eSports – The State of Play in Kenya

February 19, 2024

All across the globe, the gaming industry is undergoing a period of intense growth and acceleration.

While there have been several segments playing a key role in its rise over the past decade or so, such as the transition to online gaming, mobile gaming and, of course, an increased integration of advanced technologies, perhaps nothing has brought mainstream attention to the gaming market in the way that eSports has. 

eSports, short for electronic sports, is a global phenomenon.

The professional arm of competitive video gaming, eSports has mobilised a multi-million strong army of players and audiences and has attracted significant interest from leading brands outside the gaming sphere.

While traditionally associated with regions like North America, Europe, and East Asia, in recent years, the eSports market has been making significant strides across Africa, including here in Kenya.

This article explores the dynamic landscape of eSports in Kenya, highlighting its growth and key players.  

What Are eSports? 

In short, the term eSports refers to organised, competitive video gaming events in which players and/or teams compete against each other in an array of popular video games.

Although playing video games seems the total opposite to the more conventional sports of football, rugby or athletics, there are actually several similarities between the disciplines.

For instance, being successful in eSports requires effective strategy, a commitment to practise and participating in regular tournaments and competitive events.

As a sector, it has grown rapidly in just a few years, with professional teams, sponsors, and leagues all part of the thriving ecosystem. 

eSports titles encompass a wide range of video game genres, including (but not limited to) multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) games like League of Legends and Dota 2, first-person shooters (FPS) such as Counter-Strike 2 and Overwatch, real-time strategy (RTS) games like StarCraft II, and sports simulations like FIFA and NBA 2K.

Due to the soaring popularity of poker as an online gaming vertical, and with poker now being recognised as a mindsport alongside the likes of chess and backgammon, there’s also been plenty of discussion around whether it’s classed as an eSport or not.

While we’re yet to see poker played alongside any of the titles mentioned above in a professional event, there’s no doubting the crossover that exists between poker and esports. 

In Kenya, the most popular games currently in play are: 

  •   *  Dota 2
  •   *  FIFA
  •   *  Fortnite
  •   *  League of Legends
  •   *  Tekken

Key eSports Developments in Kenya 

While eSports is exploding throughout South Africa and Nigeria, Kenya is currently at the forefront of the movement and is emerging as a hub for eSports in East Africa.

The growth of the sector can be attributed to several factors, including the rising popularity of gaming culture — leading to a surge of gaming cafes opening and grassroots gaming tournaments being held — and increasing investment from both local and global stakeholders. 

One notable development that’s boosted the profile of pro gaming in the country has been initiated by leading telecommunications provider Safaricom.

In partnership with Pro Series Gaming and Standard Group, the company launched the event under its Blaze banner in 2019 with the aim of empowering aspiring players looking at eSports as a career choice.

The tournament consisted of FIFA 19 and Tekken 7 competitive events on the PlayStation 4 platform, and saw 64 players enter each knockout round. 

Additionally, international gaming companies like ASUS, MSI, and Logitech have also extended their support to the Kenyan eSports scene by sponsoring gaming events, providing gaming peripherals, and offering training programs for aspiring gamers.

More recently in winter 2023, Chinese tech giants Huawei supported Team Kenya in the Global Esports Games African qualification matches. 

Top Kenyan Gamers

While they may not be quite the household names that Weiwei and Faker currently are, there’s a growing community of talented pro gamers in Kenya who are making their mark on the world’s stage.

Among the most successful Kenyan gamers is Brian “Beast” Diang’a, who’s renowned for his exceptional skill in the lakes of FIFA and Fortnite.

Diang’a has represented Kenya at home and in international eSports tournaments, garnering a growing following in the process. 

Another notable figure is Sylvia ‘QueenArrow’ Gathoni , a rising star in fighting games including Tekken and Mortal Kombat.

The first East African woman to be signed to a pro eSports team, Gathoni was featured in Forbes Africa’s 30 Under 30 List (2022) and was a keynote speaker at the Commonwealth Esports Forum. 

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