Esports is rapidly becoming subsumed into the zeitgeist of young sports fans, and the popularity of the FIFA series is one of the critical reasons for the success over the past few years. Part of the intrigue for the fans is to see the game being played to a high standard, but there is also significant interest in the teams and personalities battling it out in tournaments around the world.
To find out more about what the life of an esports pro entails and what the future holds for the sport, we spoke to Nathan Horton, also known as Zelonius, who represents Team FUTWIZ and took part in the inaugural season of FIFA competition at the Gfinity Elite Series earlier this year.
Zelonius has played FIFA since 2002, and his experience showed throughout the competition as he won five and lost just one of his games in the Elite Series, helping his side Method (who partnered with Team FUTWIZ) to the semifinals.
Q: WHAT DOES A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A PRO FIFA PLAYER LOOK LIKE?
I generally get up around 10:00 AM and make a YouTube video; most of these are educational videos to help people improve their FIFA gameplay. The rest of the afternoon, I’ll mostly be streaming live to Twitch.
I’m married, so when my wife gets home around 5:00 PM, most of my evening is spent with her - but I usually get a few more hours of streaming in the evening. It’s more flexible than most jobs, but that’s the general day-to-day.
Q: WHAT DO YOUR FAMILY THINK ABOUT YOUR JOB?
My wife is really supportive of my job as a professional gamer. For years I’ve wanted to go pro, but my parents generally didn’t think it was a good choice. Once I realised it was a genuine possibility and a career could be made from gaming, my parents were on board and have been supportive ever since.
Q: WHERE DO YOU SEE YOUR CAREER GOING IN THE FUTURE?
Long term, I would love to still be involved and working in esports, whether that be as a team coach, a manager or a content creator on YouTube or Twitch. I’m working hard on my brand as a streamer right now, and I’m trying to grow my YouTube too, so hopefully, the options will be there in the future.
Q: WHAT RESPONSIBILITIES DO PRO PLAYERS HAVE THAT FANS MAY NOT REALISE?
It’s pro players’ responsibility to take care of themselves. To some extent, this means trying to stay relatively healthy to make sure you’re in good condition to play and stream the long hours at the highest level.
It’s also important to keep a good work-life balance, making sure you put in the hours to practice and improve to keep up with the rest while making sure to take breaks.
Q: A LOT OF PROFESSIONAL SPORTS TEAMS HAVE GOT INVOLVED IN ESPORTS LATELY - WHAT DO YOU THINK OF IT?
I think it’s great for the esports scene that big football clubs are getting involved. The interest from football clubs will only help grow the esports industry, especially with massive teams such as Manchester City getting involved.
The support for esports from Premier League teams especially will, in turn, generate more money and more fans, which results in more growth for the industry.
Q: WHAT SHOULD COMPANIES DO BEFORE THEY GET INVOLVED IN ESPORTS?
Before a business gets involved in esports, it should look at why they want to be involved. Is it to just try and make some quick money? Or is it to engage with fans and grow their brand? Seeing success in esports as a company requires patience, as esports fans need to be nurtured and can’t be won over right away.
It’d also be important for companies - especially those with no gaming experience at all - to reach out and get in contact with some experts from esports as well.
Q: DO YOU THINK FOOTBALL-BASED ESPORTS WILL EVER BE MORE POPULAR THAN TRADITIONAL FOOTBALL?
Being realistic, it seems quite unlikely. What I do think, however, is that there is a definite place for football-based esports to grow massively and be recognised as a legitimate supplement to the real sport.
As the current generation who have grown up with competitive gaming and esports become adults, the stigma of esports being less than physical sport will change for the better.
Q: FIFA IS NOW MORE PROMINENT IN THE ESPORTS SCENE, WHAT’S DRIVING FANS TOWARDS IT?
FIFA is potentially the most popular casual game in the world - after all, it’s based on the world’s most popular and recognised sport, so that alone is a major pulling point for fans.
Usually, FIFA games are fast-paced and don’t last forever, so they tend to make easy watching for all types of viewers. Plus, a lot of people love watching football, whether they’re a dedicated fan or occasionally tune in, so it works the same for FIFA games and tournaments. It’s easy to watch for the first time, and it’s simple to understand as the premise is based on an existing sport.
Q: WHAT DO YOU SAY TO PEOPLE WHO DON’T SEE ESPORTS AS A REAL SPORT?
A lot of people might not consider esports as a ‘real sport’ because they think you don’t need the same technique or skills, but really, the hours that professional esports players put in are up there with athletes of a traditional sport.
The amount of time people play videos games for is arguably bigger than many sports nowadays, so to be in the top per cent in such a competitive industry filled with dedicated players requires incredible skill and a lot of training and discipline.
Q: WHERE DO YOU SEE THE ESPORTS SCENE IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS?
I can only see esports growing bigger and fast as more people and businesses get involved. The stigma around esports will wear away over time like it always does when things grow out of their infancy.
The brands getting involved in esports will be the ones to propel it into the mainstream, for example, like Domino’s sponsoring the Gfinity Elite Series, which is a huge sponsorship deal from a well-recognised, mainstream brand. Now is the time for businesses to take the dive into the esports industry.