Most of you reading this are probably not old enough to have witnessed that glorious sun-kissed day at Wembley when Sir Bobby Moore and his Three Lions compatriots lifted the Jules Rimet Trophy.
It was July the 30th 1966, England had just defeated West Germany 4-2 after extra time. Geoff Hurst grabbing the headlines with probably the most famous hat-trick in the history of football. Still to this day, 51 years later, no England side has emulated what Sir Alf Ramsey’s Lions achieved that day.
Unfortunately, for the long-suffering England fans, it doesn’t appear as though the long wait to once again be crowned FIFA world champions is going to end anytime soon. Fans are in despair as the gap widens between those teams dining at the top table of world football and those which are merely there to make up the numbers.
Yet, the melancholy atmosphere which consumes the air whenever England and FIFA World Cup are uttered in the same sentence might just be lifting – thanks to Spencer ‘Gorilla’ Ealing.
Well, he is a professional eSports player. He is the 2017 FIFA Interactive World Cup Champion and he is English. Spencer, who plays under the name ‘Gorilla’, was the last man standing in a competition which started out with more than 7 million competitors. After months of whittling down the players, the final 32 met in the Central Hall at Westminster in August to face-off against one another.
Once again, just like all those years ago, the final was to be contested between England and Germany. Spencer, roared on by the home fans, was unstoppable – he took the title by crushing his German opponent, Kai ‘Deto’ Wollin, 7-3 on aggregate.
It had been 12 years since an Englishman last lifted the FIFA Interactive World Cup trophy, that day belonged to Chris Bullard. While Chris’s achievement was also exceptional, given the growth of eSports in recent years, the competition is today much stronger – but Gorilla still triumphed.
Spencer, who plays for the UNILAD Sports team, pocketed £156,000 for his win. Perhaps not in the same league as Neymar regarding earnings but that is still a hefty chunk of change by anyone’s standards.
Playing computer games is often deemed in a negative light – especially by parents who are trying to get their children to do their homework – but now it is a multi-million pound industry.
Professional players earn a decent salary, they have commercial sponsorship deals on the table. There are pro-teams and there’s also a transfer market in which players get traded/sold from one team to another for 6-figure sums.
The rise in popularity of eSports has led to top European football clubs such as PSG, Roma, Ajax and Wolfsburg creating their own teams to compete in this virtual arena. If these huge names are taking an interest, then it’s fair to assume that this industry is only going to get bigger and bigger.
Whilst FIFA is one of the best-known games in the world, it’s actually only the 10th most-popular eSports game in terms of tournament prize money awarded in 2017.
The honour of the top-ranked game goes to Dota 2. The total prize-pool for Dota 2 events (so far) this year is a staggering $32 million. The recently held World Championships paid out $10.8 million to the winning team.
Tactical battle-type games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), League of Legends (LoL) and Call of Duty (CoD) each host million dollar events. As well as FIFA 17, Madden NFL 2017 and Pro Evolution Soccer 2017 are also within the top 20 games played globally.
Top eSports teams are running in a similar way to that of a traditional sports side. There is a manager, coaching staff and an analysis team. The players are paid professionals who train every day and they get paid each month.
One of the top teams is Team Liquid. The bigger teams span across a plethora of eSport games. Five members from Team Liquid won the Dota 2 World Championship – picking up the $10.8 million prize money along the way, but Liquid also has specialist teams for LoL, CS:GO, Halo, FIFA and several other games.
Although Team Liquid is one of the titans within the amphitheatre of eSports, it did not possess a player to match the skill, ability and determination of England’s Spencer when it came to FIFA 17 – played on box the PS4 and XBox.
So, England football fans, there is a reason to smile after all, for you own the FIFA Interactive World Cup but with even more players destined to participate next year, will you be able to retain it?
If you think you have what it takes to become an eSports legend, why don’t you join in and who knows, it could be you that is crowned a world champion in the future.