At this point, almost everyone has either found themselves at odds with the MSSA or vocally criticizing them for actions that they undertook. Almost nobody would be prepared to say that the MSSA as an entity is useful, let alone necessary, in the grand scope of things; but it would also be fair to say that gamers tend to be rather myopic, so there must be more nuance at play here. So in the grand tradition of triggering gamers everywhere, today we’ll be looking at what value the MSSA adds to the South African E-sports scene.
What is the MSSA?
Firstly, it’s important to understand what the MSSA is and isn’t.
The MSSA is, according to their own words, an organization that seeks to promote and regulate sports/recreational activities in an official capacity on behalf of the Republic [The caveat is that they are only responsible for the disciplines they choose to be responsible for]. What this means in gamer, is that the country cannot officially recognize your accomplishments without the MSSA being the liaison. So if you want National Colours for solo carrying your team to victory in a tournament, then the MSSA will be the ones to weigh that decision (contingent on a variety of other factors but we will explore those in a moment).
What they are not, however, is the official regulatory and promotion body of sports/recreational activities within the Republic. This difference is crucial. It means that the MSSA only has power in matters pertaining directly to the State, leaving open the field when private entities are involved. Given the nature of how Esports functions at the professional level, wherein private entities are almost unilaterally the driving force of the entire scene (from tournament organizers, to sponsors, to MGO’s etc.); This effectively leaves the MSSA without any relevant structural power over the visible aspects of Esports that we care about. This is further compounded by the fact that national recognition doesn’t necessarily track onto what is considered as success within the Esports community, robbing the MSSA of any real soft power as well. Meaning that they cannot exert themselves upon players, teams or organizers merely by influence either. This is clearly a problem for an organization described as being “the sole authority for its disciplines as a sport and/or as a recreation in the Republic “. And it appears that they themselves recognize this inconsistency (hear me out). And in this recognition have behaved in manner which is actually reasonable given the background and their stated aims.
What does the MSSA actually do?
The MSSA runs like a private federation, whereby they organize and liaise exclusively with members of that federation to achieve their goals. Membership is limited to clubs and affiliated schools, with players having to sign under the umbrella of one of these in order to participate in MSSA events. Membership fees (Payable by the club and the individual members) are paid per year which constitutes the MSSA’s baseline budget. Beyond which the Government, donors and couch-change make operations tenable. Ostensibly, this money is spent on promotions and organizing for various disciplines at School, Regional, Provincial, National, and National Team levels.
In practice though, almost all these resources spent on the School and Regional Level. Furthermore, almost all the events and tournaments they organize are geared towards schools rather than clubs. Given how much trash they’ve talked on Social Media about MGO’s and other Esports clubs, this may not seem surprising but ultimately it’s the best possible thing for them to be doing.
Given that they know that the professional gaming world isn’t a dancefloor they can tango on, and given their aims, it seems best to focus upon youth development and growth within the popular consciousness of Esports as a legitimate enterprise worth pursuing. And they certainly recognize that the fastest way to make anything big in this world is to get the kids involved in a palpable way. Traditional competitive disciplines are replete with examples of obscurity transitioning into ubiquity off of the back of large scale youth involvement. And I think there are multiple lenses by which we can look at the impact this approach can have on our local Esports scene.
Are they actually helping?
First of all, (and by far most importantly), it gets kids interested in competitive gaming in ways that may not occur to them if left to their own devices. How many of us would be deeply engaged in the gaming scene if we had not grown up with the exposure to them? How much leaner would our scene be if players weren’t coerced or compelled to play by their friends and classmates? How much emptier would our lobbies be if there was nobody around us to talk about these games IRL? Focusing on schools gives them the chance to inculcate a gaming culture that will undoubtedly extend beyond the school system, where players and given a space within which to explore (and hopefully fuel) their passions.
Secondly, and rather crucial as well, the MSSA system provides some level of structure. This is actually the biggest selling point of the MSSA as a whole, the attempt at creating a situation where there is some level of stability in the scene especially at a youth level. SA is still battling with is the inherent volatility of a young ecosystem, where nothing seems set in stone and the tides are always in flux. The MSSA has certainly had their hand at contributing to this situation in the past (especially when it comes to their National Teams and tournament participation) but overall, creating a situation where now players will be able to use their formative years within a structured environment within which to hone their skills can only be a good thing. Usually the process of improvement is anarchic, and it’s very hard to measure one’s personal growth versus the overall skill of the community. The MSSA helps provide some measure of use in this regard for the players as it’s far easier to track progress and growth when it’s quantified over time rather than a vague feeling or the state of one’s ranked play.
Thirdly, the MSSA addresses a problem that it seems no one else really cares about. Consider that, ultimately, our gaming ecosystem is still oriented around privilege. Privilege in the sense that success in a game is mostly due to one’s access to the relevant technology, familiarity with that kind of technology in general, free time with which to practice as well as an environment that allows for one to flourish (that includes support from friends/family, stable electricity/internet, ability to buy new game versions, solitary space to practice etc.). If given 2 players who share equal innate talent, all one needs to do is ask where upon the spectrum of these questions does each player fall and the player with more favourable results will likely be more successful professionally. Of course not every successful player would be placed favourably on every metric here, but it seems that the vast majority of successful players do in some way. The fact that the MSSA focuses so much within schools (where the technology and environment are relatively equalized amongst players, free time can be negotiated and skills can be taught) could in fact translate into a new generation of players that would otherwise never have the opportunity to be gamers in a real sense.
But what does all this mean?
Consider how many people live along or below the poverty line in South Africa. Many of our citizens in this position report having their first access to a computer or internet be within a school setting. If we take into account our sociopolitical circumstances, this trend seems unlikely to drastically reverse in the immediate term, so we can work with these facts as we think about the MSSA. By focusing on schools, they actually attempt to concretely deal with the issue of privilege gaming by levelling the field and giving people who could never afford to be gamers on an individual level a chance to gain this interest and learn these skills. It gives nerdy children from poor homes a chance to interact with technologies and entertainment that would otherwise be thought of as luxuries for the rich. It brings Esports down from the clouds to the ground, where people can meaningfully interact with it.
Certainly a separate conversation can be had about the specific schools which are MSSA members and their own situation regarding access and privilege, but the fact remains that the MSSA is doing on a large scale something that no other entity is actively involved in. Their tactics in terms of communication definitely needs serious work, and they need to learn to play nice with others (This is a team game after all).
But at the end of the day, giving kids the opportunity to develop a deeper sense of their chosen games and allowing them a space where they can feel pride and concrete development within themselves towards them is more valuable than the way they interact with us old and established gamers. And working towards a future where there are more gamers rather than less gamers, can only benefit us all.
***DISCLAIMER: The views represented in this topic are solely those of the author.