Playing esports competitively is an exciting career prospect for many. In fact, it has actively become a lucrative industry that has seen exponential growth over the last few years – with as many as 454 million active fans in 2020.
Since the first esports tournament in the ‘70s, we have seen an exhilarating growth to the point of million-dollar prize pool tournaments.
Unfortunately, there are some challenges that still need to be addressed in order for it to become more accessible.
There are the obvious ones; gaming is not a cheap hobby – and if you’re looking to go pro, it gets even more pricey. And this doesn’t even include access to basic needs for an esports career, like internet, in countries like South Africa where more than half of the population lives in extreme poverty.
Beyond financial and logistical issues, there is also still a pretty fierce debate as to whether or not esports is a viable form of competition.
We are not going to solve all the problems that come with being a gamer in a third world country in a single article, afternoon, or reading; so I would like to focus on one specific issue: If you are lucky enough to have access to the basics you need for a shot at a career in esports, and you make it big, travel can be a major inhibitor to your success.
Travel as an essential part of esports
Tourism and travel is a fundamental component of sports. Esports is no exception to this. Even though the qualifying stages of tournaments tend to take place online, most end-stage tournaments take place as in-person events (at least pre-and-post covid).
We spoke to Sylvia ‘QueenArrow’ Gathoni, Kenyan pro esports player, to try and understand how this becomes a difficult part of the tournament process for players who need to travel to other countries to compete.
The first issue that Gathoni brought to attention was obtaining the correct documentation in order to travel. “It’s expensive and it can be an arduous process,” she said. “Visas can be a very restrictive thing for people who need to travel, especially if you have to travel frequently.”
The types of documents that you need to travel, and the time it takes to acquire those documents, can be an incredibly challenging endeavour. Even if you are able to get these documents in time, with the finances you need to get them and travel in the first place, you could still get denied a Visa in time to travel where you need to.
In short, it’s a time-consuming and financially straining process that may not even be worth it in the end. What is the solution?
“I feel that Visas are a way of punishing someone for being born where they are born,” Gathoni said. “At this point, if the governments aren’t willing to create accommodations for athletes and players who need to compete in events, the tournament organisers can stop hosting these events in countries that are restrictive and punitive.”
Gathoni gave the example of the Tekken World Tour that took place in Amsterdam earlier this year. The Netherlands has these punitive barriers to obtaining Visas she mentioned, and as a result, there were quite a few international players from third world countries who had their Visas rejected.
“Ultimately, until these countries create accommodations for esports athletes, the tournaments should be hosted in countries that have flexible Visa policies,” Gathoni concluded.
It takes a lot to reach the point where you are travelling internationally for esports – making this a near-impossible process for players will inhibit the growth of the industry significantly in the long run. Tournament organisers can do more to ensure that this barrier is easily broken, at least until esports is internationally more recognisable as a viable and important part of the larger sports industry.