TF2CSA brings you the next exciting and engaging installment of our “Interview Series”. Han “Lola” Cilliers tracks down Steve Whitford, the editor of Do Gaming, and finds out whether there is life outside of gaming, what it takes to run such a big web site and what the future holds for competitive gaming in South Africa.
Meet the man
Steve has been a journalist all his working career (you can view some of his previous blogging exploits at Thought Leader). After working across a number of sectors for a couple of years, he began freelancing and moved into tech public relations. He then moved into gaming. where he now manages one of the largest gaming websites in the country. He’s also a husband and father of two children. He likes to play guitar, loves fantasy books and great TV series’ such as House, 24 and NCIS.
Where did your interest in gaming originate?
It was at school where I got exposed to early RTS games like Dune 2, Warcraft 2. We used to play in the afternoons at school whenever we weren’t busy with other stuff. Then I was exposed to RPGs at Varsity and spent many an hour on Baldur’s Gate 2, Diablo 2 as well as games like Red Alert 2, Command and Conquer Tiberian Sun. That was my first exposure to gaming. So compared to many gamers I’m a little bit of a late starter :p
Favorite games played?
RPGs were always my best – Baldur’s Gate 2 and Dragon Age are my favorite games I’ve ever played.
What is your involvement with do Gaming?
Well I am the editor for Telkom Do Gaming. I conceptualized and helped implement much of what Do Gaming is today and I run a team of content specialists who populate the site.
What is the vision of do Gaming?
To take gaming to as many South Africans as possible.
What are the different elements of do Gaming?
Do Gaming is built on two pillars – the online leagues; the largest online leagues in South Africa and the portal; which covers the leagues and also provides news across the PC, PS3, Xbox360, Wii, DS and Mobile platforms.
Explain how do Gaming’s leagues and LAN’s work.
The leagues are run by a team of guys who make sure things run smoothly and handle gamers’ queries. Johann von Backström (who founded AGASA) heads up the team, I (Steve Whitford) head up content development, Ben “Equinox” Greenwood heads up League management, then we have people under us getting the day-to-day things done.
The reason Do Gaming runs leagues is to establish a competitive base for a game. Gamers can come together to play online or in a cup, but those teams can break apart just as easily as they form. The concept behind a league is to get teams to play together for longer, to try and stabilise line-ups. The players then play through the year in order to attain a ranking and ensure they play against people of equal skill which also makes the experience more enjoyable for gamers. At the end of the gaming season, Do Gaming hosts a LAN where the gamers get the chance to compete against each other in a LAN context to gauge who is the best. Telkom Do Gaming has also given away some nice prize money at LANs.
New games start off with pools to let guys play to determine seedings and once these have been determined, leagues are split into divisions based on ranking. The online leagues run over three legs in a year, the championship is after that. The league is administered through the site by Do Gaming admins who set up the games, check results and handle any disputes. At the end of each leg where there are games with divisions, generally the top two teams from a division move up and the bottom two move down.
The concept of the LAN is the culmination of the year’s online competition. We’ve had prizes for LAN championships every year, but the online leagues are free to enter and about having fun and developing skills. Prize money contrarily to popular opinion is not a massive incentive for teams. The reason for this is that the skills gap in SA gaming is large so most teams resign themselves to the fact that they won’t win prizes, for them it is about competition and trying to best teams on a similar skill level.
For most players competitive online gaming is about having fun with mates online, against people of a similar skill level for the thrill on winning games against their opposition. For more information please check out: www.dogamingleague.co.za and gaming.do.co.za.
What elements do Do Gaming look for in a game in order to hold a competition?
It needs to have dedicated server code or function in a peer-to-peer context in South Africa, it needs to be well balanced, it needs to have community support and it can be a team or single player game. If the game is only online, then it also effects whether we can take that game to our LAN championships.
Is do Gaming willing to get involved at international events in the future, e.g. sending teams overseas or inviting top teams to SA?
We’ll always consider international events, but they’re generally very difficult to get off the ground. The reason why companies like Arena 77 struggled in the end was because it cost them about R300 000 to host the local qualifiers for an international event. Recouping that money is no easy challenge. Gamers need to understand we’re not like Europe or the States in terms of the size of the market or the number of gamers. The size of the player pool does limits the ability to be involved in the overseas markets.
What are do Gaming’s future plans to promote eSports in SA while running the country’s biggest league and competitions?
As the FIFA roadshows have shown, we want to take gaming to the masses and we will continue with the leagues and hosting of online cups where appropriate.
Why has no central body, federation or union evolved or developed and been sustainable in governing and coordinating individual eSport games or general gaming in SA?
That is a long and complicated story. The best way to answer this is for gamers to understand the history of the federation in South Africa and then draw their own conclusions.
Where is competitive gaming going in SA?
Competitive gaming is going social. What does that mean? Well the player base is broadening all the time. The skills level at the top is also far above the average. So what is mostly likely to happen in terms of skill is that it’s going to be a “mile wide and an inch deep”. As the pool grows and gamers get better so that skill level and quality of play will improve in South Africa on a broader basis.
In your opinion, could gaming in SA develop to the point where players can take it up as a profession, and what would be required for this to happen?
No. If you look at gaming globally, most people don’t play professionally even in Europe and the States. Korea is an anomaly and you have to visit Korea to understand why (I went there in 2007.) Even the guys from the SK Dota team who came out to South Africa in 2008 had jobs. Chatting to them I soon realised gaming would never sustain them. Yes they had their flights and accommodation paid for when they went to tournaments because of AMDs sponsorship, but they did not make enough money to buy a house, support a family and so on.
For most people on the planet, gaming is entertainment first and the chances of it becoming a sport any time soon are pretty much zero. I have written a controversial opinion piece on this: Gaming is not a sport.
When I think sport, I think professional era, paid players, franchising, squads, teams etc. Like the Super 15 in rugby. I don’t think gaming is going to get to this any time soon. There will be exceptions and some guys will be able to make money for a few years off just competing, but those who can do it in a sustainable concept and retire off gaming will most likely always be few and far between.
What is your general opinion and experience of SA competitive gamers?
Our gamers generally have skill but because we are isolated from the rest of the world our players fall short in the team work and strategy departments. We live in a small “Gaming Island” and this holds us back.
What advice would you give to SA gaming communities in order to improve?
Get other gamers to play online. Whether its school, varsity, friends or family. Its simple maths – for gaming to prosper in South Africa and for companies to invest in gamers, they want to see a large market. The more gamers work to get other people to play on line, teaching them how to get into online gaming, the more gaming will grow and consequently become more competitive.
How has SGS Gaming been affected (if at all) by Telkom’s decision to charge for peering?
The peering issue has nothing to do with gaming, but to do with a decision taken by MWEB. Telkom Do Gaming falls under a different division within Telkom to SAIX, so I can’t speak for them. From what I’ve seen though, the peering issue only affects MWEB gamers trying to play on SGS servers and vice versa. Most gamers hold prepaid ISP accounts on other providers as backups anyway, so I don’t think it’s an issue at all.
On behalf of the TF2CSA community
Thank you Steve, for your time and insights. I don’t think gamers know or appreciate the massive effort that goes into running an organization like do Gaming. Gamers are quick to demand and slow to thank. They often arrive with big expectations but don’t want to put in much effort. On behalf of the TF2 community of South Africa, I would like to thank you, “Wonderer” and your staff at do Gaming for the quality of the web site, the variety of content and the tremendous service you provide to the competitive community in the hosting of the leagues and LANs.
Until next time, this is Lola signing out. Respect.
(Photos taken by Kasey ‘TigerLilee’ Pinard)