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Top Billing takes a look at gaming with Pippa Tshabalala

Top Billing Pippa.jpg

Last year Carte Blanche (M-Net) introduced South Africa to gaming with their segment on our local game developers. It was the first Carte Blanche; South African focused video game coverage in 27 years. Last night, another popular SA TV show, Top Billing (SABC 3) gave their viewers a glimpse at gaming and eSports with geek celebrity, Pippa Tshabalala.

Pippa is a familiar name when it comes to SA gaming - she was the first female gaming presenter in South Africa with The Verge. She studied MA Digital Animation at WITS and been involved in gaming as lecturer, presenter, writer, producer and editor. You can read more about her here. She isn't the only gamer in her family; husband Sekwa, and their eldest son, Elio are both gamers. Top Billing visited the Tshabalala family at their home in Jo'burg.

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I've had the pleasure to meet Sekwa at last year's Geekfest and the man made such an impression me. We talked about how gaming changed the way we parent, how technology is expanding young kid's minds and the importance of diversity in gaming. Watching the Top Billing interview, I noticed some of those things Sekwa talked about last year. Little Elio's exceptional hand dexterity, for example, it's clearly further developed than the usual five-year-old. Elio also radiates a confidence that is striking, and this, perhaps, comes from growing up in a home with parents who walked a few roads less taken.

Their story is a fascinating one, " we started dating when mixed raced couples weren't commonplace at the time," explains Pippa. A month after the 1994 elections we were the first multi-racial couple in our high school." Fun fact, Pippa asked Sekwa to marry her, and he completely missed the moment as her proposal was inscribed on the inside of a ring she gave him. 

The Tshabalala home session ended with Elio scoring a win against Top Billing's Christopher Jaftha in Skylanders Superchargers. As Sekwa mentions, because of gaming, he has a platform to spend a lot of fun time with his son. Something I think has become invaluable in modern society.

Top Billing's Jade Hubner and Pippa also headed to Cape Town to visit the first ever rAge Expo in the Mother City.

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Jade left (totally rocked that Lara Croft), Pippa right: Photo courtesy of Top Billing

"Now in its 14th year, it’s held in Cape Town then Joburg and it’s massive! rAge hosts several tournaments around epically popular games like FIFA or Call of Duty that have player bases in the millions. The biggest tournaments are broadcast live and with over 70 million people watching competitive gaming each year, the sport now supports many professional players and teams.  International gaming competitions can attract 15 000 teams; top players having half a million social media fans!" Top Billing

Top Billing presented gaming as part of the "latest international trends," with tournaments drawing millions in viewership (150 million in 2015 and almost doubling each year), and with prize pools that also reach into the millions Gaming YouTubers like PewDiePie currently boasts 7.25M twitter followers and events like Dota 2's Compendium raised almost 20 million USD in prize money in 2015. According to Top Billing, South African eSports is on the rise and able to compete better internationally because of things like better Internet speeds provided by fibre technology.

When asked why events like rAge are so popular, Pippa mentioned something interesting - gaming and geek culture are becoming pop culture and is no longer the hobby of a select few. "eSports is a Sport," Pippa boldly declares - amen to that sister. Top Billing also had a chat with Dillion from Carbon Astra, winners of the ASTRO Gaming Cup held at rAge Cape Town. (Did you spot our Holden running the ASTRO event like a pro? Thanks Top Billing!)

Dillion gave viewers a quick rundown of what it takes to compete at the highest levels of SA eSports - practice, lots and lots of practice. His team spends at least two hours every day honing their skills against other teams, and during crunch time, whole days are set apart for practice. Remember, unlike a lot of international cyber athletes, our players don't have the luxury to game as their full-time job.

Just gonna leave this here: Top Billing wants to know what SA gamers would like to call the national eSports team.

Last but not least, we'll end where we started - Top Billing drops the comment that a study by the Entertainment Software Association indicated that gaming can be good for social, cognitive and mental development. If you paid attention to Elio Tshabalala in the Top Billing games  feature you'd notice it.

"Parents across America recognize the widespread benefits of video games, including education, mental stimulation, and the bonding opportunities they create for families," said ESA president Michael D. Gallagher.

Pippa photo on cover credit: Dumisani Sibeko. You can check out the full Top Billing insert below.

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