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You Can’t Get The Kids Off The Computer

It’s the next craze in Africa. Playing computer games before an audience of millions with fame and fortune at stake. They call it eSports.

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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.

Entrepreneurs

Enterprise And Traceable Tea From Tanzania

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Tahira Nizari; images supplied

How this Tanzanian entrepreneur’s tea startup is weathering the Covid-19 storm.

When Tahira Nizari started her social enterprise Kazi Yetu in Tanzania’s bustling city, Dar es Salaam, with her business partner and husband, Hendrik Buermann, almost two years ago, she didn’t anticipate the sheer scope of her big idea.

But she also didn’t expect that, because of an employee’s exposure to the coronavirus in April, she and her entire team would be quarantining for two weeks, stalling work in a year that she had projected growth for her company. With the pandemic’s onset, she lost most of her customer base in Tanzania, albeit temporarily, and was forced to come up with a game-plan and quickly pivot.

“It’s been an economic recession overnight, more or less,” says Nizari.

With family roots in Tanzania, and armed with formal degrees from Dubai and Canada, and experience in economic inclusion in the non-profit development sector, Nizari aimed to set a benchmark in the agribusiness sector in Tanzania through value-addition and by employing local women in her factory based in Dar es Salaam to produce “a traceable product” for the local and international market.

“Right now, tea is just exported in bulk completely (from Tanzania) and then all the jobs thereafter in that value chain are done abroad. So what we said was ‘let’s redistribute that job creation, let’s bring it back to Tanzania and let’s create a facility in which we can hire workers all locally and have a product that is 100% made in Tanzania’,” says Nizari. After extensive research in multiple target markets, both locally and abroad, building relationships with 250 Tanzanian farmers, setting up a factory exclusively employing local and previously-unemployed women, and many iterations of the seven blends of its flagship Tanzania Tea Collection using local flavors and spices, Kazi Yetu was ready to expand its scope in 2020.

“We were following our business plan… but we were really cautious and risk-averse (in 2018 and 2019). And then, we said, ‘you know what, when 2020 hits, it’s going to be growth’.”

Nizari was planning on reaching up to 4,000 farmers, buy machinery from China, grow the local B2B customer base, permanently employ all the women at the factory and begin to export on a larger scale after the launch of Kazi Yetu’s online store.

But when the coronavirus hit the local and international markets, things started looking very bleak, especially since Kazi Yetu is currently fully self-funded.

 Not only did it lose almost all of its monthly income, but the farmers stopped meeting in groups for the training, so the supply chain was disrupted.

“In Europe, people are all sitting at home. They’re looking for products to build their immunity – tea is a great solution.”

The factory also had to introduce safety protocols for employees at work and at home, as well as reduce the number of people working at any given time in order to adhere to social distancing.

An employee’s father also died of the coronavirus, which forced Nizari to ask everyone involved with Kazi Yetu to quarantine at home for 14 days.

“So what we said was, ‘look, we don’t want to risk their safety, but we also don’t want to risk their economic well-being’. So we just paid all of them their full-time salary,” says Nizari.

“Generally, our operational costs have been really hard to cover right now… but it’s okay, because it made us pivot.”

It inspired Nizari to expedite Kazi Yetu’s plans to export, kickstart the online store sooner than anticipated and build up stock to send to Germany, rather than just focus on the Tanzanian market, which is temporarily quite small. Exporting has been an issue, given limited shipping at the moment, but the European market proved to be a pleasant surprise for Nizari.

“In Europe, people are all sitting at home. They’re looking for products to build their immunity – tea is a great solution,” she says.

Slowly, the factory is moving back to normal operations and Nizari is trying her best to ensure a steady income for the employees. Kazi Yetu is also now available on local delivery applications in Tanzania, so people can order tea to their doorsteps.

Looking ahead, Nizari hopes to scale up exporting through the online store and retailers, whether in Europe, or also in markets like South Africa where products from sub-Saharan Africa are popular, and North America where innovative African products are in demand.

“We want our product to be competing with products made in Europe, and for example, Sri Lankan tea, Indian tea and Chinese tea. We want Tanzanian products to be well-regarded,” she adds.

Since the teas are traceable, which is a unique selling point, Kazi Yetu is also working on an app that uses blockchain to allow customers to access data on the tea they purchase, from the farm level, all the way to their cups. This way, they will know first-hand the impact the product has.

In addition, Nizari is working on a farm-hub model to build Kazi Yetu’s supply chain by helping them produce better raw products through a no-interest investment that can be paid back with their final product over time.

“The whole ‘economy versus safety’ debate… it’s something we have to think about moving forward… You can’t just operate as a business that makes money, you have to think about… the well-being of your workplace, the well-being of everyone in your supply chain… And I think this is where social enterprises really come in,” Nizari adds.

And a hot cup of locally-produced tea can certainly help take forward any such deliberations.

