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Africa hasn’t participated much in the global gaming economy, but some Nigerian entrepreneurs want to change that by diving into esports. Amaete Umanah and his co-founders launched the African Gaming League, which held its first tournament in four cities in Nigeria in August.
Umanah said in an interview that he has long dreamed of starting a game company in Africa that takes advantage of the fact that there are a lot of gamers on the continent, which has been largely ignored by the big game companies. But the company hopes to capitalize on the global enthusiasm for esports, which is expected to generate $ 493 million in 2016, according to a report from the intelligence company Newzoo. That’s an increase of over 51.7% from 2015, and it’s also an increase of 7% from Newzoo’s projection for the 2016 kickoff.
The timing is interesting, as some sort of competitor has also surfaced this week, like Kwesé Sports and ESL in South Africa has partnered to bring esports to African players. But the leagues face many hurdles, as Africa is still weaker than the rest of the world when it comes to nurturing startups and gaming companies.
Umanah worked in San Francisco for a while on a previous startup, nKanika, a software company, and another called Pontaba, which focused on developing HTML5 mobile games. He attended a GamesBeat conference in 2011 and met the founders of the game startup accelerator YetiZen. It was around the time that I met Umanah. He spent three months at YetiZen. But ultimately, the startup did not take off, because Umanah did not have the chance to raise funds. And then Umanah returned to Nigeria a few years ago when his father passed away.
Umanah stayed in Nigeria longer than expected and he also worked on other startups. Now he has partnered with co-founders Chiekezi Dozie and Samuel Uduma to create the African Gaming League in Lagos, Nigeria. It’s one of the many – mostly small – startups growing in the region with a focus on games or tech.
These friends grew up with games like StarCraft and other titles just like Umanah. Today, Umanah lives in Los Angeles and Port Harcourt, Nigeria. His colleagues are also entrepreneurs. Uduma is a co-founder of SuperGeeks Services and Solutions, a leading provider of after-sales technical support to customers in the Lagos area.
“We grew up in Nigeria playing a card game called Whot, which was similar to Uno,” Umanah said. “We wanted to create it as an app. We did and launched it in 2011. It was my introduction to technology.
Nigeria is a good place to create the startup, because it is one of the biggest markets in Africa and it has the beginnings of a game culture. Umanah reflected with Uduma, another entrepreneur that he has. met via Silicon Africa.
Per capita income in Nigeria is not huge, at around $ 3,000 per month. But income varies widely from person to person, and sports betting is actually a big market in Africa. (This is not a market that the African Games League is targeting).
Newzoo combines the Middle East and Africa into one region with $ 3.2 billion in gaming revenue. Nigeria had a share of $ 172 million in 2015, and it is expected to be $ 182 million in 2016.
“We saw that there was no structured way to play and esport in Africa, so Sam and I teamed up to make it happen,” Umanah said. “I was inspired by GamesBeat and we tried to create our own Africa GamesBeat. We have developed a community of around 8,000 people. And then we created the African Gaming League.
“We want to build a cohesive community,” Uduma said. “We hope to attract a lot of brands as sponsors because they want to target the gamer demographic. We realize there’s a disconnect, and they want brands to get some traction.
The event attracted a lot of people, and it had a sponsor in the form of an internet service provider, Smile Communications, a 4G mobile data provider. The players took part in a tournament with EA’s FIFA 16 football match.
“There are players in Nigeria,” he said. “This soft launch has proven that there are players and the potential for a vibrant gaming culture in Nigeria, but the scene is also unstructured. The African Gaming League hopes to unify all the disparate communities and bring a structure that makes it more attractive for foreign investment.
The events covered cities such as Lagos, Abuja, Uyo and Port Harcourt. The team managed the tournament on a limited budget. The prices were around $ 1,500.
“We want to get the attention of some of the bigger companies like Activision and EA Sports,” Umanah said. “One of the most popular games here is EA’s FIFA soccer game. Sony’s PlayStation is very popular. If we can take these games and grow this community of players in Africa, they will be able to compete with others in the United States, Europe and Asia.
“Being associated with the GLA has been a great experience from concept to implementation and it bodes very well for the future of esports in Nigeria, which is catching up with the rest of the world”, said co-founder Chiekezi Dozie.
The company hopes to launch its next tournament in December. It’s a lot of work for a team of four, with a few temporary workers as well. Eventually, the company hopes to participate in esports events around the world.
“The main thing is that there are players here,” Umanah said. “With the right amount of resources, we can get a great group of spectators.”
Regarding competition, Uduma said: “The esports phenomenon is growing all over the world, Africa is renowned for its passion for competitive sports; for years, gambling in Africa has been a dynamic avenue for competition, albeit in informal circles. Gradually the appetite for esports is growing in Africa, mainly South Africa, but we are continually seeing an expansion to other parts of sub-Saharan Africa. AGL was created to bring together the already established gaming community with the goal of building a strong esports brand. We build appeal by collaborating with established consumer brands and developing rich content for a willing captive audience. Our goal is to develop a new vertical for esports in the rapidly growing gaming space. in 12 months.
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