Zambian MK11 prodigy, Killjoy, talks about the growing African scene, struggles, and so much more
The African FGC is still something of an enigma to the wider world, mostly due to the minimal coverage the events over there get, but one thing is certain— they are thriving!
Understandably, the idea of thriving is pretty relative as the African FGC is nowhere close to what it has the potential to be, but neither is it dead or non-existent. Local tournaments are being held, from Mettlestate to ACGL to even smaller tournaments where dedicated gamers come out in their droves to challenge one another.
Amid so many incredible players, one name stands out as one of the most promising from the scene in NRS titles. Chimba ‘Killjoy’ Mutale is a name you might not have heard of in the world of competitive Mortal Kombat, but that should change soon enough as his brilliance is too apparent to be ignored for too long. The Zambian native has been killing it in competitions, and a quick look at his Twitter profile shows just how prolific he is.
More importantly, despite his clever, if somewhat menacing name, Killjoy is an absolute delight to talk to, and it wasn’t long before the interview became a conversation between friends. In addition to his fervent dedication to Mortal Kombat, Killjoy also had a lot of keen insight into the African FGC and how it works on this side of the world.
Zambia has in recent months dealt with a wave of police brutality that has shaken the entire nation. As became evident with the #EndSars movement in Nigeria, police brutality is a continent-wide problem that needs to be curtailed as soon as possible. The situation is especially difficult for young individuals who don’t conform to society’s standards on dressing, hobbies, and career paths. This includes gamers, who are still looked upon with scorn in many African communities.
While law enforcement is a problem in Zambia with reports of police brutality, the bigger issue seems to be the forthcoming elections, which Killjoy says is the major worry for Zambian citizens. Apart from that, when asked, Killjoy reckoned that the only other major problem is the pandemic (it’s a problem for everyone).
The initial wave of the Coronavirus was bad all over the world, but the effects weren’t felt too badly in certain African countries. According to Killjoy, “Even the Corona cases haven’t been all bad, and you go out and see several people without masks.” Thankfully, Killjoy is a lot more considerate, adding, “Of course I still wear my mask because I’m still quite scared.”
There was a lot of laughter in this conversation as I regaled him with a story of an Uber driver who stared at me condescendingly when I entered his car with my mask on, “You’re one of those who believes the lies, eh?”
The second wave of the pandemic has hit African nations hard; however, the reluctance to go into another lockdown has meant that people generally have to look out for one another since the government refuses to do it. Killjoy is healthy, though, and with the difficult talk of police brutality and pandemics out of the way, we could talk about more fun stuff.
Maybe the parents are getting it?
Africa is a profoundly cultural continent, and the tightly-held beliefs of the generation past have proven difficult to change. This is especially true when it comes to playing games for a living as so many older people believe that an individual who isn’t a Doctor, Lawyer, or Engineer isn’t really doing much with their life. In my reality, these beliefs still hold true for many older members of society, so I wondered if the same was true for Killjoy. “Normally, I would say yes, because people generally tend to think that video games are for kids and stuff, but for me, in my household, my mum is actually a big supporter of my endeavors in video games.” This truly shocked me, but it also warms my heart to see that there are a lot more people who understand that there is a lot to gain by playing video games.
“Oh, my mum is awesome! She tries to provide all I need to play games, including internet access and other amenities. If there’s an offline event, she even drives me there, and in general, she asks about my matches and so on. So I would say that while progress is slow, there is definitely some change in how the older generation perceives esports”
While Killjoy might sound like a newbie, he’s been playing professionally since 2012, “I used to play at home with my older brother and a few of his friends, but in the 8th grade, I was taken to the arcades for the first time. That’s where I met many of the other people in the scene, and I started playing competitively.”
The Zambian esports scene
You’ve probably heard this statistic bandied around time and again, but in 2020 the esports scene is worth more than Hollywood (thanks in part to the pandemic), but this has felt like an inevitable situation for a while now. Therefore, the earnings of esports have made it a serious contributor to nations’ economies, making the world sit up and take notice. Unfortunately, this is something that Africa still hasn’t wised up to, and it’s a fact that irks Killjoy. “There’s still a notion in Zambia that video games are a hobby for children, so when I saw the stats that put esports’ earning above Hollywood, I, along with other gamers, started sharing it on social media saying ‘look! This is what is possible with video games so, if our governments and companies within Africa were to invest in esports and its players, it would be of great help to the economy.”
Furthermore, Killjoy explained that there is also a social and cultural advantage to supporting esports in Africa. “It also opens up a lot of other advantages to African kids who can travel abroad and learn things, and if someone wins a tournament, then great for foreign exchange and stuff,” he said.
