The people who have been organizing the Rage Expo to great success for the past few years have decided to expand on their kingdom and give birth to Rush eSports. 2018 was the second year Rush brought South Africa's fastest button mashers out into the sunlight to match their mettle against those they've badmouthed online but never actually met in person.
What follows is the rundown of my experience at this year's event. For more information on Rush have a look at their website.
Am I in the right place?
The event started at 9:00 so I, of course, woke up at 6:00, so I could be there at 7:00 and at least have a view of the arena when I inevitably fall in the mile-long queue. I drove past Sun Arena in Menlyn, Pretoria and saw no visible signage to indicate that this place is hosting a virtual battleground. So I pulled up to the entrance and asked the security guard, "Am I in the right place? I'm looking for the Rush eSports Convention." "Yes you are sir", the kind guard replied, "but we only open at 8:00", he continued.
Perplexed I head into the parking area and park right next to the entrance. I was completely and utterly alone and could almost hear the heavy breathing of the hammer-wielding psycho clown I imagined hiding around the corner. Still a little unsure of things, I walked up to another guard and repeated my previous question and he too confirmed that no one was playing an elaborate prank on me to waste my Saturday. So I waited in my car for an hour until the doors finally opened and only after I scaled 2 flights of stairs did I finally see a colorful sign that read "Rush – A Rage eSports Initiative". So I breathe a sigh of relief knowing that I am where I'm supposed to be. The good thing about there being no one else meant there were also no queues.
After pacing for about 45 minutes the guard at the entrance door finally got fed up and let me in a few minutes early. So I took a walk around to get the lay of the land and plan where I'm going to spend the bulk of my day.
The chosen venue is a sports arena which had a good layout for the day's happenings. There were plenty of stands surrounding the center with the main stages positioned so fans could take a seat and enjoy watching their favorite players perform. Between the stands were wide walkways which allowed me to move easily between points of interest. Even when the place filled up later in the day, the arena never felt crowded. My only gripe is that some of the stands were badly branded in that they had a company banner but nothing else to indicate what to expect from them.
One such stand had a bunch of tables set out like they were hosting a card game tournament but those who sat down at said tables were on their mobile phones all day. I still have no idea what they were doing. Another stand labeled Lobbsta had two rows of tables with several laptops set up for participating gamers and all the equipment to broadcast their chosen game, but at no point did I see any action from there and it was only later that I found out, they were set to showcase their new online competitive platform by demoing some DOTA 2 games.
Before opening time the gentlemen at The Ark Gaming allowed me a few minutes in one of their racing simulators to try my skills at Gran Turismo Sport, and it turns out I made the right life choices by not pursuing a career as a professional race driver.
Further down the aisle was the Lobbsta stand I mentioned earlier, followed by the Coolermaster Mod Squad stand. Among some fantastic hardware on display were some beautifully modded cases and later on, I saw some artists working on new mods.
Next was the Playstation VR Zone which allowed the public to test some VR games including Gran Turismo Sport and Spider-Man: Homecoming. They had screens set up so spectators could at least see what was happening in-game, and I must admit I was disappointed to see how jittery the VR controllers seemed to respond.
My favorite section though was the arcade corner hosted by Eurasian Entertainment. These fine fellows specialize in building classic pinball and arcade machines, several of which were on display and available to anyone with a whiff of nostalgia coursing through their veins. Since I'm old enough to remember actually paying to play pinball, I happily walked up to an open machine and gave those paddles a good workout. Some of the arcade machines only had a single game available but they also had some mini arcade machines that can be positioned on top of a table with a whole list of classic games loaded.
In addition, Eurasian Entertainment hosted a competition throughout the weekend which challenged players to load up Metal Slug, one of my all-time favorites and post a selfie with the game showing their high score on the Eurasian Facebook page. The highest score could win you a wireless arcade system.
The main attractions of the event were, of course, the Fifa 2018, Fortnite and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournaments. These tournaments offered some impressive prize pools ranging from R500 up to R25 000 along with gear from Huawei and Vodacom.
Something I found rather odd was that the Fortnite tournament was held on mobile platform only. Since this game is available on several platforms and allows for cross-platform play, I struggle to see the reason why they limited this to the least popular one of the bunch. As if to echo my confusion, most of the players who entered the tournament admitted to having little to no experience playing Fortnite on mobile.
Despite this, most of the players seemed to have little problem adapting their skills and performed reasonably well in general. One of the entrants, a player named Jon-Luc even received the ever infamous Victory Royale, a moment when every single person in the stands got to their feet to cheer in unison. Since Fortnite is a battle royale game, it's difficult to imagine it being used in a tournament setting unless you have 100 players competing. The rules were rather simple though, 2 players would play together in a standard duo game and compete for the most kills. Should the frag rate be equal then survival time would be the deciding factor.
A thing to keep in mind though is that this was the very first Fortnite tournament to be held on the entire African continent which meant that Rush 2018 would crown the very first African Fortnite champion.
In addition to some great competition, spectators were also given a chance to win a NAG hamper by predicting the winner of each match. Those who guessed correctly would be called up front to be the victim of a boogie bomb and had to replicate the chosen Fortnite dance moves. It was inevitable that I would at least guess one winner correctly which found me front and center, ready to impress with my boogie skills. Needless to say, I had no hampers to take home with me, my wife was not surprised.
While the Fortnite corner was a bit more comical and fun, on the CS:GO side things were way more serious. I was able to spectate the first game in the quarterfinal match between White Rabbit Gaming and Energy Gaming. Energy Gaming is regarded by many to be the dominant force in the South African CS:GO scene and were firm favorites to win the weekend's tournament. They proved that their reputation was well deserved when they took an early 10-3 lead over White Rabbit Gaming only to have the fluffy creatures come back with rabies and tear the crap out of everything. Energy Gaming won the round but only just. Both teams, however, showed impressive skill and were an absolute pleasure to watch.
I feel Rush's marketing department messed up. Working in an IT related field I come across many people who are interested in gaming and should have been hyped about this event. Unfortunately, way too many of those I spoke to had no idea what I was talking about when I asked them if they'd be attending Rush. The lack of signage at the venue is a testament to this as it had me wondering if I was even at the right venue.
The eSports community in South Africa is still very small. Most people here are not ready to accept that gaming has become a legitimate competitive activity and that it's possible to make a living, playing games. However, having more events like Rush should change that in the years to come. Unfortunately, since our gaming culture is still in its infancy, the relatively small Sun Arena, was never even close to being full and so the entire event lacked that special spirit.
All that said, I enjoyed my day at Rush, watching kids kick ass in Fortnite, grown-ups pulling out their best Saturday Night Fever moves to win hampers, and professionals leaving each other bruised and bloody on the CS:GO stage. However, the event lacked that certain something that should have left a lasting impression. I'll be back for more next year though to see if things are moving in a positive direction.