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The Geeky Hobby Blooming Into A Lucrative Industry

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If eSports seems as misplaced in business as CS:GO (Counter-Strike: Global Offensive) and DOTA (Defense of the Ancients) do on 24-hour sport channel SuperSport, then you’ve been missing the big picture – this is one of the fastest growing sports in Africa that experts say could be worth a whopping $874 million by 2021.

Just ask Barry Louzada, a computer nerd who turned his childhood hobby into profit. Now this 37 year old is riding the wave of success as the man, and idea, behind Mettlestate, an eSports events hosting company shaking up the industry from Johannesburg, South Africa.

“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 thousands of people coming to conventions,” says Louzada.

eSports has now become a lucrative $1.48 million market in South Africa alone. By 2021, PwC’s Global Entertainment and Media Outlook: 2017–2021 reports it will be worth $4.15 million.

“eSports is a pretty exciting field at the moment. There is a significant scope for growth. I remember in high school when people started LANing over the weekend. There would be cables and computers everywhere. Everyone would have their boxes stuffed into their mother’s car. I was one of those people,” says Chantal Marx, Head of Research at FNB Securities.

Chantal Marx (Photo by Jay Caboz)

The concept that you can play games professionally has caught the attention of more than just gamers. Marx says manufacturers of motherboards, consoles and even cell phones all stand to benefit from the rigorous demand of games.

“The games require significant memory and the reaction speed of your computer needs to be very quick. It’s also the internet providers. Data and broadband companies are interested because the amount of data that these games are using these days are massive,” says Marx.

Newzoo’s Global Games Market report says games have now become the number one favorite pastime; in just five years the industry has grown 56%, illustrating how gaming companies have not only pioneered new ways of engaging and entertaining consumers, but have also led the way in innovating business models to suit the digital age.

Mettlestate is just one of the many new companies that have shown green shoots. In 2017, Louzada says he gave R1.5 million ($111,000) in cash and prizes. Before 2016, a R1-million ($74,000) prize pool was unheard of in South Africa.

Louzada is often called the South African godfather of eSports, having slogged it out for 10 years as a competitive gamer around the world. As a player he was exposed to the international eSports industry firsthand and wanted to bring it to African shores.

“Before I even started playing competitively I felt this unquenchable thirst to make this thing that I love so much bigger and more readily available to people. Where we used to have competitions once a year or every six months, we now have competitions almost every month,” says Louzada.

READ MORE: The Nerd Herd

“The real spark happened when I went overseas for the first time in 2006. I went to Taipei and competed in the Asia Pacific finals for Battlefield 2142. It was like being in a dream where we were picked up in these private limousines and had our own hotel floor. We were being treated like rock stars. The question came to me, ‘why wasn’t this happening to our own eSports stars, maybe not on this same level but microscopically, why wasn’t this happening?’”

Rush eSports

Fans demo games on PS4 consoles at Rush in the Sandton Convention Centre (Photo by Jay Caboz)

For Louzada, the ‘E’ in eSports means entertainment – which is key to what he puts on the table. He wants the players to feel like the rock stars on the international scene. Raising the profiles of local players is one of the biggest challenges facing the local industry which is often seen to be a few years behind the international arena.

“It’s the guys on stage, the guys training for nine months of the year, working tirelessly. We need to make it professional, to have a place where [players] can sit and wait to play their games, so they don’t have to loiter and sit on the floor with the spectators.”

Barry Louzada Mettlestate

Barry Louzada (Photo supplied)

Not only does Louzada want to make rock stars out of the top players, he is also looking to grow the industry by helping to bring prizes to those who compete in the lower leagues, where the majority of fans come from. His plan includes hosting shoutcasting competitions and tournaments specifically for amateurs to come and play on the center court to get a feel for what it can be like as a pro.

“We need to grow the smaller guys who are at the bottom. They are just as important as the guys at the top. We need to give them exposure to step out onto a bigger arena,” says Louzada.

