GamingBattleGround leads the way for e-sports in SA

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If performing well at startup competitions is a form of validation, then South African e-sports startup GamingBattleGround (GBG) is winning.

The winning startup in a recent Croatian gaming startup accelerator programme, GBG was also one of only five gaming startups selected to pitch to investors at the recent EIG Expo Startup Launch Pad in Berlin, Germany, beating off competition from hundreds of other hopefuls.

Its online platform, which enables gamers to earn rewards for their skill by joining or creating tournaments, has been lauded by local gaming experts such as Dota2 expert Gareth Woods, Masters Series Champion Travis Waters, and professional CS:GO player Trevor Morley.

So what’s all the fuss about? GBG allows users to enter into online e-sports and video game tournaments that allow them to earn money from competing in the games that they play.

“This allows amateur gamers to compete and grow in a competitive environment and also earn either money to take home, or points that they can use to get items and skins. Basically, we are moving away from a local area network (LAN) environment and bringing competitive gaming to the comfort of your living room,” co-founder Greg Stevens told Disrupt Africa.

GBG currently supports eight popular games, including Starcraft 2 and Dota2, for stakes-based matches and tournaments. The startup, which was founded in 2014, currently has a community of 20,000 gamers globally. And in Stevens, it has someone with some pedigree in the space.

Having spent more than a decade working in the gaming startup scene in the United States (US), the GBG co-founder has only recently returned to South Africa to focus on GBG, which itself had been a long time in the making.

“It took just over two years to get GamingBattleGround to where it is currently, and it has now officially been active for two months in South Africa,” he said. “Our team consists of eight passionate gamers that have on average over 6,000 hours experience in the games run on the platform. I have eight years experience in the startup and VC space, while my partner and co-founder is focused more on the technical side with a MCS.”

Stevens said the idea for GBG stemmed from the realisation that there has always been a huge gap between playing a game at an amateur level and being a professional.

“Little has been done to allow gamers in South Africa to regularly compete at their level and get better,” he said.

“Our biggest competitors would be Digital Gaming League (DGL), Evetech Champions League (ECL) and MWEB Gamezone Master Series (MGMS), but these events only appeal to the top teams in South Africa and give very little chance to new amateur teams.”

This niche has seen the platform become immediately popular with gamers. GBG operates in South Africa, Bulgaria and Croatia currently, while it is also just launching in the United Kingdom (UK). Stevens said the plan is to continue taking it to new jurisdictions.

“We have a very strong focus on emerging markets such as India, South America, Australia, and Middle East and hopefully making a play for the US,” he said.

“Making a play” for new markets will require further funding. GBG launched with US$165,000 seed funding and is in the process of looking for further investors. Yet with 20,000 activated users and close to 10,000 tournaments completed, there is evidence of serious traction.

“Our main marketing tool is is through empowering community managers to organise, create and manage tournaments, as well as find people through the communities that they manage to join GamingBattleGround,” said Stevens.

“We also work with tier one influences and streamers to promote and spread the word by setting up tournaments on GBG. Our growth has been very organic thus far but, we are working on a more aggressive approach starting in the new year.”

The startup makes its money from tournaments, with 85 per cent of the prize pool going to competitors and 15 per cent split between the creator of the tournament and GBG.

“We are starting these tournaments in November in South Africa, as we first want to get the gamers familiar with GBG and how to use it, mostly running free to play tournaments with virtual currency,” Stevens said. “This allows them to purchase in -game skins through our platform. We also generate revenue through sponsored brand tournaments and advertising.”

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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