Zambia’s Justin Banda aka Mr 5,000 won the recently held Pro Series Gaming (PSG) tournament in Nairobi, taking home a trophy and a hefty Sh500,000. Cynthia Mukanzi caught up with him
Cynthia Mukanzi @Cynthia_Mukanzi
Mr 5,000 might as well be Mr half a million right now. What are you going to do with the money?
Laughs. You can say that again! As to spending the cash, I’ve invested in a nightclub back home and so I was planning on injecting some cash into the business to stir its growth. I’ll see if I can venture into another business opportunity if one comes my way.
Sounds like a good plan. In all the years you’ve been gaming, did you ever think you’d make something from it?
Honestly, not in the beginning. I’ve been gaming for about five years now, and in the beginning, it was just a casual way of entertaining myself. But on the fourth year, I began doing it competitively taking part in different tournaments. I never thought I would make money out of it until I started competing.
How did you get in contact with the Pro Series Gaming (PSG) team?
It was through my manager Choolwe. She’s friends with one of PSG’s executives on Facebook and they kept in touch. Having similar interest in gaming, they invited my team and I to the tournament. We’ll be back for another tournament in Nairobi come June.
You flew all the way to Nairobi to compete against 39 other gamers. Didn’t you have second thoughts in terms of the resources you were putting into this?
The things we do for the love of gaming. It was a great opportunity to come here and represent Zambia. And no, I didn’t have second thoughts. My team-mate, Zaza, who came in third, and I have incredible support from our label back home.
We were not alone in it. I had a lot of fun, met new people and made friends. I’d never been to Kenya before and it was a lovely chance to see the place. Yes, the win was not promised, but it was a good shot and we were confident we would fare well.
Did battling against the other players make you jittery?
Not at all. It was a socialising chance, so, I made myself at home, got to know people and played with them. I knew all I needed in the competition was to do my best.
The rest wasn’t up to me. I eased up into the environment, but I didn’t underestimate anyone. Everyone was intensely competitive. It crossed my mind that I could lose or win depending on how focused I was. I was hoping on the former and it was thrilling to be the one to take the trophy to Lusaka.
Do you restrict yourself to only playing fighting video games?
I would say that is my genre, particularly NetherRealm Studios (NRS), Injustice, Mortal Kombat and NKX. I also play a little bit of Tekken and Fifa, which is sportier. I play Fifa sometimes because most of my friends like it, so we have a game or two every now and then.
You mentioned your label. Does that mean you are signed to a gaming one?
Oh yes. I’m signed to Team Gematrix, whose official launch was last month. It is an e-sport gaming label founded by Choolwe Shabukali, our manager and Prince Musole. They had been worked on for a while, but it was formerly announced this year. It has signed three players.
Team Gematrix is a multi-gaming brand with different teams. For the fighting games (Mortal Kombat and Injustice) our team is made up of three players. Fifa, which is an e-sport, has two players. The plan is to expand into more gaming genres and bring more players on board.
When you look at the gaming scene in Nairobi and that of Zambia, what differences do you spot?
The gaming scene here is way cooler and advanced. It’s thriving. It is amazing to see that people and some corporates are willing to sponsor tournaments. Zambia is a bit slow on such support.
Don’t get me wrong, we have good players, who do casual gaming, but they don’t take it seriously. Companies are not willing to invest in our gamers as Liquid Telkom is doing for Kenya. Our label has, however, attracted international attention. People have shown interest in us and so we’ll see how it that goes.
You used to be a casual gamer, but now you are competing. Does it make it less fun to play with the pressure that comes with contending?
I never feel pressure when I play during tournaments. I’ve learned to relax while gaming, whether it’s a casual playoff or a match. I just give it my best and keep in mind that I’m there to have a good time. So, whatever the outcome, I always ensure I have a good experience.
Is gaming your full-time gig?
No. It’s part-time. I’m focusing on my business at the moment and also pursuing other opportunities that I might get in Zambia and hopefully get a good job. I graduated from the University of Lusaka in October last year and I’m hoping to do something related to public administration, which is what I studied.
Have you ever thought of investing in gaming in the future by putting up a video gaming hub?
It hasn’t crossed my mind, but it’s food for thought. I’m open to ideas and depending on what the future brings, I will figure out how to put my skills to a lucrative task.