If you asked a typical nerd to write you a list of all the games that would rank among the top esports in the world, it would probably not include any game that is directly based on a real life sport, but FIFA could be the title that changes the status quo.
One of the most common questions we get from non-gamers when we tell them we are into esports is ‘Why would you watch someone else playing a computer game?’.
This makes titles like FIFA 2018 quite interesting; just picture their heads spinning trying to imagine people watching other people playing a computer game based on a game that you can watch and play in real life. Even many gamers may have a hard time reconciling that idea. (GLHF: They certainly have a hard time following that previous sentence.)
However, it’s something that everyone is going to have to come to terms with sooner rather than later because the guys behind the game (as well as football’s governing body themselves and esport tournament organisers) seem dead set on making it one of the biggest esports around.
We caught up with one of ViNCO Gaming’s resident FIFA pros, Mubeen ‘MOBiZILLA’ Gaffoor, to find out more about this burgeoning, and potentially meta-shifting, esport and how it fits into the local scene.
“FIFA only really made the jump into esports last year during FIFA 17. I don’t think the local scene has fully caught on that FIFA are pushing to become a big player in the esports world.
There are a decent amount of players that are aware of it though and actively track what is happening in the competitive scene. I think within the next year or so it will become more apparent among everybody in the FIFA scene.
The local scene is big and has been around for a long time. The first FIFA tournament I recall playing in was around 2008/9 and it has only grown from that time. We now have LAN tournaments on a monthly basis. There are also numerous organisations that run local online leagues as well.”
There is one clear and obvious advantage that FIFA has over most games trying to break into the esports scene: Everyone has played FIFA. At some point during every person’s life they have been to a braai or someone’s house and played some version of this game. That’s just a fact and there’s nothing you can do or say to prove otherwise.
Then there’s the added bonus that it is based on one of the most simple sports in the world: Football. Or soccer (GLHF: Pronounced sah-ker.) to the Americans. The winner of the game is the team that can kick a round ball into a net the most times. You don’t need a thorough understanding of how to pull creep, place wards or be able to decode what is happening when 10 characters all fire their ultimate abilities off at the same time to enjoy this game. You don’t even need to know what an ultimate ability is.
The power that a game like FIFA has, especially in a market like South Africa, can be shown in a very simple way. Football clubs, such as Orlando Pirates, Kaizer Chiefs, Paris Saint-Germain, and Manchester City have signed FIFA players who represent them at esports events.
It doesn’t matter how big the ESL and IEM get, nothing is going to bring esports into the mainstream faster than some of the biggest sport franchises in the world actively recruiting gamers. And we all need to embrace that.
MOBiZILLA and his teammate, alongside the Orlando Pirates esports team, recently took part in a qualifying event for the FIFA eClub World Cup and even though none of them were able to qualify, it was a huge step for the local scene because every time our gamers compete on an international stage they’re helping put South Africa on the e-map.
“It was a great experience. We entered the qualifier under our multi-gaming organisation ViNCO Gaming. They used a fairly new format for the qualifier.
We had to play as a team, I played the PS4 players of the opposition team and my partner played the XBox players. The scores got aggregated to determine the winning team.
It gives a new dynamic to the games because your result isn’t the only one that matters to determine the winner.
We were grouped with teams from Saudi Arabia; the only two teams from Africa were ourselves and the Orlando Pirates eSports team. Unfortunately EA group Africa & the Middle East together, which made it a bit tougher to qualify because of the lag we experience against them.”
Ah that old chestnut. Welcome to the club lads, you’re real South African esports players now.
Because FIFA 2018 is played predominantly on console and is an incredibly simple game to understand, the potential for growth is massive. Which is fantastic and is almost certainly why the local FIFA scene is far bigger than anyone outside of it ever gave it credit for.
With more players comes more talent and MOBiZILLA is incredibly optimistic about South Africa’s standing in the FIFA world.
“I have played majority of the top players in SA and we are definitely on the same standard as the rest of the world.
Last year I qualified for a global FIFA event and played a number of international players in Qatar. There were a few other South Africans who also made it and our performances against the international players were up to standard.
Once you get to the ‘pro’ level of FIFA players, there are small margins that determine who wins and loses. If our players are given more opportunities to challenge international players I feel we would give them some good competition.
Unfortunately because EA use a P2P system to connect players online, we suffer really bad lag against anybody outside of South Africa. Because of that we don’t even attempt to play against international opponents even if it’s just for a practice game. That’s also why it makes it really tough for us to impose ourselves on an international level.”
Thankfully, VS Gaming are doing their part to keep the local scene thriving and are hosting another FIFA eClub World Cup qualifier this coming weekend on 5 & 6 May.
Even without the chance to qualify for the FIFA eClub World Cup, the tournament is an incredible investment in the title by VS Gaming, offering a R1.5 million prize pool.
“I am so excited about the event, they had it last year and it was amazing to see South Africa get involved in such a huge tournament for FIFA. [In 2017] it was even recognised by some international players and they came to us to compete.
I know the majority of the pro players that will be entering and the level of competition is going to be really high, also because anybody can enter there will be lots of unknown players that the pro’s aren’t aware of at all.”
That’s another great thing about FIFA and its simplicity, there could be players out there who are as good as anyone in the world, but no-one has heard of them because they don’t have access to decent internet.
“Not everybody who owns FIFA in South Africa plays online, so there are many players that can compete against the pro players but haven’t been given the chance to, because they don’t have access to the internet.
We will have to find out on the day, I’m sure there will definitely be a few surprises.
The pro’s will always have an advantage because they are more experienced with the game and have more technical ability, but FIFA is similar to real football and on the day even the smaller or lesser known teams can cause upsets.”
Mystery players challenging the titans of the game. Underdogs rising to beat the unbeatables. Is there another game in the world that has the potential to generate stories like this? And y’all know how excited we get about esports stories.
Good luck to MOBiZILLA and everyone taking part at the VS Gaming FIFA tournament . Go out there and give us a story to write home about.