The MSSA Press Conference Proved That We Shouldn’t Expect Change
In case you haven’t been following the massive Mind Sports South Africa saga ever since the new President, Simphiwe Maphumulo, agreed to an interview on MWEB and essentially told the community to take a hike, then here’s a quick recap. The President issued an apology a few days later, and even shed some hope on the future after inviting all press to a press conference. That press conference took place this Saturday in Houghton, Johannesburg, and it’s fair to say that it was all a bit of a farce.
The actual press conference only lasted a good minute, with Simphiwe just lightly outlining his job to balance the MSSA with SASCOC, The South African Olympic Committee, as well as other government associations. This opened up the floor to questions from the small, but very invested attendees, which resulted in a hard, frustrating two hours of dancing around issues and non-answers.
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To kick things off, an eSports representative was not on hand to answer questions, and it seems like the MSSA itself is confused as to whether it has an eSports representative at all. At first, Simphiwe stated that he would have to take the idea to the committee in order to assign someone as an official eSports representative, something which was contradicted by former President Colin Webster over an hour later after he said the MSSA currently had an eSports Rep. Where was he/she on the day then? Not at the press conference, which was mainly aimed at what the MSSA would do to improve the local eSports scene. Matt Merks, a prominent figure in the local eSports scene especially when you think of PandaTank, asked why there was seemingly no preparation done before the conference to answer the hard questions he posed, especially when Simphiwe had no idea what even happened between PandaTank and the MSSA, and could not therefore answer questions as to how the committee could rectify similar issues in the future.
Why had Simphiwe not prepared for the questions asked, especially after a thread nearing 400 comments followed his first interview over at MWEB? It was a question asked time and time again during the conference, especially after former President Colin essentially took over only after a few minutes, in order to prevent the current President from answering all questions with a blank stare. It was explained that Simphiwe had only held office for three months, and that his duties extended further than eSports alone, again bringing up the questions as to why there is no official eSports representative. Simphiwe also requested an entire year to get up to speed with things, which would essentially waste an entire year of his three year tenure. He’s a student and an auditor, and it just seems like there’s already too much for him to focus on outside of the MSSA, which will definitely affect his presidency.
So who are the media expected to communicate with at the MSSA while its current President learns the ropes? Why the former President of course, or maybe even the legal representative. Legal, yes.
Things continued to go from bad to worse. Things got slightly heated over a question regarding membership numbers, which eventually produced the ball park figure of around 4500 members that are involved in eSports, as well as 30 out of the 37 affiliated clubs having some form of eSports interest. It seemed like an accurate estimate, until eSport players locally pointed out that event attendance would account for less than a percent of the apparent membership number. Right now, we have an official statement from the MSSA regarding numbers, so all we have to go by is this answer, which took a few minutes to formulate in the first place. Take that as you will.
Something else that also featured prominently during the conference was the word “legislation”. Every time a specific action or requirement of the MSSA was brought up, regarding membership fees, prize pool money and fees for lodging complaints legislation was brought up and blamed. In the case of entry fees being used for prizes at events, Colin answered that it was not a rule of the MSSA but rather a requirement from the Gambling Act, which applies to all their events. In terms of lodging a compliant with the MSSA, which will set you back around R500, Colin again answered that it comes from legislation that not only governs the MSSA but all other similar associations. Despite all of this, and despite the MSSA being a Tier 1 Sporting Association, they receive no funding from SASCOC. So basically all the negative legislation applies, and none of the positive.
What irritated everyone was the fact that Colin and Simphiwe seemed to never indicate that they would try and oppose some of the legislation that is enforced on them, despite some of the laws being drawn up at a time before something like eSports was prominent locally. A long and lengthy process was attributed with the MSSA’s complacency with these laws, as it seemingly would have to go through their internal committee before a request to change the law was lodged. In other words, the MSSA doesn’t agree with all the laws it is forced to impose, but they don’t seem to care about trying to change it. Who loses out? The gamer.
Another problem that the MSSA has had in the past (and still has currently) is communicating such legislation to the community, leading to various questions around whether the MSSA would employ a dedicated PR representative to help explain these types of rules to its members and the community, as well as inform them of MSSA events and current undertakings. Simphiwe answered this by saying that he would present the idea at the next committee meeting, but that employing a PR representative would require a change of constitution which will take time. Why hiring a simple PR rep requires a change in MSSA law was never explained, despite how ridiculous it sounds, and we were given no timeline as to when we can expect to be contacted by a single representative that can keep the media and community informed about the MSSA. Simphiwe did promise that the website that had been promised in the past would be live this week, so we’ll definitely keep an eye out for that.
Probably the most interesting question came near the end, when Simphiwe and Colin were asked whether the MSSA would seek to stop the formation of a separate eSports league legally, or if they would oppose the separation of eSports from the MSSA. This essentially came after Colin explained how the MSSA didn’t always agree with decisions made by the International eSport Federation, which governs all the international events that the MSSA organises international representation for. Since the MSSA hasn’t yet affiliated with bigger, and better, federations, teams are forced to circumvent the MSSA in order to represent their country at these events. The most recent situation involves the Southern Barbarians, who were barred from using the South African flag and calling themselves the official South African team since the event was not affiliated with the IESF, and therefore not the MSSA. However, Simphiwe reiterated that players need to go through the proper channels to represent their country, but if the MSSA is doing nothing to try and have their hands at all the major eSports events around the world, what are local players supposed to do in order to represent their countries? Basically, don’t say you’re the official team, according to Colin.
A separate eSports association locally could help change this, and Colin stated that the MSSA would not oppose such a formation legally. Colin also explained that if its members deemed that eSports would be better as a separate organisation, it would be separated from the MSSA. Unfortunately, only a third of the MSSA members have an interest in eSports, so the chances of that happening are extremely slim, and things would only be set in motion if it was brought up by the President at a committee meeting. So again, hoping this will happen internally at the MSSA is a long shot.
All in all, this press conference highlighted all that is currently wrong with the MSSA while providing a solid platform for the new President and former President to address issues presented by the media and community. Unfortunately, it turned into an excuse throwing farce, with hard questions being danced around and pressing issues either being slapped with a legislation sticker or outright ignored. There doesn’t seem to be a lot planned for the MSSA in the future, including little things such as hiring on official eSports representative or even a permanent PR representative as well, and if the MSSA struggles to just get even this right then what hope is there for affiliation for bigger international eSport associations or better representation at international events? This press conference was meant to highlight a new era for the MSSA, whereby it intended to mend all the bridges it had burned in the past, but instead it just proved that this new administration doesn’t exactly know where it’s even headed in terms of eSports.
Simply put, if we can’t even depend on the new President to adequately prepare for a press conference that he decided to host, how can we expect there to be radical changes that are needed within the MSSA? We can’t.