Kenya: getting paid to gamble, the esports boom in Kenya


Digital games in Kenya now seem more of a safe bet than actual sporting activities in the East African nation. Electronic sports have also become a huge source of money for young Kenyans.

The future of professional sport in Kenya – where some of the world’s best athletes come from – is still quite uncertain in the face of the COVID pandemic.

Athletes preparing for the Tokyo Olympics, or anyone looking to get out and exercise, have had to settle for alternative spaces as coronavirus measures have banned many gyms and stadiums.

But, when it comes to young people, the virtual world of esports is booming. The competition is as tough as any sports tournament, but video players rise to the challenge and get paid to play.

Electronic sports take place in the cyber kingdom of Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, and other places, where young players are glued to computers to take on their opponents.

Virtual football boss

Fredrick Renja Ochami locked me in combat in his apartment in the city and I am being demolished. It’s hand-to-hand combat in a Tekken showdown in Nairobi.

The Japanese game is one of the few that Ochami plays professionally. He is also a virtual football boss at the world tournament level in the FIFA Real Time video game series.

“My top three are FIFA, Tekken and League of Legends,” he said. “Tekken is one of the most balanced fighting games I know. Unlike Mortal Kombat, every fighter feels like they have a chance to win.”

And with esports, the payoff is money. Ochami’s virtual football team earns him a share of his rent and money for groceries. He also earns money as a fiction writer.

Marathon training sessions

“There is no one who is overpowered because everyone has an equal chance. It depends on your skills, not which character you choose,” said the professional from Tekken.

Esports professionals in Kenya are between 15 and 35 years old. The men and women in the gaming scene who spoke to DW reported training 12 to 14 hours a day, three to four times a week.

“Right now, I spend about four hours on weekdays and eight hours every weekend,” Ochami said.

What is the reward?

“I would say esports, especially games like Call of Duty and FIFA, are the games you should play if you want to go pro because they have big prize pools,” Ochami said.

“They run constant tournaments and if you’re really good you can win over € 100,000 ($ 117,966) per tournament if you win. If you play 3-4 tournaments a year, that adds up.”

Women in games

Sylvia Gathoni was the first Kenyan professional from Tekken to join an international playing team. She said people sometimes glance suspiciously when they hear how she makes a living.

Gathoni – who calls herself Queen Arrow in the video game world, said she thought it was just because she was a woman.

“Some people think that the opportunities I got are due to my gender and not my hard work, passion and talent. But, as they say, the best revenge is success. You just focus on your goals and you keep pushing. “

Esports leagues with scholarships and corporate sponsorships. Players in Kenya have said that being part of an eight-member virtual FIFA squad on a winning steak can mean € 500 in the bank every month.

Another test at Ochami. FIFA: final score: 7-0

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About Bradley J. Bridges

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