CHAPTER 2: TRAILBLAZER.
Host Ian Wanyeki
Happy New Year, everyone! With the advent of a new year, the clock has been metaphorically reset, and now people have the opportunity to be able to set and pursue new goals, while also seeking to accomplish some old ones. On this week’s interview, I was lucky enough to be joined by a trailblazer in the Zambian esports scene. Presenting our guest for the week: Cholwe Shabukali!
Ian: Tell us a bit about yourself
Cholwe: My name is Cholwe Shabukali, and I am the co-founder of Team Gematrix, a premier esports team in Zambia. We also host various online and offline tournaments for our various communities. Also, a slight correction: there was another team that was founded recently called AI Gaming, making it the second known esports team in Zambia. Since our inception, we’ve won numerous Sub Saharan tournaments and participated in others in South Africa, Kenya and Ireland, and even in the US, where we have a signed player who participates in the Mortal Kombat 11 tournaments for us. Our vision is to build Zambian esports up from the ground and expose our players to various opportunities and offer them a platform on which they can be able to compete against the very best in the world and to one day, have a chance to be one of the best esports teams in the world.
Excellent! Could you also tell us a bit more about what you do here at AEC…?
I am the Zambian Country Operator for the AEC 2020 tournament iteration. What I basically do is build communication with the community around the tournament and also facilitate the qualifiers to enable them to participate in the main tournament. This also includes letting them know more about the tournament in terms of progression, rules and also the state of the tournament in other African countries. I also try to enlighten them with regards to the other communities around Africa and how they can try and connect with them and the players in preparation for the Finals.
If you were to have one superpower, what would it be?
I would say it would have to be the ability to connect and network with people. Ever since I joined the industry in 2018, I’ve built a lot of friendships and alliances globally that I really value. I also really love esports and gaming…casual gaming and I am happy to be one of the pioneers in the African ecosystem.
How did you get into the gaming scene?
I got into gaming when I was 5 or 6 years old. Most of the cousins that I grew up with coincidentally happened to be boys (not that it was a major factor; just giving some context), so when I was going to visit them for the first time we bonded over some Tekken and Mortal Kombat games. Ever since then, every weekend that my dad could spare, and also most of my holidays would be spent with them playing games. A little later, we managed to get our hands on a rip-off Sega together with my cousins, because my parents couldn’t afford a PlayStation at the time. From then, we’d immerse ourselves in 2D games like Contra and Mario. Ever since then, gaming became a big part of my life, because even when I didn’t have a console, I’d find a place to play, like for example at my friends’ places (the ones who had consoles) and even the local gaming centres in Lusaka (laughs fondly in reminiscence).
That’s really cool! With that type of progression from such a young age, what facilitated your entry into esports?
It was in 2015 when I met a friend of mine online who was telling me about how he’d be going to a gaming event. He used to be one of those cool kids when I was growing up, so when he told me about it, I honestly wished that I’d be able to go, but I couldn’t since I was broke (laughs). Somehow, he ended up paying for my ticket, and we actually ended up going for it. At this point, I can’t really remember what tournament it was, but I do remember taking part in the Mortal Kombat competition casually and being immersed in the whole atmosphere around the place. You know how gaming events can get…when someone’s about to lose and they’re raging…the cheers of the crowd watching on the sidelines…the sheer amount of emotion…it was just an amazing experience overall and it really got me interesting in the scene. Fast forward to 2017, I met my cofounder in university, whom I really bonded with through video games. Later, when we wanted to start a business, I suggested that we try with something that we were passionate about, and that’s how we started GEN (Gamers Entertainment Needs). We were fortunate enough to get into Bongo Hive, a local start-up incubator, where we got to learn a lot about business, particularly business acumen. After that, we pivoted from an events company into being a team, as we wanted to focus more on the competitive aspect of gaming, and showcasing local talent to the globe. We signed our first players in February 2018 and had our first tournament two months later at the Pro Series Gaming event in Kenya, where our players came in both first and second places.
Beating us on our home soil, huh 😂? That’s quite the achievement to carry back home! With that said, however,
what would you say is your vision for the African esports scene?
My vision for the African esports scene is one in which, firstly, we’ve grown the local scene enough to validate the need for us to get our own servers so that we can be more connected across the continent. Secondly, I would like to see and work towards getting more inclusion and support from game publishers for the various tournaments and world circuits that they have, seeing as it’s quite rare for African countries to be included in such tournaments. Thirdly, I would love to see and foster the growth of a connected African gaming scene. I actually like some of the things that the COVID-19 pandemic has made us do, such as coming together and finding a way to chart a common path forward for the African gaming scene. Before COVID, it was almost as if each region had their own thing going on, but now, gamers around the continent have realised that they suffer through similar conditions, and are now trying to come together to find a common ground. AEC is such a beacon that is trying to bring gamers together and showcase their talent, while also providing a platform in which gamers and gaming communities from different parts of the continent can also network with each other.
Excellent! All the best with working towards that goal! Moving on, what would you say was your main focus for AEC 2020?
At the country level, my focus was on getting different people from various parts of Zambia to participate. However, due to COVID restrictions, it became tricky to host offline qualifiers. Similarly, due to the COVID-19 situation and the decision to make the tournament to be fully online, we’ve had to learn a few things on the way, for example with regards to player conduct and behaviour, and I’m thankful for the learning experience. On a continent level, my expectations for us as AEC are for us to be able to understand our strengths and weaknesses with regards to organising the tournament at that level, given the various challenges that people from each of the regions might be facing. I also hope that we will be able to inculcate sportsmanship values and professionalism into the participating players, so as to be able to also uplift the overall image of the African esports scene. Despite all the challenges that we’ve been facing, I’m still very happy with the fact that we’re all connected and we try to give each other solutions, thereby also helping us to be more united.
That’s great! As we near the end of this interview, what would you say or advise someone who has an interest and would like to join the esports scene…?
I’d actually encourage them to do so because it’s quite a fun space. However, I’d also tell them to be careful because there’s a lot of misleading information being thrown out here, especially with regards to certain statistics involving some games and gamers. As such, for anyone who would like to invest in esports, I’d tell them to be diligent and do some research, before finally deciding on what sector that they would like to invest in.
Similarly, for anyone who would like to get into gaming casually, I’d still advise them to equally do some research, because the games are quite diverse, with quite a number of variables that have to be considered, such as the type of game, the platform to game on, whether to pursue the game professionally, the gaming peripheries needed, and so on and so forth.
Any parting words…?
Be sure to check out our website for more information regarding what we’re doing on the African esports scene, and be sure to catch out various tournament streams!