FIFA is, by some margin, the best-selling sports franchise the world has ever seen. It was also gaining popularity as an eSport before the phrase had even been coined. As far back as the turn of the millennium, people were organizing FIFA gaming tournaments where the best could take on the best.
Over the past couple of years, there has been increased interest in FIFA as an eSport. To a certain extent, this has been part and parcel of eSport in general gathering wider recognition and bigger audiences. But the support also comes from the traditional sports fraternity, with broadcasters like ESPN and Sky Sport covering events like the ePremier League. Yet still, there are those who question whether FIFA will ever stand alongside the likes of DOTA 2 and League of Legends as a top tier eSport game.
It ought to fly
On the face of it, FIFA has all the ingredients for success. It’s already a massively popular game with a huge player base, there’s cross-platform accessibility and while a new FIFA game comes out every year, the fundamental gameplay is never going to change.
Another factor in its favor is the marketing potential that an eSport league would have for both players and teams. We’ve seen instances across the different leagues of teams partnering up with some rising eSport star, and that can provide an immense opportunity to connect with the younger generation – something that is vital for soccer’s long-term future.
So what’s the problem?
There are, nevertheless, some hurdles that need to be overcome, and one of them is quite fundamental. Those other eSport games we mentioned exist in their own universe and are subject to their own rules. FIFA sets out to emulate something in our real world, complete with all the random factors that make football such a fascinating sport. The result is that the random events programmed in make the game less balanced than others. It will never be possible to master it to perfection.
The other fundamental stumbling block concerns the 10 other players on the field. This huge dependence on AI undoubtedly pulls the game back. In an ideal world, FIFA as an eSport would be played in an 11v11 format, or at least as a five-a-side game. But the former would be almost impossible to achieve with current generation technology on a large scale. The second option is compelling, but we would be straying from what FIFA is all about.
Despite these shortcomings, there’s a great FIFA eSport community out there. While it might take a reboot of the game and some fresh thinking to get it up alongside the eSport classics, what we have at the moment can still enjoy success, especially if those who make the decisions devote some time this year to demystifying eWorld Cup qualification and making it accessible to all. But we will save that discussion for another day.