When a 10-year-old Dimitri Hadjipaschali started playing computer games his parents scoffed at the idea. Hadjipaschali was housebound, after breaking his ankle skateboarding, when he discovered his brother playing a game called Counter-Strike. This proved to be an existential moment on crutches; gaming became Hadjipaschali’s life.
“I just needed a crosshair and Counter-Strike was the game I kind of stuck with. I decided I was going to be a full-time gamer when I joined [eSports team] Bravado in 2008… I was doing it full time, trying to win competitions. Every time it came to a tournament I was trying to win. Every time I would come in second or third it was the worst day of my life for me. That’s when I knew,” he says.
Eight years later, Hadjipaschali is one of the rising stars in the next online craze in Africa. In bedrooms across the continent a generation of professionals is playing electronic sports, or eSports, for a living.
Competitive online gaming draws millions via streaming websites and where as much as $20 million can be at stake. It’s a bit like the Olympics for geeks and eSports has its own disciplines. Hadjipaschali is the captain for Bravado’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, or CS GO, team.
This is a first-person shooter game where a team of five tries to thwart bombers. In tournaments, teams play off in a best-of-three taking turns to attack and defend. The more games you win, the stronger your team becomes.
CS GO is one of the most popular games in South Africa. Globally it is the fourth highest-earning eSports game, with 5,396 professional players competing for $19.16 million in prizemoney at 1,710 tournaments, according to esportsearnings.com.
In Africa, this multi-million-dollar eStory is just beginning. The competition in South Africa is fierce. For years, gamers have battled for a few spots in international competition. That’s where the money is.
This is why Hadjipaschali is at a team boot camp in the cold hills of Meyersdal, south of Johannesburg. The team is here to train for the Electronics & Gaming Expo (EGE) in Cape Town. On the line is a shot at the international arena – an all-expenses-paid spot at the Electronic Sports World Cup and a chance to win $75,000, in Paris at the end of October.
“If we don’t take first place [in Cape Town] we don’t know when this opportunity will come again,” he says.
It’s going to be a long night for the team. On any given day, Hadjipaschali practices nine hours a day, often finishing at dawn. This weekend, with the promise of Paris looming, they will push even harder.
“A boot camp is for us to be more focused, to get more work done. It forces us to work when we are next to each other.”
It has been an historic and lucrative year for eSports in South Africa.
From Johannesburg is Barry ‘Anthrax’ Louzada, one of the old hands – which doesn’t take too long in this business. Involved in the industry since 1999, Louzada is called the South African godfather of eGaming. He slogged it out for 10 years as a competitive gamer around the world.
“Two years ago, you were at maybe a R100,000 ($7,000) total cash prize money for an event, because there was only one event a year. Now you are looking at over R2 million ($142,000) in just one year,” says Louzada.
These days Louzada is a shoutcaster, in English that means he gives live commentary on the sport.
“When I started out, it was a case of people driving around going to each other’s houses [barbequing] and LANing (network gaming). The internet wasn’t workable in this country for us to actually do any sort of online competing or playing. Now you have got hundreds and thousands of people coming to conventions,” he says.
As Louzada’s days as a competitive gamer are ending, Hadjipaschali’s are just beginning. If you saw Hadjipaschali walking down the street you wouldn’t think he was one of the top online gamers in the country. But those in the know ask for his autograph. For Hadjipaschali it’s more about the rush than the cash.
“In the beginning you can feel that pressure, that big match temperament, where you are not at the comfort of your own home behind your computer at your desk. When you are at home your hands aren’t shaking and it’s easier to play.”
Hadjipaschali’s next step on the road to fame and dollars was at a tournament in the cavernous Cape Town International Convention Centre on July 29. The team strolls in with the ease born of years perfecting their craft. They set up their computers, log in, huddle, and put on their headphones. Once the headphones are on, says Hadjipaschali, they won’t see anything but the screen.
With a crowd of almost a hundred cheering them on, it takes two hours to win their quarterfinal against a team called Energy. The players get up, shake hands and then make their way back to their hotel for some rest.
Hadjipaschali isn’t the only professional gamer in his family. His older brother Andreas, who founded Bravado, also had his shot. Now the team’s manager and coach, Andreas is even more determined to see South African gamers on the international scene.