By Inaara Gangji

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Entrepreneurs

Farmer Forays: ‘Creating A New Line Of Business’

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Shola Ladoja; image supplied

Nigerian agripreneur Shola Ladoja, the founder of Simply Green, says the pandemic-induced lockdown brought with it logistic adversity, but also more local sales.  

With the marauding coronavirus disrupting lives and businesses in Nigeria, the financial stability of a majority of the country’s 200 million inhabitants has been severely affected.

The significant toll it has taken on economic activities has forced many small and medium enterprises to reimagine new ways of staying afloat. Covid-19 is also set to radically aggravate food insecurity in Africa. In spite of Nigeria’s dependence on oil, agriculture remains an important cornerstone for its economy, providing employment for millions especially in the informal sector.

The threat of starvation is so present that in a public address in May, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari, urged Nigerian farmers to produce enough for the country to eat, saying that the country has “no money to import” food.

But every cloud has a silver lining. The food shortage has presented some agripreneurs in Nigeria with serendipitous opportunities.

Shola Ladoja is the founder of Simply Green, which is a farm-to-table company specializing in vegetables, fruits, juices, spices and herbs. The border lockdown has meant that many of the retail and supermarket chains can no longer import foreign produce into the country.

But this hurdle created a new opportunity for Ladoja.

“[Previously], I tried to get my juices into local stores in Nigeria but they all turned me down and most of them wanted to buy imported juices. The lockdown meant that they had to buy a local brand like mine because they could not get them from abroad anymore. We are now able to sell a lot more during this time than previous years,” says Ladoja.

On the logistics side, however, Ladoja has also felt the pinch of the pandemic like most business that require consistent movement of goods and services. The lockdown scenario prevented his workers from coming in and as a result, the company’s daily delivery of juices, has come to an abrupt stop.  

Ladoja has had to start thinking outside the box to make ends meet.

“We have come up with a fruit and vegetable box, which we sell directly on our website to our customers. So, they can now buy lettuce, kale and carrots, which we have never done before. So, this period has forced us to think about how we can expand the business and this time we actually created a new line of business, which was not in the plans for this year,” says Ladoja.

According to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), even before the Covid-19 crisis, farmers had not been able to satisfy the demands of Nigeria’s population.

“I feel like the government should give out grants and loans and support for small businesses so that they don’t crash. I have friends who have complained they are going to shut down their businesses because they haven’t been paid for two months. A lot of people cannot sell their produce in Lagos because the markets are closed which is going to affect a lot of farmers at this time,” says Ladoja.

Nigeria used to import over a million tonnes of rice from Thailand annually. That number has been significantly reduced with the implementation of high import taxes. This has led to an abnormal increase in food prices in Nigeria since the onset of the coronavirus with the UN estimating the number of people facing acute food security stands to rise to 265 million globally in 2020 as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic.

Nigeria has substantially increased domestic rice production in the pandemic but is still a long way from reaching the levels needed for the country to sufficiently feed itself. Coupled with the decline in global oil prices, it is safe to say the adverse economic impact of Covid-19 on Africa’s most populous country is going to be felt for a long time to come.

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Entrepreneurs

All For Grooming Future Leaders

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Katlego Thwane has had to dip into his own savings, with the Covid-19 crisis, to fund his noble cause, teaching the underprivileged in a South African township.

He is in his twenties, yet turning around the destiny of underprivileged young people around him.

Katlego Thwane, a 28-year-old born and bred in South Africa’s lively township of Soweto, is an educator and founder of the Atlegang Bana Foundation here that caters to primary school learners who struggle to keep up at school and need additional help.

“Our foundation also provides for needy learners from underprivileged backgrounds. One of my biggest campaigns at the foundation every year is to give confidence and motivation to learners for the year ahead,” says Thwane.

He has bagged numerous awards and accolades for his work, as a 2017 Young Community Shaper, 2018 Lead SA hero and featuring on live television show Big Up on SABC Mzansi in 2018.

Growing up, he was a “naughty boy”, as he describes himself, but says many are now astonished at the serious, ambitious young man he has become.

“Teaching has always been a passion of mine. I love seeing change, transformation and grooming leaders, and value their education while being innovative in taking our country forward.”

Thwane has recently established a clothing brand, BANA, under the Atlegang Bana Foundation. He is also currently handing out food parcels to the needy in his community, in partnership with Hollywoodbets.

“The virus has affected us immensely with many parents losing their jobs or taking salary cuts, we are not receiving the financial support as before. This has led to me [dipping] into my own personal pocket and [using it] to buy tutors data for teaching virtually,” says Thwane.

Most schools continue operating online because learners haven’t as yet returned to school, however, this has come with its share of setbacks.

Makosha Masedi, a parent of a Grade 4 learner, says her challenges come with network issues and understanding the tasks given to the child.

“Some of the programs that the work is loaded on to is not friendly for all devices, so submitting and retrieving becomes a problem, as also understanding some of the work,” rues Masedi.

But Thwane powers on, hoping for a better tomorrow, for himself and his country.

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