Student of business who brought African Esports title home

Bilal Mohamed is the first Kenyan to ever win an African title in Esports.
Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • Bilal Mohamed is the first-ever African Esports champion from Kenya
  • The 25-year-old Kenyan was born in the UK, but has been living in Kenya since he was seven.
  • He went to Braeside Primary and High School and then Peponi Secondary School
  • Bilal is scheduled to graduate in June 2024 with a Bachelor of Business Science in Financial Economics degree from Strathmore University

How did it feel to be crowned the African Esports champion?
It was so amazing to win, especially since the player I fought in the final was someone I had played and lost to online before. In the lead-up to the African Championship, I was practicing a lot since I knew he would be my main challenger.

I really practiced hard and worked on my weaknesses. Beating him to win the tournament was a very big achievement for me. I’m very happy. Part of me did not believe it, but it was reality. It was a happiness I hadn’t felt in a long time. My opponent shook my hands after the match and congratulated me. It felt very nice. After the tournament, we played more matches just for fun.

What does it take to be an African champion?
Commitment, and a lot of practice hours. It is not easy. In Africa, it is even more difficult because the online infrastructure is not very developed. We have a lot of issues in Africa such as random blackouts and occasional internet outages, so there are a lot of things that make it challenging to grow in this sport.

You have to fight through all of those hardships. Most of my training is done online because offline, there are not many players locally, so I’m forced to play online players from Southern African countries and from the Middle East. The Middle East has so many talented and experienced players. They also have a proper Esports team, so I play a lot of their players. Luckily, Kenya is located in a good spot geographically to play with opponents from different countries online. 

How did you defeat such experienced opponents?
I knew about the tournament two months in advance, so I spent the first month practicing hard for it. I had a rough idea of the opponents I would be facing because the African Esports scene is not that big. I know all the top players in the continent. I prepared with my opponents in mind.

I watched videos of them playing so that I could know what to expect in terms of their playing styles because each player plays differently. I prepared a strategy for each of them. On the day of the tournament, I focused only on my matches and my strategies, and it worked!

Let’s go back to where your Esports journey started...
It started in 2019. I used to play a game called Call of Duty as well as other single-player games just for fun. Then I stumbled upon a video on YouTube about fighting games, which inspired me. In the clip, there was a very exciting match between Japanese player Daigo Umehara and American player Justin Wong. There were so many spectators who were cheering wildly. I remember wishing I could be part of the game. I was fascinated. After that I began playing Mortal Kombat 11 to sharpen my skills.

What was your first year in Esports like?
It wasn’t good at all. I had to buy the basic equipment. Then in 2020 I began taking on Kenyan opponents. I lost many times because they were much more skilled than I was. I also played opponents online from Zambia and South Africa, and lost to them. But with time, I got better. I started winning tournaments online against South African and Zambian players and from there I was hooked.

Roughly, how many hours do you put into training?
It depends. If a tournament is coming up, I put more hours into training. For example, before heading to Nigeria, I trained for three to four hours every day. But, normally I don’t put in that many hours because we don’t have tournaments that often. Mostly we have only one major tournament in a year.

Who is your role model in Esports?
It is the person who got me into the fighting games – Daigo Umehara. He is the reason I’m playing today. He is still playing and doing well in the sport. I like him because he is a legend in the fighting games. That parry he did against Wong got me into this sport. Outside Esports, I look up to former professional boxer Muhammad Ali and basketball player Michael Jordan. They were so dominant in their disciplines, and I would like to achieve that someday.