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Taking Gaming Back to School

Over 20 years since I last had to hear that dreaded school bell, I found myself reliving it all again. I was back to school, and it was enough to give a middle-aged grump a heart attack. Thankfully, Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’ was playing on my virtual jukebox, and rather than having to dodge detention and class in general, I was able to leave at any time. However, I was there for a purpose. The there was Fairmont High School in Cape Town’s Northern Suburbs, and the purpose was gaming. Yes. Gaming. I feel like a winner right about now.

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As these sort of situations tend to go, it was a chance discussion with the school’s Computer Applications Technology Teacher (or CAT for short) Elize Crouse – originally stemming from her inquiry on how to set up a Gaming Society for the pupils of the school – which led to my attendance at the school at the brain-killing (for a zombie of course) time of 7:30am on Monday, 2 December.

The plan was to get 64 school pupils into the multi-purpose hall and make them play FIFA 14. Other than obvious grand plans for a massive future expansion, the plan itself was perfectly sound and deceptively simple. And it almost worked 100%. A few players went AWOL between the original sign-up a few weeks ago and the tournament itself, but the head count at kick-off was still 50 players.

As 10am rolled around - and following the obligatory introductions, information and thanks - the first round in the single elimination tournament was underway. It was clear from the get-go that for every talented player, there was one that was probably just there to avoid the school play or whatever other last week entertainment was on offer. I can’t say I blame them. I would’ve done exactly the same thing. The players in attendance represented a fairly even number from each grade at the school, except for the Matrics, who were probably already off celebrating their perceived freedom from the responsibilities of school…

There were some tight matches in the first round, with three heading to penalties. On the opposite end of the spectrum, three other matches could not be called “tight affairs” and finished with an aggregate goal count of 24-0. It was however, refreshing to see a general light heartedness from the players in the first round, but things were about to get a little more serious in round two, as friends started to come up against friends.

One of these matches was between Khotso Makhoti (who had won his first round match 6-0) and Nathi Skade. The match was an exhilarating one, and while both grade 10s have plenty of talent, only one of them would move on to the next round. The win went to Nathi, who overcame his opponent 3-2.

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With around 36 matches over there were just 12 players left, and the action and competition was starting to heat up. Up for grabs was a headset for first and second place, along with numerous other items, so it was like Santa had come early.

The remaining matches were generally close affairs, with only one match being a “goal fest” – the match between Jess Phillips and Tyler Moore which ended 6-1 to the former. The only teacher participating in the tournament, “Mr. V.”, eventually met his match after two wins. Richard Masupa brought an end to that run with a 1-0 win.

After plenty of blood, sweat and tears (sadly, there was none of that actually), the semi-finalists were decided on. Devon Keys – who had scored at least three goals in all but one of his games – was set to face Daniel de Abreu, while the second semi-final was between Nathi Skade and Asamkele Giyo.

The match between Devon and Daniel was a free scoring one, which saw Devon run out the winner 3-1 to grab his place in the final. Another friend against friend (to be fair, no-one was seemingly anything but friends on the day) showdown made for tough battle in the second semi-final, but Nathi grabbed the only goal of the game to book his spot in the final against Devon.

First however, there was a matter of pride to play for in the third and fourth place play-off match. Both Daniel and Asamkele were due to receive the same prizes for their placing, but it was on their insistence that a match took place to determine who was a little higher on the FIFA 14 pecking order. The match ended up having to go all the way to penalties to determine the winner, which was Daniel by the narrowest of margins.

The final between Devon and Nathi got underway with a fairly decent contingent of spectators in attendance who were picking their favourite. The match was an exciting affair with real end-to-end action. With fulltime – and the final school bell of the day - looming, the last shot of the day sealed the victory for Devon as he ran out the victor 1-0.

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With only the formalities of a prize-giving to complete, the end of school bell pretty much marked the conclusion of the day’s event – an event only possible due to the willingness of the school, Elize Crouse, and the sponsors to start reaching out and finding the future eSports stars of South Africa. Interestingly, a survey I conducted on the day showed that a large portion of the players were not aware of competitions and tournaments happening in the country, even though they were interested in competitive gaming. Those findings will form part of an upcoming article.

So what is the future for what appears to be an isolated FIFA 14 tournament for a bunch of school pupils killing time until the school holiday? Well, details will be revealed in the future, but suffice to say, the plan is to roll tournaments into more schools, and eventually on to more titles and platforms. Training programs under the MWEB Gamezone Gamers in Beta programme is also planned, and hopefully we will uncover some dormant talent in the country’s high schools.

To end, a thank you to the following, who made the day possible. Comet Computing who supplied the Tritton Pro+ headset for first prize. MWEB Gamezone who sponsored the Speedlink Scylla headset for the second place player. MWEB Gamezone, Zombiegamer, Krafts by Witch Knight and Incredible Connection for donating additional prizes which were used for random giveaways on the day.

Additional photos from the event are available here.

Should you wish to get your school involved in this venture – and preferably if you are a teacher or headmaster of said school – please contact Zombie ‘Clint’ Dredd at dredd@zombiegamer.co.za.

The day by the numbers:

50           Number of players
46           Number of matches played
128         Number of goals scored in open play
36           The approximate number of times I was called “sir”. Way to make an old guy feel old…

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