Focus on: EA Sports FIFA
Twenty years ago, no one could have imagined that video games would be characterized as a sport, let alone have millions of viewers. As the esports scene continuously grows, we will take a step back and examine the history of how the different video games have dived into this realm of sport and the future that each of them promises. Moreover, we will examine the details behind tournaments, the status quo of the scene, while also looking at famous players and connections to the real world. As FIFA is the best-selling sports video game franchise in the world, and is the sole one to have such a direct link to sports reality, we will first turn our attention to the game that changed the footballing world.
FIFA first jumped onto the esport scene in 2001, way back when PlayStation2 was the epitome of video game technology. It became an official game of the World Cyber Games, an Olympics style tournament for video games that year, and continued to grow. In 2003, it made it’s debut in the Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL) and hasn’t looked back since.
Today, it is the game used in the FIFA Interactive World Cup (FIWC), the Guinness World Record holder for largest online gaming tournament in the world. The inaugural FIWC was hosted in Switzerland in 2004, and has continued growing ever since. It was in 2013 that the record was established with over 2.5 Million players signing up to participate worldwide. Every year millions of players join the qualification process in a bid to qualify for the Grand Final of the official virtual football World Cup. The Grand Final is the final stage of the FIWC, where the top 32 players in the world compete to see who will become the number one. The 2017 champion will be the best player of over 6 million participants.
The FIWC has been held in cities all over the world, including Berlin, Barcelona, LA, New York, Dubai and Rio de Janeiro. This year the Grand Final will be held in the epicenter of the world of football, the home of Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs, London. Furthermore, top broadcasters around the world transmit esport tournaments live, with FOX and Sky Sports televising the FIWC16 from the Apollo Theatre in New York. The winner was Danish Mohamad Al-Bacha, who arrived at the tournament as an underdog, but left as Champion and with $20,000 as well as a trip to the annual FIFA football gala. This year, the prize money has been increased tenfold to a massive $200,000, FIFA is fast becoming a juggernaut of the eSport scene.
The massive difference between FIFA and other esport games is the direct link to reality. This has become even more apparent with several European leagues creating “Virtual” or “ELeagues”. The German League founded the Virtuelle Bundesliga, which allows anyone in Germany to participate. The Dutch League has gone a step further and founded a league where each team in the real division puts forward an esports player who then represents them throughout the season. Spain and France have also followed suit and have released the Virtual Football Organization (VFO) and the Orange e-Ligue 1 respectively. Esports now touches on four of the biggest European leagues and this span will most likely increase over the coming seasons.
The phenomenon of football clubs investing in video gamers began back in the end of 2015. VfL Wolfsburg signed Benedikt Saltzer, and followed up this signing with a January signing of two-time participant of the FIWC, David Bytheway. Since then, many football clubs have followed suit and have jumped at the chance to get into the untapped potential that is FIFA esports. The most remarkable move was made by the French capital city club Paris Saint-Germain. PSG signed two times world champion August Rosenmeier among others and a complete League of Legends roster. Other clubs such as West Ham United, Schalke 04 and Manchester City have signed eSports players as well.
Just like the Dutch League has formed a league especially for these esports players, the FIWC will be inaugurating the FIFA Interactive Club World Cup in 2017. The FICWC is a feeder tournament for the Grand Final of the FIWC, where a group of clubs who have signed eSports players, will be invited to participate and fight it out for the inaugural FICWC title.
Video games and reality have never been so intricately linked. Football players are well-known for being big fans of the FIFA game, with tournaments being held within the squad, and even recreating game modes in real life, with Chelsea FC participating in a skill game challenge.
Esport players also have a big passion for the game, with many of them playing football as well as the video game alternative. August Rosenmeier and Benedikt Saltzer were and are passionate football players, and they continues to play despite being professional FIFA players on the eSport scene on an amateur level on the real pitch.
This new era of FIFA and football is very exciting and some footballers have started to wade into the sector. Double European Champion and World Champion Gerard Piqué recently posted a picture on his Twitter page of several video game controllers and the caption “I want you”. He captioned the picture by saying “Join me to create the future of football in esports!”, showing how he wants to get involved in the FIFA scene and sees it as a promising prospect for the future, not only in terms of video games, but in terms of football.