Louzada is also an advocate for gender equality. He hosted the Valkyrie Challenge, partnered with Evetech, an all-girl gamer Counter Strike event, where the winners took home $3,700.

There’s a reason for this. In a space where few women-based teams compete, the past five years have seen a significant increase in the number of female casual gamers; 41% of gamers are now women, according to the Entertainment Software Association’s 2016 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry.

Globally, PwC reports eSports could reach $874 million by 2021. As interest rises worldwide, tournaments and leagues have become more sophisticated.

“If you want to run a successful tournament you are looking at a ball park figure or R3 million ($222,000) to R5 million ($371,000) before you’ve even put your prize money down… as a tournament organizer in South Africa I’m buying my own chairs, we don’t get those huge sponsors.”

READ MORE: Female Gamers: The New Sport Stars

South Africa has shown signs of its ability to become a hub for eSports. One need only look at the success of the Really Awesome Games Expo (rAge), in Johannesburg. Now in its 15th year, it attracts thousands of fans to watch Africa’s rising eSports stars live.

The success of local live events is representative of something much larger. The real revenue comes from online viewership. While international viewership reached a staggering 292 million in 2016, South African tournaments are lucky to reach 400 viewers.

eSports Rush

Jean Louis Potgieter of Pulse Gaming celebrates after a round of Counter Strike at Rush (Photo by Jay Caboz)

This is one of the reasons why Gareth Woods, a comedian and eSports commentator, and Ryan McFadyen, a marketer, started their own business, Good Game Well Played. They believe large prize pools in South Africa’s eSports industry have become a poisoned chalice.

“eSports is all about viewership. You don’t want brands throwing their money into a tournament and you only have 400 viewers – that’s charity not business,” says Woods.

Gareth Woods (Photo by Jay Caboz)

“Gamers get gaming but don’t get marketing. Marketing doesn’t get the gaming market. Which is why we essentially got together,” says McFadyen.

Together they want to bridge the gap between corporate and eSports.

“A lot of brands want to get into eSports, but they don’t know why they want to get into eSports. They think it’s the next buzzword… While all this money is being thrown into these massive cash prizes, where is the money in terms of content, in terms of raising player profile, in terms of digital amplification of any tournament or money in terms of the event infrastructure?” says Woods.

The pair believe this means companies should look at growing the ecosystem around it. In South Africa, the popular sport rugby took years to foster its following.

“In eSports what is happening is we are saying let’s host a Super [Rugby tournament], without any of the infrastructure and ecosystems in place,” says Woods.

Woods and McFadyen have found that companies that engage with the community from an authentic level are wholeheartedly accepted. eSports fans want long-term commitment to grow the sport, not flashy once-off prize pools.

READ MORE: You Can’t Get The Kids Off The Computer

One industry that has tapped into this is sports franchises, like football teams Manchester City and West Ham United, and basketball teams the Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat. Rather than sponsoring tournaments, they bought their own eSports teams. South African football clubs Kaiser Chiefs and Orlando Pirates have sought to mimic this worldwide trend but it’s too early to tell whether the investment pays off.

Ryan McFadyen (Photo by Jay Caboz)

Whether you spend money on buying your own team or sponsoring players, the ticket to influencing this market is upping the view counts.

“We are talking about bespoke activation. The way brands should view eSports is by piggybacking off someone else’s event. You should provide an experience of an event through the brand. Once you have done that you’ve got your toes into the eSports market without having to spend R20 million ($1.5 million) to do the same thing everybody else has done,” says McFadyen.

Even the success of the most lucrative eSports tournament in the world is down to the fans. The International 2017: DOTA 2 Championships ran with a prize pool of $24.7 million this year. Since 2013, crowdfunding has allowed it to reach year-on-year jaw dropping record breaking figures and turn players into millionaires overnight.

“We’ve tried to inherit too much of the European market, which is mainly PC driven. If I was to start an eSports team I would go after mobile and console, because that’s what people play in this country,” says Woods.

