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FIFA and esports: A new age of competition

FIFA and esports

(Photo by Luke Walker – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

FIFA and esports represent a growing industry surrounding professional video game players. The potential of video games is seemingly boundless. Accredit much of that to the fact that it is relatively new, but it also opens a variety of doors for potential.

For example, take what the FIFA video game series provides fans of the sport. Ruud Gullit performs ball rolls, Pele scores volleys, and Edwin Van der Sar saves shots all on the same field. This is a taste of what one of the world’s most popular video game franchises can do.

Unsurprisingly, this pulls in viewers from across the world, just like the standard soccer each weekend. In front of an ecstatic 30,000 viewers, two of the world’s best gamers duke it out for a gigantic prize pool.

FIFA is at the pinnacle of breaking down barriers and connecting traditional sports with video games. As it gets the thumbs-up from several continental confederations, the elite soccer game could reach hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of viewers soon.

FIFA and esports over the years

FIFA EVOLVES

Before FIFA was the seamless, enjoyable video game that it is now, it was a glitchy, 2D soccer simulator exclusive to the Sega Genesis decades earlier. Its limited gameplay did not come close to the product EA pushes out now.

A few years later, it expanded to include club competitions, 3D graphics and national teams. Its 90s editions garnered positive reviews and cemented itself as a vanguard for sports video games. Years later, it created a tactical side to the game, online servers, recognizable faces, and a growing esports scene.

In December 2004, Thiago Carrico De Azevedo won the first FIFA eWorld Cup. It did not draw many eyes, but it would be vital to how FIFA handles esports.

FIFA video game competitions

The competition is still alive, fourteen editions later. Not only did it draw the eyes of millions of viewers worldwide, but it also spawned numerous competitions that are taking center stage online. Some include the eChampions League, eLibertadores, and the highly-competitive eMLS.

A broadcast of the eChampions League is drawing the eyes of tens of thousands of viewers, far more than anyone imagined. As viewership increases, so does the prize pool. The winner of the eWorld Cup will take home $200,000 in prize money. Its graphics and gameplay are a far cry from its 2D predecessors. “It is pretty realistic to the actual game in position and playmaking,” an elite esports player noted.

It is also lapping many of its competitors in sales and recognizability. Its counterpart, PES, has more glitches and worse graphics than FIFA boasts. The critically acclaimed Football Manager franchise does not have the diverse modes FIFA has. That, and more, led to FIFA noticing the ever-popular video game franchise.

Years of primitive graphics and limited gameplay would become an enjoyable, multifaceted video game that draws millions of views. Yet FIFA and EA Sports will not rest on their success. It still has a long way to go in the esports world. FIFA and esports content creator JDenman9 says support from established organizations sheds more light on the industry as a whole.

“As support increases from organizations, football clubs, and sponsors, exposure will increase on FIFA esports,” he said.

Now, with the spotlight focused squarely on them, they will look to make the most of it.

FIFA AND EA ALIGN

Ask DC United-affiliated Mohamed Alioune Diop about his experience with the sports federations behind the professional tournaments, and he will say nothing but positive words.

“I think they are heavily involved. They got the federations involved which only help professionalize the scene in the long run.”

Diop, also known as KingCJ0, said. It is a testament to the significance of organizations like UEFA, CONCACAF, and CONMEBOL. Additionally, it represents a sign of esports’ promise.

“They see the potential of gaming and have a very good approach to it,” the veteran gamer said.

Now, with the thumbs-up to stage online versions of the Champions League, MLS, and even the World Cup, FIFA can go places that few have gone before.

It opens a new world, where esports could potentially jockey with professional soccer leagues for television deals. The official FIFA broadcast on Twitch, boosted by the promise of in-game rewards, pulled over 30,000 viewers to its live broadcast. Although it is a long way from competing with ESPN-sponsored shows, with entertaining competitions by FIFA’s side, there are unlimited possibilities for the avant-garde video game.

YOUTUBE, TWITCH, AND TWITTER

JDenman9 understands that building up the FIFA and esports scene comes with hard work and sacrifices, mainly being time. He references the abaility to create content in FIFA.

It is a very influential video game. So, naturally, there will be thousands of streamers to broadcast their matches.

“Creating content is not hard,” he says. “As long as you are having fun and creating a safe environment for people to watch you, you are on the right path.”

Numerous websites made it easier for streamers to become recognized pillars of the FIFA community. You can easily upload on YouTube, go live on Twitch, or tweet with the press of a button.

“I think social media is important because creating content and telling people where they can find and interact with you is key to growing as a player and brand,” Diop said.

“Being able to tell them that you are live streaming somewhere or posting a new video is crucial for our personal growth as professional players. The content side is important for our sustainability in the scene and diversifying our portfolio per se.”

KingCJ0 is right. If you are not showing your latest snippets and highlights, it limits your progress as a recognizable face in FIFA and esports.

That is why thousands of streamers flock to Twitch to show their advancement in FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) Division Rivals. This is the principal competition to determine who the best players are. Players assemble their ‘ultimate team’ of players past and present to go head-to-head.

On any given day, you can expect dozens of thousands of viewers to watch streams and videos. The money made off of social media is vital to players’ careers.

THE STEPS TO THE BIGGEST STAGES

There are a lot of steps to compete in FIFA’s most prestigious tournaments that extend beyond just popularity. After registering, FUT Division Rivals will prove vital for many competitions. Depending on where you live, some perks come with finishing in the top 1% in FUT Division Rivals.

