wisher would want.  Its steady but slow progress is often blamed on relics that doubt the industry’s viability. As a result, gamers are encouraged to lead the way, but they too often face a seemingly unrelenting fight for validation.

     Undeniably, the Covid-19 pandemic allowed big corporations to appreciate the possibilities and potential of eSports.

    In October, Jamaica’s governing body for esports, Jamaica Esports Initiative (JEI) signed a memorandum of understanding with the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) and inked deals with several other key stakeholders.

    More recently, the JEI was among 12 esports federations from the Caribbean and Latin America to form the Caribbean Esports Federations Alliance (CEFA) - which is supported by investors like Tencent.

    Despite all the advancement at the highest level, partial efforts from gamers hinder advancement in Jamaica’s esports industry.

    Milton Pellington, gamer and owner of the Area 51 Digital Lounge (home to eSports Jamaica) says “there's some responsibility they [gamers] have to take for the lack of enthusiasm from corporate."

     Potential corporate sponsors and investors find esports undeserving of attention because “they [gamers] don't take themselves seriously.

    The gaming community doesn't band together as strongly as they should,” Pellington said.

    Gamers are, after all, significant contributors to the growth of the industry. Their outlook on gaming may shape a sponsor’s perspective of the community. It’s in a gamer’s best interest to value esports as a business since partnerships will make esports tournaments sustainable.

     Esports is heavily dependent on tournaments. They reveal the best players to represent Jamaica whether regionally or on the world stage. Tournaments offer experiences and cash prizes that are made possible through funding from sponsors. With sponsors funding tournaments, gaming feels closer to a 'paying job'.

    Some argue that esports will not grow unless there is a hefty amount in cash prizes. Then, players will dedicate more time and effort to the craft rather than going about it casually.

     But gamers must market themselves as professionals nevertheless.

    Image and reputation are crucial factors for gamers trying to advance their careers. Tending to these factors is of utmost importance since there is a preconceived notion associated with gamers. Taking the initiative to market themselves as professionals will improve their personal brand - giving gamers more opportunities to effectively communicate their values, skills, experiences, and vision to potential sponsors.

    When gamers promote themselves professionally, it encourages networking and collective effort. Gamers who are widely-recognised as professionals will want to associate themselves with each other. In doing so, a mutually beneficial relationship can develop. A gamer who prides him or her image and exhibits noble traits establishes a loyal fanbase. With a trusting audience, gamers are able to recommend other gamers without their audience second-guessing them while the other gamer gets positive exposure from that.

    Currently, the JEI does not train gamers, however, president Gregory Moore says they are creating “the necessary relationships for clubs to be formed for training it's players” and while their website advertises an upcoming esports and marketing workshop to "arm yourself with the knowledge of this industry in order to ensure your product is accepted by the digital age," it doesn’t say the workshop is mandatory for all gamers that are recruited - even more reasons for gamers to act responsibly and take the initiative to market themselves professionally.


    Please share your thoughts on Twitter (@SportsMax_Carib) or in the comments section on Facebook (@SportsMax). Don’t forget to use #IAmNotAFan. Until next time!

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    Since its reopening, the Area 51 Digital Lounge has been hosting a weekly competition called 'Climb Di Rankings: Soccer Satdezz' where players put their skills to the test with the FIFA 2020 video game series.

    The survivors of the first round will earn the title of 'ultimate hombres'. After this, they move on to other rounds until there's a winner.

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    “It's ultra-hard to win. The victor would have to prove himself to be the best of the best in what we have designed to be the most gruelling version of a FIFA competition any player can engage in,” Pellington explained.

    Though future competitions will explore other genres of games, FIFA was chosen to spearhead the competition because of its mass appeal.

     "The fervor and passion for the sport in real life is carried over into the digital version perfectly," Pellington said.

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    Pellington posited, "because of Covid-19, we have to intentionally limit our participants."

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    "The reason we've dreamed up this FIFA furnace is to test gamers and push them to go beyond the limits of ordinary gaming, so as to be competitive on the world stage. Esports is a big opportunity for recognition and revenues but it's currently one that will not be grabbed with both hands if our players are mediocre. Climb di Rankings aims to be the 'Ninja Warrior' for FIFA so that when our guys take to the world stage they do exceptionally well," said Pellington.

    'Climb Di Rankings: Soccer Satdezz' happens every Saturday starting October 31st.


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    The countries represented in the agreement are Jamaica (Headquarters), The Bahamas, St. Lucia, Cuba, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Suriname, Venezuela and Haiti.

    According to General Secretary of CEFA, Gregory Moore, combining regional efforts will maximize the support needed to accelerate the growth of esports.

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    Tencent Holdings is a Chinese company that invests heavily in improving the esports market. They recently invested in VSPN, a China-based esports provider. VSPN raised close to $100 million with the help of Tencent.

    One of the first duties of CEFA is to host a regional referee and tournament organizer's certification workshop. Having qualified, organizers in each region will increase ethics within the industry.

    "Esports has suffered greatly due to the lack of regulation. Organizers are generally not held accountable when they do not deliver on experience and prizes,” Moore explained.

    CEFA also expects to host a 'CEFA 2020 championship'. The 2020 championship is an event that each member nation will have the opportunity to host.

     "It's the first step in the direction of bringing all our resources into one event. It will eventually become the highlight of the region," Moore said.

    However, due to COVID-19, the first championships will be held virtually.

    Moore wants other countries to be part of the MOU as soon as official esports entities have been formed.

    But he recognises that official esports entities aren't formed in some countries because "esports in many countries are generally run by the gamers, who are more focused on playing than the administrative work that is required."

    Moore admitted, "Jamaica suffered from this for many years until we decided to change our approach and focus on building a proper business, we were able to see results in a matter of months."

     He advised countries without a formal esports entity "to gather all the active players and entities within their country and form a federation with a proper leadership structure."

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