Good Game Well Played are also concerned that African eSports is too obsessed with trying to legitimize itself as a sport. Being broadcast for the first time on SuperSport has helped expose it to mainstream South Africa, but it’s a short-term talking point. The ultimate goal is fostering entertainment.

“If rugby was to lose its legitimacy as a sport, do you think it would lose any viewership? It will still hold the entertainment viewership. Let’s be honest, we’re not here to watch these players because they are the embodiment of human athleticism, we’re watching because it’s entertaining. It’s the politics and drama off the field, the injuries and the player rivalry off the field that we want to watch,” says McFadyen.

Alongside poor local viewership, where brands fall short is assuming traditional forms of marketing will work in eSports. It caters toward the emerging millennial market and brands need to create content differently.

“There is a huge entertainment value [in eSports], especially amongst the millennial market which is not consuming TV, radio or print, but are engaging in social media and other forms of content,” says McFadyen.

“Millennials consume more than 10 hours of content per day. I often think to myself ‘how is this even possible?’ But, it’s because they are consuming it on two of three different screens at once. Watching it on their iPads and phones,” says Woods.

eSports Rush

Events, like Rush, host a number of games on various platforms (Photo by Jay Caboz)

For some, the transition to online is easy. Marx, who is a millennial, grew up with a computer in her home from the age of seven; had access to the internet from nine years old and had built her own website before she was 12.

“It’s intuitive for us [millennials] to be able to play these sorts of games, and even more so for the people even younger than I am. Gaming becomes an extension of yourself, that you are doing in your free time. So instead of meditating when lying on the beach, you are playing on your phone addicted to Candy Crush,” she says.

The bottom line is brands need to step-up their game or miss the eSports train.

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Climate Explained: How Much Of Climate Change Is Natural? How Much Is Man-made?

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How much climate change is natural? How much is man made?

As someone who has been working on climate change detection and its causes for over 20 years I was both surprised and not surprised that I was asked to write on this topic by The Conversation. For nearly all climate scientists, the case is proven that humans are the overwhelming cause of the long-term changes in the climate that we are observing. And that this case should be closed.

Despite this, climate denialists continue to receive prominence in some media which can lead people into thinking that man-made climate change is still in question. So it’s worth going back over the science to remind ourselves just how much has already been established.

Successive reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – mandated by the United Nations to assess scientific evidence on climate change – have evaluated the causes of climate change. The most recent special report on global warming of 1.5 degrees confirms that the observed changes in global and regional climate over the last 50 or so years are almost entirely due to human influence on the climate system and not due to natural causes.

What is climate change?

First we should perhaps ask what we mean by climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change defines climate change as:

a change in the state of the climate that can be identified by changes in the mean and/or the variability of its properties and that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer.

The causes of climate change can be any combination of:

  • Internal variability in the climate system, when various components of the climate system – like the atmosphere and ocean – vary on their own to cause fluctuations in climatic conditions, such as temperature or rainfall. These internally-driven changes generally happen over decades or longer; shorter variations such as those related to El Niño fall in the bracket of climate variability, not climate change.
  • Natural external causes such as increases or decreases in volcanic activity or solar radiation. For example, every 11 years or so, the Sun’s magnetic field completely flips and this can cause small fluctuations in global temperature, up to about 0.2 degrees. On longer time scales – tens to hundreds of millions of years – geological processes can drive changes in the climate, due to shifting continents and mountain building.
  • Human influence through greenhouse gases (gases that trap heat in the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide and methane), other particles released into the air (which absorb or reflect sunlight such as soot and aerosols) and land-use change (which affects how much sunlight is absorbed on land surfaces and also how much carbon dioxide and methane is absorbed and released by vegetation and soils).

What changes have been detected?

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report showed that, on average, the global surface air temperature has risen by 1°C since the beginning of significant industrialisation (which roughly started in the 1850s). And it is increasing at ever faster rates, currently 0.2°C per decade, because the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have themselves been increasing ever faster.