Winning a major tournament would be truly life-changing for an African as the amount of money would be insane, “It also puts the country on the map! Think of Tekken Master; maybe I’m harsh, but there were people who had no idea where Bahrain was, and then he steps up to the scene, and they are like, ‘Oh! He’s from the Middle-East, where exactly?’ So it not only opens a way for you but maybe other gamers in the country.”
I hope that stakeholders, companies, and the government will realize just how important esports could be for the economy. Still, Killjoy worries that it might be more challenging than just getting more institutions involved. “It’s actually about changing people’s mindsets. Most of the people in power are old-fashioned, and you know that it’s the hardest thing to change someone’s perspective.”
So, for esports to grow in Africa, there would have to be a concerted effort to change the minds of those in power. But, there is a class of people who also have a huge role in helping Africa announce itself on the World Stage— Game developers and tournament organizers.
“Game developers, tournament organizers, and others who do big things in esports need to look to Africa. In literally everything, Africa is never included. For example, I don’t think the NRS scene has a Pro Tour for Africa, and considering how big a continent this is, that’s weird. We do produce content; notice us!”
The Zambian FGC packs a punch!
With such an intimate knowledge of the Zambian FGC, I decided to quiz Killjoy about the top players we should look out for from the scene who are currently underrated. “Would it seem like I’m blowing my own horn if I say I should be considered an underrated player?” he laughed. “In 2020, I really did a lot of stuff, so I believe I should be a player that people should look at.”
(If you want some premium Killjoy content, just check out his YouTube channel, it’s excellent!)
“Also, there’s Mr 5000 (Justin Banda), Mark the Shark, Ai Cortex, my teammate and friend.”
As for FGC tournaments held in Zambia, there are quite a few, including Nerd Otaku events a group of gamers, anime fans, and tech geeks. There are also events hosted by Ultimate Fighters Tournament. “And for MK, we had a series of events, especially when Corona was going around, hosted by UFT and Nerd Otaku called Quarantine Kombat.”
Like every fighting game on the face of the earth, Mortal Kombat has its fair share of problems and mechanics that players want to be fixed. The recent balance patches weren’t well-received by everyone, with several gamers complaining about the lack of reasonable buffs for Shao Kahn while life seems to have become more difficult for Sheeva players. As for Killjoy, the changes he wants are more mechanical, “Do you play Street Fighter?” he asked.
“You know how easy it is to anti-air someone in Street Fighter? Well, I want that for Mortal Kombat. I also want them to fix fatal blows because the pushback is ridiculous. I think there were some improvements with the pokes, but I want them to be a lot more turn-based.
“Playing safe in MK is usually a downside, and that shouldn’t be the case in a fighting game.”
Killjoy has for a while used Johnny Cage to great effect, he has also dabbled with Jacqui and considers Mileena to be his waifu, but when I asked why he was enamored with Johnny, his answer was a very relatable one. “When I was a kid, I watched the old Mortal Kombat movies (we all did), and his (Johnny Cage) personality was what did it for me. While everyone was thinking of the stakes, he was just a clown.”
As the interview wound to a close, I asked about what Killjoy would love the world to know about the Zambian FGC. “Hmmm. How quickly they adapt. Give us a match or two; you’ll win. But give us a little while, and we’ll close the skill gap in no time.” This answer made me very, super curious about something else, so I asked
“Do you think the Zambian FGC’s adaptability is a result of nature or due to the environment you grew up in?”
“Both, I think. It’s natural for those who practice hard and are therefore better players. But then again, it’s also due to the environment. There’s something I always say, ‘You are only as good as your scene’ (those are words to live by), so for instance, with Tekken, it was always Koreans, Koreans, Koreans, till Arslan Ash, who came from a different scene. He came to show the world how differently Pakistan played. Even Knee had to go on a practice vacation in Pakistan and came back a different beast. This is where Africa needs to be involved. We need competitions for us to face the world’s best so we can improve, and who knows, maybe we can teach them a thing or two.”
Trash-talking is a stape in the FGC all around the world, and while it is facing some major resistance with those who wonder if it goes too far, it is still a generally accepted practice in most circles. Naturally, I wondered how the Zambians feel about trash-talking and if it is prevalent in the community.
“There’s friendly trash-talking, I guess, and most of the FGC gets along well in Zambia regardless of your game of choice anyway. We’re one big family, and everyone is cool with everyone. There will always be beef, but there isn’t much trash-talking in the Zambian scene.
“There is a point where it goes too far. Once it stops being about the game, then I think it’s too far. Like you can say I’m bad at the game, that’s fine, but if it’s no longer about the person’s skill, that’s crossing the line.”
Killjoy is an avid anime fan, and this meant we got along just fine. By the time we ended our conversation, I was shocked to see that an hour had already gone by, and it left me with a warm feeling in my chest that I had just concluded a very stimulating conversation. 2021 is hopefully going to be the year when the world knows Killjoy’s name; if he ever reads this, I hope he knows that he’ll always have a cheerleader in me.
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