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The Nerd Herd

Some say gaming is a bigger business than the movies. It’s worth $217 million in South Africa alone and rising. Thirty-three thousand nerds flocked to see the latest in all that’s geeky.

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The gathering of the nerds. You would think you wouldn’t hear yourself over the explosions and crossfire on their screens. Instead there is barely a whisper; the silence of the nerds if ever there was. It’s an eerie experience watching 2,500 gamers in Africa’s largest LAN (local area network), held at the Really Awesome Gaming Expo (rAge) in Johannesburg, South Africa, in almost monastic silence.

Just a gentle tip tap on their keyboards and the odd click of a mouse with 2,500 pairs of eyes glued to their screens for three days and nights.

Row upon row of geeks sit at their orange tables with their computer towers glowing in the dark and two-liter bottles of cool drink never far away. Some nap on inflated mattresses; others merely sleep on their keyboards.

It’s not a question of come as you are, rather come as you want to be. They call them cosplayers, or in English, the people who dress as the characters on the screens. One of them is 23-year-old au pair by day and cosplayer by night Lauren Mutch, who enjoys dressing up as Naruto, the Japanese based cartoon anime hero. Mutch is learning Japanese so she can go to the Mecca of anime to teach English and, one day, become a narrator in an anime series.

“I love anime. I thought to dress up as these characters would be something really cool, so why not try it? It’s a way to celebrate your fandom with other people. I wish I had my Naruto contact lenses now to show you, I left them at home,” says Mutch.

Someone who didn’t forget his anime eyes is Douw ‘Silver Angel’ Kotzé, dressed as Uchiha Itachi, another character from Naruto. His creepy Mangekyou Sharingan lenses are hard to miss. Elsewhere a thin Batman hangs out by the shawarma store, an award-winning married Legends of Zelda couple look for new games to play and a 20-year–old Syndra from League of Legends is at home posing for photos with zealous followers.

Just an ordinary weekend for the 33,000 nerds who flock to catch a glimpse of the latest in all things geeky; from computer games to comic books.

“Overall we’re seeing gaming and the geek tech genre growing all the time, if the show is anything to go on,” says Michael James, rAge owner.

Speed is everything for a LANer. It’s so popular; James had to install a 2-gigabyte-per-second line (Gbps) to provide enough bandwidth to keep the gamers happy. This is a thousand times faster than what most South Africans live with on their 2-megabyte–per-second lines.

“We even had a hiccup with the internet one year when we couldn’t supply enough bandwidth. But now we’re 100 percent sorted out and we’re 100 percent sorted out with the network,” says James.

But rAge is a small drop in the ocean for an industry that’s worth $217 million in South Africa, according to a report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC): South African entertainment and media outlook: 2014 – 2018. By 2018, it is expected to grow to

$335 million.

It’s not just Africa that is enjoying the boom. Nerds worldwide are making millions in eSports. Twenty million people tuned in through online streaming to watch The International 2014 finals of DotA 2, a strategy game where two five-man teams face off in a battle to destroy each other’s base.

Ironically DotA started as a custom map in 2005, made by fans of World Craft 3. It became so popular that it launched a whole new genre of computer gaming Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA). The winners of the finals, Chinese team ‘Newbee’, pocketed $5 million from a prize pool of roughly $10 million.

This is not the only game to rake in millions of viewers. In 2013, the League of Legends finals drew 32 million viewers. Still not as close as the Super Bowl XLVIII final which drew 111.5 million.

It’s not just computers – mobile games are on the rise. In 2013, PwC noted that King’s Candy Crush Saga, a mobile social game, was downloaded 500 million times. By 2018, it expects South Africa’s mobile gaming market will rival console games for the leading platform for video games.

“Digital is making a huge inroad, so guys like Steam [an online gaming and shopping store], people are buying games there instead of in a shop,” says James.

Gaming has become so big that it’s believed to be larger than the movie industry.

“If you add the consoles and all the hardware involved, it’s probably getting around to where the movies are at the moment. Every avenue I’ve kind of looked at or investigated has gone onto speculation. It’s not a very definitive thing because gaming is so wide and broad. But it must be very close,” says James.

Disney’s Iron Man 3 took 23 days to hit $1 billion in sales, and is now currently the 6th highest grossing film according to Box Office Mojo. Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V, the violent role playing game, grossed $1 billion in just three days after being released by its parent company Take-Two Interactive.

The nerd herd in their rising millions will be sure to argue this in front of their desktops long into the night.

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