What Is The Nigerian Fighting Game Community?
In the midst of crippling political and social issues, the Nigerian FGC has found a way to rise above adversity and push forward
While watching the Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) leg of the CPT, I was struck by how devoid it was of any African presence. This, of course, fuels the erroneous belief that there is no esports scene in Africa, and this couldn't be further from the truth. Understandably, not everyone thinks this way; however, there's this generalization that happens when it comes to Africa; a lot of the world seems to think we're one country, so you can imagine that the knowledge of individual countries' esports scenes is sparse.
Being a Nigerian, I am particularly interested in my FGC scene and its perception from the outside world. Also, in a bid to let people know what's going on in that part of the world, I figured it would be a good idea to take a look at the scene and give an update as to how things are going.
A brief history
Gaming in Nigeria has been around for all my life, and Nigerians already had consoles by the late 80s and early 90s. I was privileged to have a family com as a kid on which I played games such as Dr. Mario, Life Force, and Contra. By the 90s, there were arcades all over the country's commercial hub, Lagos. For those who could not afford to go to the arcades, there was a cheaper alternative in the ubiquitous game houses. These were smaller establishments that set up with a few game consoles and charged customers to play games. They would become Nigeria's sole bastion of gaming, especially after the Nigerian government decided to ban arcades citing that it was a means of gambling. Therefore, most Nigerian gamers patronized game houses/centers, and it was here that the Nigerian fighting game community was born.
Much like the North American community, there was a high level of competition between gamers in Nigeria, and it wasn't uncommon to find regular gamers converge at the game center to take on each other and sometimes even put money down on who would win.
Nigeria even had its own version of 'streak patrol' where players sought to stop any player who had a streak. On a personal note, I once visited a game center as a teenager and was charged twenty naira ($0.053 in today's currency) to play a game of Street Fighter (EX 2 Plus Alpha), but the catch was that I would be allowed to play until I suffered defeat. Two hours later, I was still playing until someone was called from another location to come and beat me. My opponent used Darun and promptly beat me. While I didn't visit that game center again, I tried to sharpen my skills in the game to get better. This was a common theme in the Nigerian fighting game community, which made for some pretty decent players at the time. As time went on, the generation that patronized game centers became liquid enough to buy consoles of their own and play games in their homes, thereby reducing the instances of community gaming. But, people still got together to play video games, especially in the university, where you were in close proximity to several high-level fighting game players.
Nowadays, Nigeria has a burgeoning esports scene and a fast-growing FGC that is doing its best to catch up with the rest of the world.
The state of the Nigerian FGC
So how are things looking now for Nigeria and her fighting game scene? Well... in the words of Samuel Keri, a tournament organizer in Abuja, Nigeria's capital— 'disjointed.'
The scene is such that small-medium entities are setting up tournaments and trying to sustain a community but unable to unite due to several factors. Nigeria is blessed with passionate players and enterprising tournament organizers who are ready to do what they can to elevate the medium in the country. I was able to speak to two of the most prominent ones: Samuel Keri of Adeiza gaming and Uzoma Odinu Goodway Gaming. According to them, the Nigerian scene is not at its best at the moment, but there are several encouraging signs of growth. Goodway gaming was established earlier this year, but Uzo has been organizing tournaments since as far back as 2011 when he set up a tournament he called 'Shaolin Rambat.' Since then, there have been more entrants into the tournaments and more recognition for the work he has been doing. Similarly, Adeiza gaming has reported huge growth in the attendees to their tournaments, with their regular events drawing over 30 people. These numbers are more impressive when you take into context how novel the idea of esports is in Nigeria.
In addition, this growth has been achieved in spite of numerous challenges that TOs and gamers alike face in the country, including poor internet service, epileptic power, and lack of support.
The Nigerian FGC's biggest problems
While there is a lot to be encouraged about in the Nigerian scene, there are also some pretty significant issues that the community has to surmount to attain the level of competitiveness that they need to excel. You must understand, Nigeria is a deeply cultural nation with conservative values. The recent #EndSars movement was a call from youths to stop being vilified by the police and killed simply for being different. This is because law enforcement doesn't seem to understand that the world is changing, so people with unconventional jobs like coding or content creation are deemed to be criminals. People with tattoos or braided hairstyles are looked upon with scorn by a society that refuses to progress. These issues also affect the FGC and esports as a whole since the concept of playing video games for money isn't one that Nigerian parents understand.
One of the biggest ways to deal with this is favorable coverage by the media. According to Keri, traditional media needs to do more to help esports grow as they are the primary source of information for most parents. If the media (both traditional and alternative) are more favorable towards esports, this would be a huge burden lifted off stakeholders' shoulders. An example of how negative media coverage could affect esports would be the WHO's decision to term gaming as an addiction. All over the world, parents panicked, worried that their children would be affected by this 'menace.' This was even more prevalent in Nigeria, where parents are already predisposed to consider video games as the enemy.
The second major problem is finance. While several gamers in the country would love nothing more than to make money by playing video games, there are very few competitions to enter that are worthwhile. Tournaments like the Capcom Cup for Street Fighter V offer huge cash prizes that make the sacrifice and constant practice worth it. However, there isn't enough of that in Nigeria as there is a dearth of tournament organizers with enough funds to really make an attractive pot.
Beyond these issues, there are a couple of minor ones, including a disjointed FGC, poor internet infrastructure, and a less than vocal player base. Overcoming these problems might not be easy, but, just like the FGC around the world, were keep fighting, besides, there is reason to be hopeful.
The problems above are by no means insurmountable, and with some of the moves being made, there is some hope for esports in Nigeria. For instance, the problem of positive media coverage is still an issue, but we are seeing some good news on that front as there is some attention being drawn towards esports. The fact that the esports industry is worth over a billion dollars is no longer news, and the Nigerian government is becoming aware of it. This means that there is less resistance to providing support for stakeholders. Educated parents are more inclined to let their kids play video games and explore in case they find a suitable niche. Also, Ernesto Lopez's recent interview with Uzoma of Goodway Gaming was another massive breakthrough as it turned the attention of the global FGC to the Nigerian scene. Since then, Uzoma has organized a tournament, Batallas De Redençion (15th of November, 2020), for which he required funding and was promptly provided with the necessary money thanks to the kind donations of members of the FGC worldwide.
According to Keri, there has been a meeting involving all the stakeholders of esports as to the way forward. The consensus was that TOs would continue to organize events and that there would be cooperation, which means players would be allowed to visit these events even if it requires traveling.
The skill-level of Nigerians is also improving as players are now more aware of the opportunities available in esports. Fighting games are incredibly popular in the country and are probably only overshadowed by the absolutely mammoth football simulator community. With the passionate efforts of the likes of Uzoma, Keri, and other stakeholders, there is hope that the Nigerian FGC will get the recognition it deserves.
As esports becomes more popular, the player base will only increase along with the skill level, and with enough players, the likes of Capcom, NRS, and Nintendo would have no choice but to provide more servers in the continents and then, who knows, maybe there'll be a Nigerian in a CPT top 8...I'm an optimist.