NAIROBI, Kenya, May 24 – For years, the virtual world of video games was the only place where Kenyan gamer Brian Diang’a felt safe from his abusive, alcoholic father and their unhappy home in Kibera, Africa’s largest slum.
“Gaming was my only escape,” Diang’a told AFP, describing a childhood mired in poverty and violence.
Popularly known by his online avatar Beast, the 28-year-old discovered video games when he was nine.
“My dad had become an alcoholic and he would come back home in a drunken stupor and beat up my mom. Home became somewhere I did not want to be.”
His daily visits to gaming dens worried his mother, who believed they were a bad influence on her son and a distraction from his schoolwork.
“I would receive a beating from my mom every time she found me in these gaming parlours,” Diang’a said.
Far from being a gateway to the world of drugs and crime, his childhood pursuit has instead taken him to tournaments and offered lucrative opportunities to work with tech brands.
Today, he earns around 50,000 Kenyan shillings ($430) a month in a country where youth unemployment remains a huge problem.
Diang’a never imagined that his childhood passion could lead to a professional career, until 2013.
“I bumped onto YouTube videos where I saw gamers abroad playing Mortal Kombat –- a game that I frequently played to pass time –- and getting paid up to $5000 to compete,” he said.