The oceans are warming as well. In fact, about 90% of the extra heat trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases is being absorbed by the oceans.

A warmer atmosphere and oceans are causing dramatic changes, including steep decreases in Arctic summer sea ice which is profoundly impacting arctic marine ecosystems, increasing sea level rise which is inundating low lying coastal areas such as Pacific island atolls, and an increasing frequency of many climate extremes such as drought and heavy rain, as well as disasters where climate is an important driver, such as wildfire, flooding and landslides.

Multiple lines of evidence, using different methods, show that human influence is the only plausible explanation for the patterns and magnitude of changes that have been detected.

This human influence is largely due to our activities that release greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, as well sunlight absorbing soot. The main sources of these warming gases and particles are fossil fuel burning, cement production, land cover change (especially deforestation) and agriculture.

Weather attribution

Most of us will struggle to pick up slow changes in the climate. We feel climate change largely through how it affects weather from day-to-day, season-to-season and year-to-year.

The weather we experience arises from dynamic processes in the atmosphere, and interactions between the atmosphere, the oceans and the land surface. Human influence on the broader climate system acts on these processes so that the weather today is different in many ways from how it would have been.

One way we can more clearly see climate change is by looking at severe weather events. A branch of climate science, called extreme event or weather attribution, looks at memorable weather events and estimates the extent of human influence on the severity of these events. It uses weather models run with and without measured greenhouse gases to estimate how individual weather events would have been different in a world without climate change.

As of early 2019, nearly 70% of weather events that have been assessed in this way were shown to have had their likelihood and/or magnitude increased by human influence on climate. In a world without global warming, these events would have been less severe. Some 10% of the studies showed a reduction in likelihood, while for the remaining 20% global warming has not had a discernible effect. For example, one study showed that human influence on climate had increased the likelihood of the 2015-2018 drought that afflicted Cape Town in South Africa by a factor of three.

Adapting to a changing climate

Weather extremes underlie many of the hazards that damage society and the natural environment we depend upon. As global warming has progressed, so have the frequency and intensity of these hazards, and the damage they cause.

Minimising the impacts of these hazards, and having mechanisms in place to recover quickly from the impacts, is the aim of climate adaptation, as recently reported by the Global Commission on Adaptation.

As the Commission explains, investing in adaptation makes sense from economic, social and ethical perspectives. And as we know that climate change is caused by humans, society cannot use “lack of evidence” on its cause as an excuse for inaction any more.

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The Rage And Tears That Tore A Nation

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Snapshots of the outrage against foreign nationals and protests against sexual offenders in South Africa in recent weeks, captured by FORBES AFRICA photojournalist Motlabana Monnakgotla.


As the continent’s second-biggest economy, South Africa attracts migrants from the rest of Africa. But mired in its own problems of unemployment and political instability, September saw a serious outbreak of attacks by South Africans on foreign nationals and foreign-owned businesses. And they have been ugly.    

The spark that fueled the raging fire was in Pretoria, the country’s capital, when a taxi driver was shot dead by a foreign national who was selling drugs to a youngster in the central business district (CBD).

The altercation caused a riot and the taxi industry brought the CBD to a standstill, blocking intersections. It did not stop there; a week later, about 60 kilometers from the capital in Malvern, a suburb east of the Johannesburg CBD, a hijacked building caught fire, leaving three dead. As emergency services were putting out the fire, the residents took advantage and looted foreign-owned shops and burned car dealerships overnight on Jules Street.

The lootings extended to the CBD and other parts of Johannesburg.

To capture this embarrassing moment in South African history, I visited Katlehong, a township 35 kilometers east of Johannesburg, where the residents blocked roads leading to Sontonga Mall on a mission to loot the mall and the foreign-owned shops therein overnight.

Shop-owners and workers were shocked to wake up to no business.

Mfundo Maljingolo, a worker at Fish And Chips, was among the distressed.

