'SA FIFA players can be the best in the world,' says TechgirlZA Sam Wright

As football fans wrap up an intense Premier League season which Manchester City managed to win at the death with Liverpool hot on their heels, the esports world also wrapped one of the biggest live Fifa tournaments held to date – the Ooredoo Nation FIFA22 Champions Cup in the Middle East.

Now, FIFA is a familiar term for football spectators as it’s the international governing body of the sport and is very much involved with all things on the football pitch, and also virtually it seems.

The FIFA video game, is the largest sports video game franchise in the world and it’s only fitting that it has a tournament which is known as the FIFA Champions Cup.

This year’s tournament consisted of 16 players from around the Middle East, Asia and Africa who were invited to compete over three days for a $50 000 prize pool and, yes, that included a couple of South Africans.

Eyewitness News caught up with one of the South Africans that formed part of the FIFA tournament, recently held in Qatar.

Sam Wright is an esports host and shoutcaster, fondly known as TechgirlZA on social media. Wright describes her job as “much like how a football commentator commentates over the game, or how the desk of analysts chats during halftime and pre- and post-show - I do the same but for esports [which is competitive gaming]".

Wright’s journey started about five years ago and according to her she sort of "fell into it".

“I was doing videos on YouTube about South African esports and got spotted by an international esports broadcaster who said I could make it into a career if I wanted to. I thought he was joking but took his advice, improved and then got booked for a job at Gamescom in Europe. Since then I’ve turned esports broadcast work into my full-time job and get to travel the world commentating on games.”

In terms of sports outside of the virtual world, Wright says of course she is a fan: “I’m also a sports fan! Football and F1 are my guilty pleasures (luckily for me there is also a great cross-over into esports with FIFA and sim racing!).”

According to a recent article on SouthAfricaToday.Net (https://southafricatoday.net/media/gambling/growth-of-esports-in-south-africa-which-ones-are-popular/) in 2018, the esports industry in South Africa was valued at almost $1 million. In 2021, it is expected to be as high as $8.2 million.

Despite the growth in the country, it’s still very much behind the likes of the USA, which has more than 3,6 000 active competition players, followed by China and Russia with 1 004 and 938 professional esports players respectively according to statista.com.

So, how did Wright manage to make a successful career out of something that is fairly unfamiliar to South Africans?

She explains: “The hard truth is that I only created a career out of esports and gaming by focusing on opportunities overseas. I do not think the industry is big enough locally to really make it a full-time focus (though many are currently attempting to do that). The majority of my work is outside of South Africa. However, I made the decision not to relocate because I love South Africa and I believe what I learn I can bring back to South Africa and try to help build our gaming industry… so hopefully one day it can offer a career to those who want to do what I do.”

Wright is very positive about the direction her home country is going in, she is one of Red Bull’s official gaming contributors and says that there are more and more competitive players popping up daily despite the lack of resources and power failure interruptions.

“South African esports has grown a lot since I started five years ago. There are far more companies now operating with full-time staff. There has also been an increase in competitive gamers which is really exciting,” she says.

“However, we still struggle because we’re so far away from the rest of the world. Competing in international competitions means you need to fly to the competition because online we suffer something called Ping, or lag, if you like, making competing with say a team in Europe very difficult because of the delay. Our gaming base is also very small compared to other countries in established regions. This means it is hard for players to really improve and compete at the highest level because they have a limited pool of players to compete against.”

No surprise there, but the Saffa’s seem to be doing well in specifically FIFA – which is the largest sports video game franchise on the planet.

“Two [players] are now signed with an American organisation called Complexity Gaming and competing overseas. FIFA is where we really shine, though. Our FIFA players have recently been allowed to fly overseas to compete again and are going toe to toe with the best of the world, sometimes beating them. I truly believe South African FIFA players have the potential to be the best in the world with the right financial backing to allow them to compete globally.”

In terms of rankings: “The South African team ranked 22nd in the world on the FIFAe Nations Rankings… despite predominantly competing online against teams and having to deal with horrible connection issues. It’s an impressive feat!”

Wright has been part of the recently completed Ooredoo Nation FIFA22 Champions Cup in the Middle East. She breaks it down for those who are new to it:

"It was the biggest live FIFA tournament held in the Middle East to date. Sixteen players from around the Middle East, Asia and Africa were invited to compete over three days for a $50 000 prize pool.”

“Players included MSDossary, a two-time FIFA world champion from Saudi Arabia. Red Bull sponsored the athletes and FIFA competitive players with tens of thousands of fans on YouTube and Twitch. The best part? South African Kaylan Moodley ended up making it to the finals where he competed against MSDossary, currently one of the best players in the world. It was a best of five match-ups. Kaylan won two of the five games and Dossary was only able to finally secure the win in extra time of the fifth game. It just shows the level of local FIFA players compared to the rest of the world.”

Wright says she was a very proud South African as Moodley caused the biggest of the championship and made the world champion sweat.

“It was a huge moment for South African FIFA. It was also the first time in my five-year career that I introduced not one but three South African players to a big stage. To get to call one on for the final was just the cherry on top.”

For those die-hard football fans, Wright says what you experience in a sports stadium, let’s say in a Premier League game, is exactly what you will experience in the esports arena.

“It is DEFINITELY like a live in-stadium experience. If you’re a football fan you’ll immediately love watching FIFA. The players in the game are the same as the ones in real life with similar stats based on real-world performance.”

She continues: “So you need to have a bit of football understanding (and love) to figure out the best formations and players to use. That makes watching so much fun because there is that extra real-world element to the game. These live events include commentators and all the fanfare. So I definitely think football fans would love it.”

As with most sports and the players involved, there are many stereotypes when it comes to people who take part in esports and gaming. It’s not what most people expect, Wright says.

“Top esports players are not overweight lazy basement dwellers. They’re young, hip adults who are physically fit because they know to be mentally strong in a game physicality helps. They’re dedicated to their craft, they don’t just play games all day - they analyse and study opponents, practise and work out potential players.”

“I do think South African brands give our FIFA players a hard time. They’ve now proven they can compete with the best in the world yet are regularly asked to endorse products and brands for free merchandise or very little money because “esports is too small” in South Africa. These FIFA players are known, people in my gym ask me about them and those people aren’t even gamers. I’d love to see one of our top FIFA players partnering up with a local brand to give them the opportunity to further compete overseas. It’s time for a South African to lift the World Cup trophy.”

It’s not only gamers that live in a virtual world, so to speak. Social media is a big part of everyday society and Wright says that is exactly where you need to start if you want to find out more about the potentially lucrative esports world.

“Twitter and Instagram are a great way to keep up to date. I’d suggest starting with these gaming accounts."


And for those that want to take it one step further?

“If you want to try your hand at competing: http://www.mettlestate.com is a great place to start”

No doubt becoming a pro gamer in South Africa is no easy feat, but as shown by Sam Wright and Kaylan Moodley, it is possible.