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Gaming becomes career in SA

Can one become a professional gamer in South Africa? Julia Robson tells ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK how she did it

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The scene is Duggal Greenhouse in Brooklyn, overlooking New York’s East River. The occasion is the annual Next@Acer press conference, where the computer brands unveils its latest cutting edge gaming machines.

For some attendees, it is business as usual, yet another launch of yet another range of computers and laptops. For Acer, it is the beginning of a new chapter. It is unveiling its first computers designed specifically for creative professionals, and introducing a new series of Chromebooks, the low-cost devices usually made for the education sector, but this time aimed at businesses.

And it has a special guest in attendance. For Julia Robson, professional gamer, it is a trip of a lifetime.

Pic by Arthur Goldstuck

“I could have been a dentist,” she muses, gazing at the New York skyline. Instead, she spends her days playing video games – and getting paid for it. She gave up dentistry two years into her degree, and today is affiliated with some of the biggest companies in gaming. She is at the event in her capacity as a gaming ambassador for Acer.

“I’m probably the worst person to be a role model for a career,” she says. “But I was a serious competitive gamer for three years prior to starting my dentistry degree. During my studies, I competed locally and got scouted by a brand who offered me a full-time job. It was a viable career choice for me: I did enough research to take the decision to put my studies on hold.”

It’s now been two years, and Julia says she is privileged to be able to say esports is her job.

“I am officially a professional video gamer. That means I compete at a high level in esports, locally. During this period I decided to build a gaming brand for myself, under my gaming nickname Bish. I use my gaming platform to share my gaming experiences, and also live stream to my Twitch community, where I share in real time with fans and interact with them.”

As part of being sponsored by Acer, she helps them interact with the gaming community and direct marketing strategy into the right areas. She is attending the event specifically to see what’s coming next in gaming.

“Acer approached me with the idea of collaborating not only in the sense of being a brand ambassador, but also to help them increase their knowledge of the esports and local gaming community in South Africa. I’m employed by them part-time, and I spend one day in the office and am on standby every other day.”

Her main game is Apex Legends, and at the time of the interview she was forming a team to take on the Apex Legends League.

“I see a lot of potential in the sports and feel the game will go far, so I decided to create a team with highly skilled players that I scouted at events. The dream is to go global. If we have the opportunity to compete internationally, we will work twice as hard, sleep less and game more, just to make sure we can attend.”

Julia is cautious about recommending gaming as a career.

“I would look at what options there are. I never want to say you can be a gamer and can do whatever you want. There are multiple opportunities in esports, and research will shine a light on how many available careers and courses there are that you can take to direct your passion into esports. I always recommend finding something you’re good at, still go to university or continue your studies, but look at how you can adapt your career choice into the esports industry.

“If you check out esportsobserver.com, which lets you look up jobs in esports, you will see multiple jobs posted daily for people, for example, who have business degrees but also three years’ experience in esport. Do it for the love or passion for esports, but ultimately do it with the knowledge of what is required.”

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram on @art2gee

Click here to read about the Twitch streaming experience, and how high women can go in e-sports.

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Spotify hits sweet spot

Streaming has shifted the music industry away from ownership and towards customer experience, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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Last week marked the end of the beginning of the streaming music revolution. Apple announced the closing of iTunes, the 18-year-old platform that helped shift the music industry from physical to digital. At its height, in 2014, close to a billion people were using it.

However, the business model was still based on traditional ownership of music. Users either converted their physical music into digital tracks, or bought songs from iTunes. Apple founder Steve Jobs said back in 2003, when the iPod music player was launched, that consumers “don’t want to rent their music… They don’t want subscriptions”.

History proved him spectacularly wrong, and when streaming subscriptions services like Spotify and Pandora began taking off, even as iTunes hit the 800-million user mark, the company launched Apple Music in a dramatic acknowledgment that subscriptions were the future. It was also an admission that iTunes, which had also become a download service for movies and TV shows, had become top-heavy and frustrating to use.

Apple’s late arrival in the streaming world has cost it: In January this year, Apple Music reached 50-million subscribers – exactly half the number paying monthly subs to Spotify.

Spotify took South African music by storm when it launched here in March 2018, thanks to close collaboration with local artists.  It has a dedicated South African team that creates playlists for South Africans, in genres that appeal to local audiences. It also has a local ad sales team, and achieved early success with automotive brands like BMW and Mini using the platform extensively.

The company does not break down user statistics by country but, says Claudius Boller, managing director for Middle East and Africa, uptake exceeded all expectations.

“It’s been an amazing year,” he told Business Times. “Engagement in South Africa has crossed the world average. Users are extremely active, lean forward, and engage with playlists on a daily basis. We are not running many campaigns to move people from our free service to the Premium offering, but people do it right away.

“The metric we look at is how often and how long people use Spotify on average per day, and we have already seen those on premium subscriptions using Spotify much more than Facebook per day.”

The South African audience has another key differentiator, says Boller: “The market is extremely loyal. We know other music services have been in the market for many years. But when people make up their minds to try Spotify, they fall in love with it and continue to use it. The drop-off rate of people using our service is one of the lowest of all the markets in which Spotify operates.”

One of the secrets of Spotify’s success is the close relationship it builds with what it calls “the creative community” – both artists and labels.

“They are extra engaged, because of the data they are able to get. We give them a huge amount of data in a way that is very easy to digest. Through Spotify for Artists, they can see in real time how many listeners they have, their demographics, where they are listening, and where their audience is growing. If Jeremy Loops is doing very well in Australia, he can adjust where to promote his music and how to plan his touring schedule.