“You only have one or two options, to make do with what qualifiers we have got [in South Africa] or we go overseas and we try qualify over there, but it gets really expensive. To go overseas, for five days with five players with accommodation, food, drinks we spent easily over R150-R170,000 (around $12,000). It’s different if you are living in Europe and there are qualifiers there all the time.”
Although the industry is booming, it’s not easy for the players of Bravado to play professionally. The team practises online every night. This is to accommodate players like 17-year-old Aran Groesbeek, who is still in school. His parents will allow him to play only once he has finished his homework. Ashton Muller, 24 years old, works part time as a manager at his father’s construction company. He dropped out of university to focus on gaming.
Robby da Loca spent a year in Sweden, the mecca of CS GO, trying to make it. But, with the high cost of living in Europe and having to work part time, he fell short and returned to South Africa. Da Loca is so captivated that when he first started playing, he would sneak onto his brother’s computer to play with his earphones off, so he could hear if his brother came home.
The final member is Ruan van Wyk, a qualified industrial engineer living in Port Elizabeth.
In Cape Town, the competition moves on to its final day. The atmosphere is intense as Bravado huddle before their semifinal. The auditorium is packed with fans. Shoutcasters blast their commentary. Behind the players is a giant screen, where the action is shown. Thousands more watch online. Bravado scores a crushing victory to get to the final.
South Africa has drawn the attention from teams around the world. One of those is Anthony Nell, manager of the South African branch of international brand Flipsid3 Tactics.
“What [Flipsid3 Tactics] are interested in is the player development in South Africa. They are looking for good players that are from parts of the world untapped by the rest of the world,” says Nell.
If you thought that gamers couldn’t earn a salary you would be wrong. Nell says even basic salaries for a player in a reserve league and lower would be around $5,000 a month, excluding prize money and endorsements.
The most lucrative eSports game is Defense of the Ancients 2 (DOTA 2). It attracts total prize pools of $86.7 million. At The International 4 in August, the crowdfunded prizes locked at $20.7 million and the winners, Wings Gaming, from China, walked away with $9.1 million for a week’s work.
Africa might not have as much cash to spare, but the pressure in Cape Town’s final is intense. Hadjipaschali and his team win a contested first set against their rivals, Carbon eSports, from Cape Town, who are playing at home.
Bravado suffers from nerves in the second set, throwing away an eight-point lead as Carbon force a decider. Ten minutes before the crucial final round that will make or break this team, Hadjipaschali gathers outside for a pep talk.
“Play calm and play smart,” he says.
The talk pays off and Bravado wins the final round clinically. The team leaps from their chairs shouting. The elation on their faces is priceless. It’s not the Olympics, nor the World Cup; but for these players it’s just as important. Hadjipaschali is so overwhelmed he cries.
“This is unreal. It may not seem like a lot to people, but this is what most of us do full time,” he says.
Ahead of Hadjipaschali and his team lies Paris and a possible $75,000, and that’s just the start.
How many more young men and women from Africa are going to go out on the international stages in search of millions, earning a living in a way their parents would surely fail to understand. Check your kids in the bedroom.
‘Toilet Paper, Gently Used.’ How Facebook Marketplace Has Become An Unlikely Platform For Comedy
In the two days since he advertised “unprocessed toilet paper” for sale on Facebook Marketplace next to a photo of logs, David Traichel says the response has been better than expected. No actual buyers, just hundreds of views, laughs, and “you made my day” from other users browsing through the online classifieds.
“So many people are so freaked out about the idea of not having toilet paper,” says Traichel, 39. The aerospace technician and welder from Northford, Connecticut generally uses Facebook Marketplace to sell vintage car and bicycle parts. He decided to offer his oak and cedar woodpile (price, $1) to jog users out of their shopping panic. “Maybe those people would see the ad and think, ‘OK, maybe I’m overreacting.”
Homebound Americans have turned to scavenging on ecommerce sites like Amazon, eBay and Facebook Marketplace for the boring household goods that have become hot items during the coronavirus pandemic. The shortages have inspired some mercenary sellers to excessive pricing (say, hand sanitizer for $149) and prompted the tech companies to crack down on price gougers. The hoarding frenzy has also been catnip for armchair humorists, who have found an unlikely platform to yuk it up in the free classifieds of Facebook Marketplace.
