With COVID-19 disrupting the football calendar, is FIFA 20 the best way for football fans to get their fix?
It was the same each and every summer.
As the warm weather saw the oasis of football dry up, my thirst would grow. A new season, like a distant mirage, seemed impossible to reach as the months crawled by.
Or maybe I’m just being dramatic. Of course, World Cups and Euros came and went, but it was never quite the same as cheering on your own side that you watched week in, week out.
In these periods where the only real football going on consisted of me doing keepy-ups in my back garden, I instead turned to another source to get my fill. I would hop on my XBOX, load up FIFA and start a new career as some far-flung side from South-America or Eastern Europe. From there, my time would be filled with the same levels of research and engagement that, until then, only my own side had unreservedly received.
New signings, tying down stars to bumper contracts, and eventually leading my team to domestic or continental glory were features of my everyday. Until, one evening, I took the plunge into FIFA’s golden game mode, their chief money maker – ‘Ultimate Team’.
My experience was changed forever. The sheer addictive nature of building teams, completing squad-building puzzles, taking on other players online, and buying and selling cards to amass my own little FIFA fortune had me hooked.
The number of players participating in this mode following its release in 2009 grew by the hundreds of thousands year upon year until finally, the big boys began to take notice.
In 2016, the first professional e-player signed for a Premier League club. Sean Allen, also known by his gaming alias ‘Dragonn’, signed with West Ham United. Just a month later, Manchester City followed suit, with Kieran ‘Kez’ Brown their marquee acquisition. These players would become the first of many such signings to ironically never actually set foot on a pitch for their sides; in reality at least.
West Ham United have signed Sean 'Dragonn' Allen as their first official eSports player to represent the club. pic.twitter.com/vp1z0G2tTQ
— Ryan Brown 🎮: 🦝🚸 & 😈🔫 (@Toadsanime) May 6, 2016
Collaborations between teams and leagues with EA Sports’ ‘Ultimate Team’ have come and gone, with featured teams to challenge and tournaments with cash prizes up for grabs.
Live events and streams have become an industry of their own, with YouTubers building careers on the back of the game and ‘professionals’ trying their hands on the international stage.
But what has really seized peoples’ attention more than ever is the current ‘Stay and Play Cup’ hosted by EA Sports. This recent competition has secured record audiences for two reasons: the current suspension of football and some of the names participating.
Much like my summers without club football, the ongoing situation in which no-one really knows when our beloved sport is set to resume has seen a spike in FIFA interest.
The Quarter Finals of the ‘Stay and Play Cup’ has amassed over 100,000 views in the short time since its release, debuting on Sky Sports’ YouTube channel.
With stars such as Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold, Real Madrid’s Vinicius Junior, Tottenham’s Serge Aurier and Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilcueta taking part alongside professional players, it’s no surprise that the competition has been such a hit; and continues to grow.
With the absence of football and the success of these features, the question begs: is it a matter of time before we turn on our TVs and find virtual matches beside Premier League fixtures?
With no solidified return date for our beloved sport, I present a conclusion: FIFA is not just for summer.
In what could be the longest stretch without football in our lifetimes, maybe we all should be turning our attention to other methods and means of getting that long-awaited football fix.