“This thing started last night, people started looting and broke into the mall and did what they wanted to do. I couldn’t go to work today because there’s nothing to do; now, we are not going to get paid. The shop will be losing close to R10,000 ($677) today. It’s messed up,” said Maljingolo.

But South African businesses were affected too.

Among the shops at the mall is Webbers, a clothing and footwear store. Looters could not enter the shop and it was one of the few that escaped the vandalism.

Dineo Nyembe, the store’s manager, said she was in disbelief when she saw people could not enter the mall.

“We got here this morning and the ceiling was wrecked but there was no sign that the shop was entered, everything was just as we left it. Now, we are packing stock back to the warehouse, because we don’t know if they are coming back tonight,” lamented Nyembe, unsure if they would make their daily target or if they would be trading again.

 Across the now-wrecked mall are small businesses that were not as fortunate as Webbers, and it was not only the shop-owners that were affected. 

Emmanuel Nhlane’s home was robbed even as attackers were looting the shop outside.

“They broke into my house, I was threatened with a petrol bomb and I had to stand outside to give them a chance; they took my fridge, bed, cash and my VHS,” said Nhlane.

Nhlane had rented out his yard to foreign nationals to operate a shop. He does not comprehend why his belongings were taken because he doesn’t own a shop. Now, it means that the unemployed Nhlane will not be getting his monthly rental fee of R3,700 ($250).

Far away, the coastal KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa, was also affected as trucks burned and a driver was killed because of his nationality. This was part of a logistics and transport industry national strike.

Back in Johannesburg, I visited the car dealerships that were a part of the burning spree on Jules Street.

The streets were still ashy and the air still smoky, two days after the unfortunate turn of events.

Muhamed Haffejee, one of the distraught businessmen there, said: “Currently, we are still not trading.” 

Cape Town, in the Western Cape province of South Africa, which hosted the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa from September 4 to 6, was also witness to protests by women and girls from all walks of life outside the Cape Town International Convention Centre, demanding that the leadership take action to end the spate of gender-based violence (GBV) in the country.

There were protests also outside Parliament. What set off the nationwide outcry was the shocking rape and murder of Uyinene Mrwetyana, a 19-year-old film and media student at the University of Cape Town, inside a post office by a 42-year-old employee at the post office.

There was anger against the ghastly crimes and wave of GBV in the country that continues unabated. According to Stats SA, there has been a drastic increase of women-based violence in South Africa; sexual offences are up by 4.6%, from 50,108 in 2018 to 52,420 in 2019.

A week later, on a Friday, Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile and one of the biggest economic hubs, was shut down by hundreds of angry women and members of advocacy groups from across Johannesburg. They congregated by the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE), the cynosure of business, singing and chanting, to demand “a 2% levy on profits of all listed entities to help fund the fight against GBV and femicide”.   

Among the protesters was Cebi Ngqinanbi, holding a placard that read: “I’m not your punching bag.”

“We came here to disrupt Sandton as the heart of Johannesburg’s economic hub. We want to make everyone aware that women and children are being killed every day in South Africa and they [Sandton] continue with business as usual, sitting in their offices with air-conditioners and the stock exchange whilst people on the ground making them rich are dying. That is why we are here, to speak to those that have economic power,” said Ngqinanbi.

She added that if women can be given economic power, they will be able to fend for themselves and won’t fall prey to abusive men, since most women stay in abusive relationships because men are more financially stable.

Amid the chanting and singing of struggle songs, Nobuhle Ajiti addressed the crowd and shared her own haunting experience as a migrant in South Africa and survivor of GBV. She spoke in isiZulu, a South African language.

“I survived a gang rape; I was thrown out of a moving car and stabbed several times. I survived it, but am I going to survive xenophobia that is looming around in South Africa? Will I able to share my xenophobia story like I can share my GBV story?” questioned Ajiti.

She said as migrants, they did not wake up in the morning and decide to come to South Africa, but because of the hardships faced in their home countries, they were forced to come to what they perceived as the city of opportunities. And as a foreign national, she had to deal with both xenophobia and GBV.