On the social network’s 800 million-user shopping site, one Internet standup is offering “toilet paper, extra long roll” for $69,4202—it’s a CVS receipt wound around the toilet paper dispenser. Another wants to sell you the “last roll of toilet paper in the world,” marked at $10,000. As a last resort, yet another smart aleck is advertising $90 toilet paper alongside a photo of sandpaper. “Don’t go without during this crisis,” it reads.
In reality, there’s no toilet paper crisis. Unlike imports such as iPhones and flat-screen TVs, most U.S. toilet paper comes from domestic factories, buffering supplies from a drop in production in China, where the viral outbreak started. Georgia-Pacific, maker of AngelSoft and Quilted Northern, is boosting its U.S. production. Proctor & Gamble, which makes Charmin brand toilet paper, Bounty paper towels and Puffs facial tissue, says production at its U.S. plants is at record highs. “Demand continues to outpace supply, but we are working diligently to get product to our retailers as fast as humanly possible,” says P&G spokeswoman Loren Fanroy.
Which makes it all the more absurd that anxious shoppers stripped supermarket shelves of every last double-ply roll. Relishing the irony, Kim Marie, a 42-year-old naturopathic practitioner from Manorville, New York, decided this week to flog “vintage toilet paper” on Facebook Marketplace. For just $55,990, she’s showcasing a water-damaged and rotting roll mounted on a rustic wall, closing with the Craigslist battlecry of overpriced junker listings, “no low ballers, I know what I got.” Marie, who regularly sells vintage housewares on the site, says she has received no serious inquiries. Just as well, since the item listed isn’t actually in Marie’s possession— it was a funny photo texted to her by her husband. She threw it up on Marketplace “to lighten the mood.”
It was the “organic toilet paper,” a $10 baggie of leaves listed on Facebook Marketplace by her brother’s girlfriend, that inspired Liz Stoppiello, 27. The stay-at-home mom usually sells items like car seats and books on Facebook Marketplace. This week she’s offering “washable crochet toilet paper! Been used only a cpl times” for a cool $100. The advertised off-white crochet squares, wrapped around a cardboard tube, look worthy of an Etsy storefront. It took about 30 minutes to make. She just wanted to “get a good laugh” from people and to promote her crochet-oriented Facebook page. “You never know if anyone will start to desperately need handmade items in the near future lol,” she said via email.
Her fellow Marketplace posters might be in on the joke, but Facebook’s bots are not. The social network, which uses artificial intelligence to help monitor content and warned Monday that its systems may have removed some COVID-19-related posts in error, had flagged Traichel’s toilet paper ad for unprocessed wood as “under review.”
Facebook “must be so flooded they don’t know what to do,” Traichel emailed, adding an “lol.” He isn’t interested in making a profit, at least not on his firewood. “If people really need toilet paper, I’ll give ‘em a roll.”
Houseparty: Is The Hit Coronavirus Lockdown App Safe?
Houseparty, with 10 million downloads on Android and millions more on iPhones (Apple won’t confirm exact numbers), has become one of, if not the hit app of the coronavirus shutdown. Vogue even called it “the quarantine app you need to download immediately.”
It lets users start and join a handful of games – Heads Up!, Quick Draw! and Trivia – all with live video and chat. And, thanks to COVID-19 restrictions on people leaving the house, the Epic Games-owned property is scoring many more fans.
But Is Houseparty Safe To Use?
There is some good news on the safety front: there are no obvious flaws or dangers with the app. Forbes had cybersecurity and privacy researcher Lukas Stefanko take a look at the Android version of the app to see if there were any other potential issues. He said there was nothing of concern.
“I analyzed the app’s permissions usage and since the app provides video chats with your friends it is logical that requested permissions are necessary. I haven’t found any shady misusing of them by the app,” said Stefanko, a researcher with cybersecurity firm ESET. “The app doesn’t provide a lot of in-app options and settings, which creates less scenarios for exploiting security issues.”
From a privacy perspective, there’s one obvious issue that some might want to note before diving in: games are open to any of your friends and any of your friends’ friends, unless you lock the “room” where you’re playing. That’s easily fixable, however, with a simple hit of the padlock button at the bottom of the screen. If you don’t lock rooms down, there’s a chance people you don’t know will invade your fun.
Whilst the app collects contacts so you can find friends to play with, the company promises it “will never share your phone number or the phone numbers of third parties in your contacts with anyone else.”
