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Replay, changing the gaming landscape in Zambia

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Replay Gaming Lounge is a recreational facility for teens and young adults, a place where gamers can hang out with like-minded people, sharpen their skills and build a gaming community. Replay started with a small amount of seed money and an idea. Founder Saviour ‘Bishop’ Kalebwe explains, “One of my friends Hikamata lives in Kafue and he mentioned a small video gaming place that he knew of that was making money from young people coming in and playing a few games. I already had the passion for gaming but had never thought of it as a business venture that would work.” After that conversation he went and bought three TVs, added his own Xbox 360 which he was barely playing at the time, and bought two PlayStation 3s to start the console collection for the lounge.

At first Bishop thought he needed to buy more equipment before opening but then he found a location at Avondale Shopping Complex in Lusaka. His friends teased him, saying he was taking too long to open the lounge and gave him the push he needed. Bishop decided to pay for the space and set a date to open the gaming lounge with just three TVs and three consoles and two weeks later on August 28th the doors to Replay Gaming Lounge opened.

When sharing his journey with gaming Bishop muses, “I’ve always loved gaming and pride myself as a generation one gamer. I was playing games before I was a teenager. My late friend Rodney Mweemba actually got me into games. We played games every day and his house suffered the most because his mother was in the States. We would leave school at 10am just to go play. Replay is really a tribute to him and our love of gaming.”

The first game Bishop remembers playing was a Game Boy and from there he was hooked. He shares, “Gaming is something I am really good at. I was one of the few people I knew who actually finished Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega.”

The prices at Replay are fair, starting at K5 for ten minutes depending on what game you are playing; the lounge sells time on the console and not matches played in a game like FIFA or Mortal Kombat. Their biggest catalogue is PlayStation 4 with about thirty to forty games in that catalogue.

Replay held their first tournament in November 2019 and it was a FIFA 20 tournament as Zambia is big on football culture and the game itself is a big seller at the store. They have multiple copies of FIFA 20 because of the demand and gamers not wanting to wait their turn to play. In 2020 they hosted two FIFA tournaments, one Mortal Kombat, one NBA 2K and one Call of Duty tournament. The best part of the tournaments is seeing the people; the atmosphere is electric and fully charged on a tournament day. Buy in for the tournaments is usually K100 which is a registration fee and the grand prize is K1,000. It is highly competitive as there is no second or third prize. The tournaments are structured with 16 competitors and there are three stages to reach the finals.

The tournaments are a brand exercise for Replay and about building a sense of community. With the Mortal Kombat tournament that took place in August 2020, Replay attracted the top five best Mortal Kombat players in Zambia which was quite the feat as the gaming community in Zambia is known for being a bit reclusive and sticking to their own. The lounge has drawn some of these people out from playing with the same group of friends or playing online, they now know that they can come somewhere to play with strangers or even people they know. A huge benefit of that is that there’s an Achilles heel to always playing your friends in that you will be good but you are always playing the same people and only get challenged more when you step outside of that.

The recent NBA2K tournament was a new tournament added to Replay Gaming Lounge and featured two of the youngest gamers to ever compete at a Replay tournament, 11-year-old Bubu and 7-year-old CJ. Although they didn’t win it was incredible to see children that young who love gaming participate and play older gamers on that level. It’s also worth noting that since its inception Replay has had Ai Gaming, Nerd Otaku Community and Combo Breakers, some of the biggest names in the gaming community, come through to their space.

Replay Gaming Lounge is one of the biggest gaming lounges in Lusaka. They are actively participating in and promoting gaming culture. They take the time to invest in the right equipment and listen to the demands of gamers.

Online is where Replay’s target market basically lives, so social media is vital to their operations. They also have a WhatsApp group which they encourage people who come to the lounge to join because that’s where they advertise specials and tournaments. It is a direct line of communication between Replay and its clients that also helps foster friendships. People can organise gaming sessions with each other and clients can react in real-time to what the gaming lounge is doing.

Gaming is a complex art form in Bishop’s eyes. He explains, “I always like to think about video games in three parts. Having an IT background and being an artist myself, I love to draw and I have a passion for African music. Those three things in video games actually come into play especially recently with FIFA adding music from Sampa The Great. Storytelling is a huge part of gaming, meaning if you don’t actively participate in playing the game it will not progress. In that way it is similar to reading a book, the story won’t progress unless you read and follow through. Programming and IT are other elements of the game. Someone has to build all the assets and the environment. Building the hardware or the software or even just designing the console itself. The second part is the actual art or the assets that you see in a video game like the characters. Digital artists have to sit and create the environment and the characters and go through several drafts and variations. The third part is the sound effects and the music. The music is constantly changing and it’s emotionally charged, telling the story of what is happening in the game. Video games are an amalgamation of these three art forms which just come together in a seamless and beautiful way.”

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