I’d like to say that the geek and gaming culture in South Africa has been growing like a toddler, cautiously pushing itself up on the side of a couch, finding its balance and working up the courage to take those first steps. Instead, it’s moving more at the pace of evolution, taking what feels like millions of years to turn from an inconsequential amoeba to the Homosapien that’s capable of walking upright and using tools instead of just bashing everything with a rock.
A good thing then that even those who are not so much technologically inclined have started picking up a controller in their spare time, turning gaming into a more mainstream activity and thus more acceptable in general. Things are also helped along by regular events surrounding this alien culture, like Rush Esports and Geekfest. These two events are very much like Mario and Luigi before they ingest that first mushroom so there’s still some growing to do. This year, they decided to get on each other’s shoulders so at least one of them can feel like they’re just as tall as their bigger brothers. Not a bad idea, and I have to say, it seems to have paid off.
Rush Esports and Geekfest 2019 were held this past weekend (28 – 30 June 2019) at the Sun Events Arena in Menlyn, Pretoria.
Rush was created for one reason, and one reason only, to give local Esports players a stage where they can prove to their parents that professional gaming is a real thing. Esports may not be embraced by the general public just yet but opinions tend to get adjusted when you walk into a sports arena and see the giant stage covered in lights, and professional shoutcasters singing the praises of those flexing their digital muscles. Things are further helped along when there are big cash prizes, as well as trips to international competitions up for grabs. Rush hosted several big-name titles in competitive gaming at this year’s event including Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Fortnite, Fifa, DOTA 2, Starcraft 2, HearthStone, and Tekken 7.
The main event was undoubtedly the CS: GO stage and I managed to catch a bloody match between Goliath Gaming and Big 5 Esports. During the first map, Big 5 Esports was strutting around like mobsters, dangerous, organized, and untouchable. In the second map, however, Goliath Gaming got a jolt of lightning and like the Frankenstein monster started waking from the dead, forcing a third round tiebreaker. The last map was tense but ultimately Big 5 Esports just wasn’t big enough to slay the giant. Goliath Gaming went on to meet Energy Esports later that day to decide who would go on to WESG in China but this time the giant came crashing down hard and so it would be Energy Esports who moves on to the international stage.
A big congratulations to Edwin “Drager” Williams for taking the win in the Starcraft 2 tournament and earning himself a spot at WESG as well. Drager has thus far been unmatched locally so it was no surprise to see him take the number 1 spot, but now he’ll have to take on those mutants from South Korea which is a different ball game altogether.
Unfortunately for all teenagers, the popularity of Fortnite has taken a big hit this year. Where Fortnite had the second biggest stage at the show in 2018, this year it was pushed into an obscure corner and surrounded with a fence, almost like a petting zoo. Fortnite was not celebrated so much this year as it was tolerated. Could this be making room for Apex Legends to step in next year, or has the Battle Royale craze left its best days in the past?
With the slow rise of Esports we are also seeing some local personalities achieve celebrity status in the gaming community and it was great to see some of them at the event. Sam “Tech Girl” Wright (@TechGirlZA) and Chantelle “Chani” Alexander (@Chani_ZA) were prominent faces this weekend and I also saw Sam Playz (@SamPlayzReal1) lurking around in the crowd. A shoutout to all of you for your efforts in making Esports big in South Africa. It might not have been possible for most of us to play games for a living but, darn it, our kids will never be so deprived.
On the opposite side of the arena was Geekfest in all its geeky glory. Here you could find anything from gaming hardware and board games to branded clothing and coffee mugs, along with a whole list of other geek paraphernalia. Dark Carnival and Koodoo are regulars at events like these and once again they made it very difficult for me not to start swiping my credit card. I’d like to give a special shoutout to Chizzel’d Designs. If you want your geek flag to fly but you don’t want to wear the same old Captain America shirt you’d seen on 12 other people, I suggest you check them out. Most of their gear is handcrafted and both the design and quality completely blew me away.
Tabletop gaming also received a well deserved spot on the arena floor with numerous board games being played throughout the entire weekend and entire libraries worth of games on sale. I mostly enjoyed the Dungeons and Dragons stage where a few enthusiasts put their DnD creations on display to show the world just how fantastic this fantasy game can be.
For those who still have not found their fix of geek culture, there were also medieval weapon fights, archery and gladiator arenas, and remote-controlled robot battles. And last, but certainly not least, no geek event would be complete without a cosplay stage, and Geekfest did not disappoint. The cosplay competition was divided into several sections to make space for the amateur and professional alike, and they even included a junior section.
I’m happy that these two events teamed up to bring us one jam-packed weekend filled with everything our geeky hearts could desire. When I attended Rush last year, I commented that, even at its peak, the arena was still pretty empty which is similar to spending time on a beach outside the holiday season. Sure you’re chilling on the beach, but you’re not getting that holiday vibe. Things are still progressing in the local gaming community so even combined, these events are still on the smaller side of the scale and won’t be attracting any international celebrity guests any time soon.
But Rush and Geekfest are participating in a marathon and the finish line is still very far away. They might not be leading the pack but they’re still in the race and not letting the big dogs push them around. I have great enthusiasm for what these events will hold in the coming year. Thanks to everyone involved for a fantastic weekend. I’ll see you all next year.