There is the standard warning that user data can be used for more targeted advertising. If you’re concerned enough about that, there are further steps you can take to protect your private information and still use Houseparty.
How To Use Houseparty Privately
There are a few things you can do to boost the privacy of your Houseparty games. First, head to settings, which can be found by first clicking the smiley face at the top left of the screen, then hitting the cogwheel button when the menu appears.
Then you can turn on private mode, which locks every room you’re in. You can also go to the permissions section and turn location on or off. It’s turned off by default, so leave it that way if you want to ensure your whereabouts are private. And if you want to go even further protecting your identity, use a fake name and birthday in the profile section.
One other neat trick learned whilst using the iPhone version of the app: hold down on the Houseparty icon and click on ‘Sneak into the House.’ That means that when you go in, none of your contacts will be notified.
How To Become A Billionaire: Nigeria’s Oil Baroness Folorunso Alakija On What Makes Tomorrow’s Billionaires
One of only two female billionaires in Africa, with a net worth of $1 billion, Nigeria’s oil baroness Folorunso Alakija elaborates on the state of African entrepreneurship today.
The 69-year-old Folorunso Alakija is vice chair of Famfa Oil, a Nigerian oil exploration company with a stake in Agbami Oilfield, a prolific offshore asset. Famfa Oil’s partners include Chevron and Petrobras. Alakija’s first company was a fashion label. The Nigerian government awarded Alakija’s company an oil prospecting license in 1993, which was later converted to an oil mining lease. The Agbami field has been operating since 2008; Famfa Oil says it will likely operate through 2024. Alakija shares her thoughts to FORBES AFRICA on what makes tomorrow’s billionaires:
What is your take on the state of African entrepreneurship today? Is enough being done for young startups?
There are a lot of business opportunities in Africa that do not exist in other parts of the world, yet Africa is seen as a poor continent. The employment constraints in the formal sector in Africa have made it impossible for it to meet the demands of the continent’s working population of which over 60% are the youth. Therefore, it is imperative we harness the potential of Africa’s youth to engage in entrepreneurship and provide adequate assistance to enable them to succeed.
Several governments have been working to provide a conducive atmosphere which will promote entrepreneurship on the continent. However, there is still a lot more to be done in ensuring that the potential of these young entrepreneurs are maximized to the fullest. Some of the challenges young startups in Africa face are as follows: lack of access to finance/insufficient capital; lack of infrastructure; bureaucratic bottlenecks and tough business regulations; inconsistent government policies; dearth of entrepreneurial knowledge and skills; lack of access to information and competition from cheaper foreign alternatives.
It is therefore imperative that governments, non-governmental agencies, and the financial sectors work together to ameliorate these challenges itemized above.
The governments of African nations should provide and strengthen its infrastructure (power, roads and telecom); they should encourage budding entrepreneurs by ensuring that finance is available to businesses with the potential for growth and also commit to further improving their business environments through sustained investment; there must also be a constant push for existing policies and legislation to be reviewed to promote business activities.
These policies must also be enforced, and punitive measures put in place to deter offenders; government regulations should also be flexible to constantly fit the dynamics of the business environment; corruption and unethical behavior must be decisively dealt with and not treated with kid gloves. We must empower our judicial system to enable them to prosecute erring offenders with appropriate sanctions meted out. There should be no “sacred cows” or “untouchables”. The same law must be applied to all, no matter their state or position in the society; non-governmental organizations can also provide support for them through training and skills acquisition programs that will help build their capacity; they could also provide finance to grow their businesses; more mentorship programs should be encouraged, and incubators of young enterprises should be supported by public policy aimed at improving the quality of these youths and their ventures; and also, avenues should be created where young entrepreneurs will be able to connect, learn and share ideas with already successful well-established entrepreneurs.
What, according to you, are the attributes needed for tomorrow’s billionaires?
There is no overnight success. You must start by dreaming big and working towards achieving it. You must be determined to succeed despite all odds. Do not allow your setbacks or failures to stop you but rather make them your stepping stone. Develop your strengths to attain excellence and be tenacious, never give up on your dream or aspiration. Your word must be your bond. You must make strong ethical values and integrity your watchword. Always act professionally and this will enable you to build confidence in your customers and clients.
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