Whilst football is the most popular sport around the globe, in the world of eSports it has not enjoyed quite as much success as you might think.
EA Sports title FIFA 21 is a behemoth of the gaming world, earning the developer incredible sums of money every year. Its Ultimate Team feature (FUT) is used for eSports and sees players and teams spending money on FIFA points, to build their teams, every season. Financially, it is a winner, and as a result, you’d expect the FIFA eWorld Cup and FIFA eNations Series to be amongst the biggest events on the eSports calendar.
They are not though, in fact, the dwarf in comparison to some of the other titles, despite the popularity of the game. The 2021 tournament will command a prize pool of $245,000 (₹17.7m), which is around 15% of some titles and way below the biggest event of them all. In fact, the prize money for some of the biggest eSports titles is staggering. Bwin Sports explain how the Dota 2 tournament, The International, will command a prize fund of around $40m (₹2.9bn), with League of Legends and CS: GO also commanding $2m (₹145m) each. That leaves FIFA Lagging way behind despite being a global phenomenon. Why is that, and can it claw its way to the top over the coming years?
The main problem gamers find with FIFA is even in eSports, it fosters a ‘pay to win’ mentality. Top gamers have been known to spend hundreds of thousands of rupees on their teams before a competition, many having to get sponsors to simply compete. The best players are still at a huge disadvantage if they come up against someone featuring a fast card upfront, such as icon Pele. In fact, EA Sports have come under fire in some countries because their pack opening system is controversial and seen as unfair to players. They started putting the chances of pulling a top card on-screen before opening a pack, and despite advertising icons as being available, the actual chance in some packs was less than 0.1%.
That means that some players are at a disadvantage, certainly those without the means to spend money on their team, which devalues the competitiveness of eSports. It rules out fairytale stories of people qualifying at home and going all the way to the eWorld cup, and even the top players have criticized the game. Indeed, it is not just the pay-to-win mechanism that frustrates many, as the lack of consistency in gameplay between titles is a problem too. Also, the reliance on artificial intelligence from the ten players not under the control of the gamer is another aspect that devalues FIFA as an eSport.
There have also been recorded instances of bugs and servers dropping out too. One gamer, Giuseppe Guastella, saw a penalty in a shoot-out beat the keeper, rustle the back of the net, and not be recorded by the game. As a result, he lost the North American online qualifier for the FUT Champions Cup, much to his dismay. Guastella is no amateur either, he is a five-time FIFA world finalist and plays for LA Galaxy, and yet the bug eliminated him from the tournament. Elsewhere, a tournament game in 2020 had to be decided by rock, paper scissors after a server dropped out.
Can EA Sports correct these issues to help drive the title forward? The problems have been evident for a few seasons now, but FIFA 21 has shown few signs of improving at all. With so much money being made from FUT, there seems to be little desire to overhaul the approach, which is needed to make it a viable eSport for the masses.
The one aspect FIFA has in its favor is the global popularity of the brand, and of football in general. Any football fan who is into video gaming is likely to play FIFA, making it much bigger in terms of reach than CS: GO, League of Legends, and Dota 2, probably combined. Sadly, with the bugs, pay-to-win mechanics, and reliance on AI, it can never really be taken seriously as an eSport.