“This year’s competitive format revolves around FUT Division Rivals, as that decides who gets to play in the FIFA Global Series Online qualifiers,” KingCJ0 explained.

Competitions like the FIFA eWorld Cup, eLibertadores, eChampions League, and more rely on the FUT Division Rivals to weed out the competition.

For others, including the eMLS Cup and the Team of the Season Cup, players must sign with a team. Manchester City, RB Leipzig, AS Roma, and Ajax all field FIFA squads that compete in online competitions. Along with traditional esports organizations like FaZe Clan and Fnatic, they help grow a fostering FIFA scene.

But, as Diop describes, the path to getting signed is a tough one.

“You need to perform in tournaments and scouting events. EA has a competitive circuit that allows you to get your name out there among the competitors. If you perform there, more and more teams will have an eye on you. You could hopefully get picked up due to your results.

“When I arrived in the U.S., I was still signed with the first African team to have an esports team, Orlando Pirates. Getting signed here in the US was a big challenge. I had to show that not only I am from a region that is not considered one of the best. But, that I am good enough to compete against the top players in North America.”

FIFA’S DRAWBACKS

In a sense, FIFA has a mind-boggling amount of unfulfilled potential. It has an unconventional structure, compared to traditional video games like Dota, League of Legends, and even Fortnite.

“From my experience in speaking to pros and causal gamers, top-level players say there is a severe lack of a consistent skill gap. In turn, it results in a lack of respect for the esport,” Futwiz-affiliated JDenman9 said.

Glitches, randomness, and laggy connections mean FIFA is less respected as an esport. Moreover, the ‘pay-to-win’ argument for FIFA, stemming from using real life money to acquire in-game players, hampers many players.

“I think accessibility is the most important thing. People need to feel that they can reach the top level by not being forced to spend to get a team good enough to compete,” KingCJ0 contends.

The need to spend hundreds of dollars to compete with others is arguably the biggest problem with FIFA.

His sentiments are a popular point among FIFA players. But how EA will fix the players’ complaints is unknown to most.

SKY IS THE LIMIT

Many soccer clubs and esports franchises recognize that FIFA has a lot of opportunities. The fun, formulaic video game has something for everybody: but its esports franchise is likely where EA Sports can improve.

Sure, there are creative tournaments like the FIFA eClub World Cup, FIFA eWorld Cup, and Team of the Season Cup, but there is a feeling that FIFA could be huge. It could even gain TV deals, but its drawbacks are holding it back.

Professional gamers and FIFA enthusiasts will continue to play FIFA because that is all they can do. All they can do is contact EA Sports. They cannot lessen the impact of microtransactions on Ultimate Team and fortify the strength of their servers. Those decisions are all made in EA Sports’ headquarters. The ratings, tournaments, all the ideas are approved by EA Sports. For now, FIFA players will hope that EA can make the right decisions and make their esport franchise even more popular.

TOURNAMENTS TO WATCH

eMLS Cup 2022 – March 13

KingCJ0, who provided insights throughout this story, competed in one of the major FIFA esports events recently. The 2022 eMLS Cup featured players representing 27 MLS clubs.

Representing DC United, KingCJ0 finished third out of 27 in the overall standings. Then, in the knockout portion, he reached the final.

Eventually, Diop fell to PauloNeto999 in the championship, 2-0. He pocketed a cool $7,000 for his performance in the competition.

eLibertadores – March 19 and 20

South America’s premier FIFA tournament will be in its most exciting phase come March 19 and March 20. The top eight South American players, after numerous qualifying rounds, will duke it out for a big prize pool.

eChampions League 2022 Knockout Round – April 23 and 24

After an exciting group stage that drew the eyes of thousands of viewers, the eChampions League will return for the knockout round in around two months. 32 of the best European FIFA players will face each other in these April contests. Sampdoria, Werder Bremen, and Alaves representatives will participate.

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8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. dennis+wise

    March 24, 2022 at 10:34 am

    if fifa23 is the last, makes one wonder how many addt’l briefcases fifa demanded for the license renewal? wish we could be privy to EA’s response….

  2. dennis+wise

    March 22, 2022 at 2:03 pm

    why would any esports platform want to be associated w/ FIFA.

    there are so many significant things wrong w/ FIFA, just look at what Louis van Gaal said today about the Qatari WC!!!

    • Deolu Akingbade

      March 22, 2022 at 4:57 pm

      EA Sports recently confirmed that FIFA 23 will be the last game under the FIFA name. But other than that, it could do wonders for name recognition and also goes a long way to acquire licenses for leagues. If you look at FM2022, most of the club crests are gone and they have to call their clubs differently(see: Zebre, Man UFC).

  3. dave

    March 19, 2022 at 10:42 am

    Thank you for writing this article. Interesting and informative. As viewership of esports increases, do you expect a decrease in viewership of live sports? I have seen some data suggesting that may be happening, particularly among people born in the 2000s.

    • Deolu Akingbade

      March 20, 2022 at 8:15 am

      I feel that if esports is accessible(on at the right times, simple to understand) and exciting, then it will get more exposure. Especially for teenagers and young adults for today, esports is getting popular. But because some older people might not relate to esports or understand it, esports will have a tougher time competing with live sports. But I think they are on the right track.

  4. Deolu Akingbade

    March 17, 2022 at 11:33 am

    Very big thank you to @JDenman9 and @KingCJ0 for letting me interview them!

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