In the moments leading up to the FIFA Interactive World Cup Final Showdown 2016 in New York City, it was clear to see that the lines between the FIFA E-Sports community and the professional football world were blurred. David Villa was on hand at the Apollo Theater to present the trophy to the night’s winner, while New York City FC supporters gathered outside the venue wearing their navy blue, sky blue and orange, just as they would on a Saturday night to watch their club compete in Major League Soccer. And then, there was Alexi Lalas.
The former USA defender was suited up, ear piece in and running through lines on a teleprompter, gearing up for a night of broadcasting.
“The sad truth is that I am probably a better soccer player in my video game version than I ever was in my real life version!” Lalas said in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, minutes before the show kicked off. “But you know what? I’ll take it because if that’s the lasting impression that people have, then that’s OK.”
Lalas is living proof of how playing in a FIFA World Cup™ can transform a player's career. After a successful tournament on home soil at USA 1994, he went on to become the first player ever from USA to play in Italy’s Serie A, with Padova, so he knows one or two things about how the players at the FIFA Interactive World Cup are perhaps pioneers themselves.
“When you look at and consider the advent of analytics—the manager aspect of it, picking and choosing players, and understanding different tendencies and being able to boil that down and distill it down to make a decision on a player—if you have the ability to do that and you can recognise and you can crunch the numbers on a consistent basis and hedge your bets, that is valuable to a team," Lalas said. "You’re always going to have an innate type of person that is there that’s going on feel, but look, this is also about numbers. If you can boil it down to some numbers that you’ve learned in your process of playing FIFA, I think you can be a great asset to a team."
The cerebral part of the gameThe world of analytics is becoming more and more common in the offices of professional football clubs in terms of how they develop and recruit players, so the steep rise of the EA SPORTS™ series of FIFA should come as no surprise.
“I don’t think to be good at FIFA, you have to play soccer,” Lalas said. “I do think that there are nuances here or there but I think you have to be smart, just in general. You don’t have to be athletic. The reality is, there is a physical part of it, but it’s also a very cerebral type of thing and that for me is important because, look, all of our bodies break down but we’re left with a life where the better brain you have, the better off you’re going to be.”
After he hung up his boots permanently in 2004, Lalas served as general manager of three MLS clubs. When asked if, in a theoretical sense he was still working in the front office for a professional club, would he take a close look at elite E-Sports FIFA gamers in terms of giving them roles with a professional team, Lalas did not hesitate with his reply.
“Absolutely! As we get further and further along, and we have people that have grown up with it as being part and parcel of how they look at players, how they look at the game, I think it’s going to be fun to see how many of them make that leap from just playing in their bedroom (but with a real knowledge) to being able to translate that into the real world.”
the EA SPORTS™ virtual version of the game anymore. For Lalas, this was felt when the virtual representation of himself reached a certain milestone in the game recently when he was included as a *FIFA16 *legend.
“I was of the generation right before FIFA hit, and so for me, I didn’t have the parties and the lifestyle and the culture that is now associated with the game, unlike my kids and all that," the former American international said. "So I came to it late. I was honoured to have a legends card!
"All hell broke loose when that happened! I got everybody and their mother emailing me, texting me and tweeting me. The good, the bad, the ugly: ‘You’re overrated’, ‘you’re underrated’, ‘I got your card!’, ‘should I get your card?’—all this kind of stuff. It dramatically illustrated the power of this game and what it has become. It’s pretty phenomenal how much it matters to the soccer community out there.”