“By the time the camera came back to me, I just about got my breath back!”
Mohamad Al-Bacha’s FIFA Interactive World Cup 2016 Final Showdown victory against Sean Allen in stoppage time is one that will live long in FIFA Interactive World Cup history. Perhaps no one is better placed to put that climax into context than Spencer Owen, one of the leading voices in the burgeoning culture of eSports and the FIFA Interactive community.
“Insane. It’s probably the best, single moment in FIFA competitive history, I’d say,” Owen summarised when speaking with FIFA.commoments after the final. “I’ve never seen anything like that in all the finals I’ve watched, and I’ve been to a few! Without those two goals at the end, it would have still been a great final. The game coupled with the atmosphere, everyone in the crowd in a really good setting, it was an awesome, awesome time to be here.”
Owen is most known for his popular YouTube channel Spencer FC where he commentates and hosts a variety of eSports and FIFA-related shows. He recently started his own eSports team called Game Academy, where he is attempting to find the best FIFA players to represent him at future eSports events. At FIWC 2016, he was sat next to former USA international defender Alexi Lalas as a pundit for the event. Asked if he knew about Al-Bacha’s potential going into FIWC 2016, Owen did not hide how surprised he was.
“Nothing. I knew there was another Dane, but the main Dane I was looking at was August Rosenmeier as he’s won it before. So two Danish people have won this now, which is great for Denmark. But no, I didn’t know anything about him. I don’t think he was on anyone’s radar to win it and he definitely wasn’t a favourite.”
Al-Bacha will certainly be on eSports fans’ radars in future tournaments.
Taking football eSports to the next level
The energy inside the Apollo Theater was electric and there was a sense that, when run well, football eSports’ passionate fan base will only continue to grow.
“This is a great start; they’ve taken it up a level here,” Owen said. “We need more regular tournaments; we need bigger prize pots to compete with some of the other games. Now what you saw today in the crowd with the guys cheering on their players, they just met these players tonight, they just decided to support them and fair play – some of them may have known them before.
"What we need to engineer is a situation where people actually support people, like they do with other games. We need to make that happen for football. And that’s going to be partly from mainstream football getting behind it with football clubs acquiring players and making their fans support them but also it’s going to mean the industry itself has to support it as well.”
Football has history and supporters follow clubs because it’s in their blood. So, what needs to happen for loyalties to football eSports to start forming?
“The main thing is the clubs actually creating the drama,” Owen said. “People need to become aware of it. We also don’t just need to convert football fans to eSports fans, we need to convert eSports fans to fooball eSports fans, because there are millions of people watching eSports but don’t necessarily know or understand that FIFA is a competitive sport in that regard. But when they get across and see there are many different levels and the connotations you can apply to it, that’s when I think it will start taking off.”
‘Goals all over the place’
Some fervent football supporters perhaps view football eSports with scepticism and wonder where its place is in the competitive sports conversation. Owen is determined to dispel any doubts and clear up any misconceptions that may exist.
“Some people may think the games are boring because the players are so good at defending. But as you saw today that’s just absolute nonsense, it’s not true. There are goals all over the place.
“I think some people argue that the game has various sort of inconsistencies that make it hard to judge as a competitive sport. Where football has a million things that can go wrong or right. FIFA has the same! Every now and again, the ‘keeper makes a mistake, it happens in real life.
“You’ve got crazy stats. In Korea Republic, there are stadiums of 80,000 people that get filled up to watch eSports. That happens every week. They’re doing it right. They’ve got the games that already have that following. It will happen for FIFA but we can make it happen a lot quicker. All the things are there.”
Owen wants fans to see football eSports as an extension of their experience with the beautiful game, rather than there being a dichotomy between the two worlds. “We don’t want to be challenging football saying, ‘You should watch eSports instead of real football’.
"I don’t see it as ‘This guy’s a loser because he just plays FIFA instead of football’. I see it as an extension of your experience. Rosenmeier is a semi-professional footballer. A lot of these guys play football at a really high level. It’s not one or the other. You can’t play football in the rain, you have to have 11 friends to play a full game, you can play FIFA without that. I never would endorse just playing computer games and not being active. But I think it aides it and helps it. It should be part of the experience.”
*FIWC 2016 runner-up Sean Allen became the first football eSports player to sign with a professional football club in Great Britain
In August 2015, Wolfsburg became the first football club to sponsor eSports players when they signed *FIWC 2016 participant Benedikt 'SaLzor' Saltzer, before adding FIWC 2014 runner-up David Bytheway (pictured) to their team in January 2016*