“We experience institutionalized xenophobia in hospitals; we are forced to pay huge amounts for consultation. I am raped and I need medical attention and I am told I need to pay R5,000 ($250).

“As a mere migrant, where am I going to get R5,000? I get abused at home and the police officer would ask me where I’m from because of my accent, I sound Zimbabwean. What does my nationality have to do with my husband beating me at home or with the man that just raped me?” she asked.

Women stop traffic while they hold up placards stating their grievences against GBV. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

Addressing the resolute women outside was the JSE CEO Nicky Newton-King who received the memorandum demanding business take their plight seriously, from a civil society group representing over 70 civil society organizations and individuals.

The list of demands include that at all JSE-listed companies contribute to a fund to resource the National Strategy Plan on GBV and femicide, to be launched in November; transport for employees who work night shifts or work after hours; establish workplace mechanisms to provide support to GBV survivors as part of employee wellness, and prevention programs that help make workplaces safe spaces for all women.

Newton-King assured the protestors she would address their demands in seven days. But a lot can happen in seven days. Will there be more crimes in the meantime? How many more will be raped and killed in South Africa by then?

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How LinkedIn Is Looking To Help Close The Ever-Growing Skills Gap

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As the job market has evolved, so too have the skills required of seekers. But when 75% of human resources professionals say a skills shortage has made recruiting particularly challenging in recent months, it would appear as though the workforce hasn’t quite kept pace. Now LinkedIn is stepping in to help close the gap.

On Tuesday, the professional social network announced the launch of a “Skills Assessments” tool, through which users can put their knowledge to the test. Those who pass are given the opportunity to display a badge that reads “passed” next to the skill on their profile pages, a validation of sorts that LinkedIn hopes will encourage skills development among its users and help better match potential employees with the right employers.  

READ MORE | Not Just Equality, But Recognition Of Excellence

“We see an evolving labor market and much more sophistication in how recruiters and hiring managers look for skills. … We also see a changing learning market,” says Hari Srinivasan, senior director of product management at LinkedIn Learning. “The combination of those two made us excited about changing our opportunity marketplace to make the hiring side and the learning side work better together.”

So how exactly does it work? Let’s say a user wants to showcase her proficiency in Microsoft Excel. Rather than simply listing “Excel” in the skills section of her profile, she can take a multiple-choice test to demonstrate the extent to which she is an expert.

If she aces the test, not only will a badge verifying her aptitude will appear on her profile, but she will be more likely to surface in searches by recruiters, who can search for candidates by skill in the same way they might do so by college or employer. If she fails, she can take the test again, but she’ll have to wait a few months—plenty of time to develop her skillset.   

The tool has been in beta mode since March, and while just 2 million people have used it—a mere fraction of LinkedIn’s 630 million members—early results seem promising. According to LinkedIn, members who’ve completed skills assessments have been nearly 30% more likely to land jobs than their counterparts who did not take the tests.

READ MORE | Challenging The Gender Divide

“This has been a really good way for members to represent what they know, what they are good at,” says Emrecan Dogan, LinkedIn group product manager.

While new to LinkedIn, the practice of assessing candidates’ skills has been a standard among hiring managers for decades. But when research commissioned by LinkedIn revealed that 69% of employees feel that skills have become more important to recruiters than education, LinkedIn felt as though this was the time to give job seekers the opportunity to prove themselves from the get-go.

As important as the hard skills that members can put to the test through LinkedIn’s new tool may be, Dawn Fay, senior district president at recruiting firm Robert Half, encourages those on both side of the job search not to forget the importance of soft skills. “You wouldn’t want to rule somebody in or out just based on how they did on one particular skill assessment,” she says.

“Have another data point that you can use, question people about how they did on something and see if it’s something that can feed into the puzzle to find out if somebody is going to be a good fit.”

-Samantha Todd; Forbes

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