“We also use that data to work more closely with the creative community. We bring artists, labels and managers together for educational events so that they can get to know how to use the data. We give them practical advice, for example that they should release music on the same day on all platforms, including radio and streaming services, to maximise monetisation.”

Music entrepreneur Siya Metane agrees that audience data is one of the greatest benefits of streaming music. Better known as Slikour, founding member of the legendary hip hop group Skwatta Kamp, he now runs SlikourOnLife, an online urban music site and community with well over a million regular users. Understanding user trends has been at the heart of the growth of the platform, and he believes Spotify and its competitors add yet another dimension.

“The analytics that the streaming platforms provide give artists more insight of where their music is being consumed,” he says. “It is therefore giving the artists and their managers insight on where to invest nationally or globally. Such information has not been readily available to artists and managers before. Historically, everything was based on the physical purchase of a copy in a region – most of the time locally.”

But there is a downside, he says: “The cost of the streaming sacrifice is losing a whole R100 per album to a streaming company that pays you based on their pro rata plays on their service. Therefore only a few people can benefit. But streaming has definitely shifted the business from music alone to everything else music can influence.”

Both Vodacom and MTN have recognised the potential of streaming music to add value to their services, which are becoming increasingly commoditised. MTN late last year bought the local music streaming service Simfy Africa, and Vodacom in April this year launched its own streaming music service, called My Muze. The latter invites aspiring musicians to upload their music, with the possibility of being discovered and signed to a music label.

“The music industry has changed rapidly in recent times in that everything now lives digitally,” says Rehana Hassim, portfolio manager for music at Vodacom. “We also hope to attract new young consumers, to whom music remains one of the biggest passion points, providing various ways to engage with and consume the music they love.”

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AI reveals SA domestic abuse trends

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By Kriti Sharma, leading global voice on ethical technology and founder of AI for Good and Joanne van der Walt, Director, Sage Foundation 

Digital abuse, infidelity, and alcohol abuse are emerging as common conversation topics between victims of domestic violence in South Africa and rAInbow, an artificial intelligence-powered smart companion.

Developed with funding partner, Sage Foundation, and social justice organisation, The Soul City Institute, rAInbow allows users to ‘chat’ to a non-human over Facebook Messenger. It provides a safe space for domestic violence victims to access information about their rights, support options, and where they can find help – in friendly, simple language.

When we launched rAInbow in November last year, we didn’t expect that it would facilitate over 200,000 conversations with 7,000 users – 150,000 of those within the first three months of launch. One of the reasons we believe Artificial Intelligence (AI) can fill a gap in victim support is because many victims are uncomfortable talking to another person about their experience – due largely to social and cultural taboos, embarrassment, and shame.

The data gathered from anonymised rAInbow conversations** providesinvaluable insight into this complex issue; insight that we can use to improve our communication and prevention strategies.

Digital abuse: Behind the screens

Around 30% of rAInbow users believe it’s acceptable for their partners to check their phones and to insist on knowing who they’re talking to at all times.

Yet this constitutes a form of verbal and/or emotional abuse because abusers exploit technology and social media to monitor, control, shame, stalk, harass, and intimidate their victims. In conversations with rAInbow, many victims reveal that they don’t know what constitutes digital abuse because they can’t recognise the signs.

You could be a victim of digital abuse if your partner demands to know your passwords and who you’re talking to, reads your messages, and dictates who you can be friends with on social media.

The bottom line is, when you’re in a relationship, all communication with your partner – be it digital or face-to-face – should be respectful. You should never feel pressured into doing anything you’re uncomfortable with.

Infidelity: Is cheating really abuse?

Infidelity emerged as one of the main challenges facing rAInbow users in abusive relationships. In such cases, the cheating partner usually blames you for his/her cheating, does it intentionally to hurt you, or threatens to cheat again to control you. Infidelity is often accompanied by lying, manipulation, and blame-shifting – all recognised abusive behaviours.

Technology has exacerbated the problem. It’s now easier to access dating sites, pornography, and chat platforms, facilitating behaviour like ‘sexting’, which some people may consider infidelity.

‘Alcohol made me do it’

Alcohol and drugs are common triggers for violent episodes, with rAInbow users saying their partners were more likely to lash out at them verbally or physically after they’d been drinking. While alcohol itself doesn’t cause domestic violence, it can aggravate already tense situations.

Alcohol impairs people’s judgement and behaviour, to the point where they may lose control and become aggressive, short-tempered, and abusive. In most situations, the abusive partner will blame the alcohol for their actions and may not remember what they did or said the next day. The abused partner, however, has to live with the memories and after-effects of the abuse.

Everyone’s responsibility

In his State of the Nation Address earlier this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa said violence against women and children has reached “epidemic proportions” and that ending abuse would be made an urgent national priority. Corporates, NGOs, and ordinary citizens also have a responsibility to end the scourge.

Technology like rAInbow provides the vital information needed to start driving radical change – at policy and societal level. The conversations that rAInbow is having with users is making us think differently about how to approach this issue. It’s apparent that we need targeted, personalised education drives that help victims identify abuse and explain how and where to get help. It’s also apparent that there’s a strong need for information that can be accessed in a safe, anonymous, and non-judgemental space.

We need to use the aggregated data that’s available to us to make better decisions about action plans and strategies. Solutions like rAInbow can provide governments with the information they need to tackle abuse.

To find out how you can contribute to the rAInbow project, e-mail humans@aiforgood.co.uk.

** All conversational data is anonymised. It is used to improve rAInbow and help organisations make better decisions about where to focus their efforts to combat abuse.

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