Ever since the eFootball.Pro league was revealed last year it has been gathering a ton of momentum in the esports world for a number of reasons. One of the most significant was that Gerard Piqué was one of the big names behind it - since he's president and founder - but then huge clubs like FC Barcelona and Celtic started joining. Before long six professional clubs had signed up, and this past weekend kicked off with an inaugural program dedicated to revealing more details.
Considering the weight of expectation behind this competition, which combines traditional football with that of the virtual world in Pro Evolution Soccer 2019, we recently spoke with EMR's executive director Helios Xaudaró to talk in more depth about the tournament ahead of the very first match day on December 2.
When asked about the origins of the competition, Xaudaró said: "eFootball.Pro started two years ago and the whole team has been working really hard during these two years in order to bring the fans the competition that is about to start. Gerard Piqué, our president and founder, has always been involved in projects regarding technology and sports, and he saw the chance to create new things in esports, involving football too."
"Gerard Piqué's ideas have always been really useful for us, he is really involved in the project. Not only his sports expertise helps us, but also his expertise in technology and business fields. He knows what being part of a great football club means and he will also look after the perfect functioning of the competition and for the players' satisfaction."
The competition has been busy this year too, as after the initial reveal of the project at the beginning of 2017, this year we've received regular updates and concrete details, mostly to do with the six teams that have come on board.
"We have been revealing the founder clubs of our competition at the moment of their engagement with the project during the year, but we wanted to leave the competition format and other details of the competition for later on, for this final presentation of the eFootball.Pro League, when all the players of the clubs are confirmed and can be presented to the audience. During the presentation we have also unveiled our team of collaborators and casters and the Highvideo Studios, where most of the matchdays will be played. We can consider that the eFootball.Pro League is now a reality."
What is this format though? Well, with the official PES League going for both a 1v1 and 3v3 co-op format - hosting competitions for both - it seems that this tournament wanted to do something a little different for this special event.
"The eFootball.Pro League is a 2v2 competition with 6 teams and that will be played using Pro Evolution Soccer. It will take place from December 2018 to May 2019, and will have 3 stages: the Regular Season, the Last Chance Group and the Finals. The Regular Season will go from December to April and will have 5 matchdays. After that, the best 3 teams will advance directly to the Finals, and the last 3 teams will go to the Last Chance Group in order to have one more chance to reach the Finals. The Finals will be played also in May and will consist of Semifinals and Final."
One of the biggest questions that has to be asked as well is why Pro Evolution Soccer was chosen in the first place. After all, FIFA 19 has its own thriving esports scene with the Global Series, not to mention a vibrant community and strong player base, but it's all about what PES can deliver to the audience. It's even been attractive enough of a proposition to get official backing from Konami itself.
"We think that Pro Evolution Soccer allows us to bring the best competition possible to fans and also to make players comfortable while doing their job. The technical features of the game will help to make the competition really attractive, with the best possible gameplay. In this sense, since the beginning, when we approached Konami with the idea, they were thrilled and excited about the project and they started working hard in the project together with our team."
There have been plenty of PES tournaments in the past of course, but alongside Piqué's own influence in the league, interest has also gathered because many traditional football clubs have joined forces to enter the league, meaning we now have six big names from across the footballing world that'll compete with one another.
"The six clubs we have for this first eFootball.Pro League season are very important to us, because they will be the ones setting the competition level on this first edition. They are the six founder clubs, the ones that trusted the project since the beginning and have been very important for the start of this first season. We have to thank them for their involvement in the league and in all the creation process. The idea of organising a competition only for football clubs is very simple. We are talking about a football esports competition so, the most natural is that real football clubs compete against each other, as they do in real football, what did not happen until now, as the existing competitions are addressed for individual players or private clans."
"As you can imagine, talking with new clubs has not stopped, even with the beginning of the season. We are interested in top clubs, and why not American clubs. They can give us an important added value and there is a real interest of some clubs in America to enter our league, as you could see in our summer invitational event, where we had Santos FC, from Brazil, competing against Celtic FC and Schalke 04. Nevertheless, we are not only looking at America, our goal is to have the best teams possible."
"Players represent professional football clubs both in the LAN events and inside the game. This is why they will use their clubs' in-game teams and will wear the colours of their club during the matches, which is key to give the feeling of the players representing real football clubs."
And what better place to hold this competition than Barcelona, the home of Piqué and one of the clubs to join the competition. "Some of the matches will be played at the Highvideo Studios, in Barcelona, the venue that we are unveiling in this presentation. But we will also go to some European cities, where some clubs are from, in order to play next to the real football stadiums. This way, eFootball.Pro League players will travel like professional footballers do in order to achieve this professionalism I was talking about. It is also important to play next to the real football stadiums so that real football fans can see the action and watch their team play against other top teams to create the engagement with the esports team that would be harder to achieve if they only see them online."
Just as PES influences this competition, so too does the eFootball.Pro league influence PES, as we've seen the eFootball.Pro Arena already. We couldn't help but ask about what else is on the way, to which we were told:
"We keep working with the Konami development team to give the fans more add-ons in-game, but I cannot unveil them now, but can be an important surprise for the people playing at home and their relationship with the eFootball.Pro League."
When looking further ahead and considering which teams may perform well in the league, it can't be ignored that Celtic has a very strong squad with the current 1v1 champion and a co-op champion under their umbrella. Despite the weight of names like Barcelona in the world of traditional football, the smart money would be on Celtic to do well, but it might not be as simple as that, at least according to Xaudaró:
"Actually we think that all clubs have good chances to win the competition. Of course Celtic has current 1v1 world champion, Ettore, and Luca, who is also a CO-OP world champion. But the rest of the teams have also amazing players with a lot of expertise playing top PES competitions and I'm sure the eFootball.Pro League level will be very high thanks to them all."
We couldn't leave without talking about goals and ambitions for the project. The reason this has garnered so much attention both in the esports/gaming sphere and traditional media is because of the involvement of so many traditional sports figures, lending legitimacy to a field that has often been met with scepticism in the public eye. With famous footballers and clubs backing this with full force, it gives esports a chance to garner some respect in the public eye, and Xaudaró explained that this isn't going to stop with Season 1.
"Our main goal for next year is to increase the number of top clubs joining our league so that step by step we achieve a number of teams similar to what real football leagues have right now," he said. "Then, we also want to become a model in the football esports sector, organising the first international competition for football clubs only. Our goal is to professionalise the football esports industry and to provide the most complete digital media coverage of the events in order to reach the both, the football fan base and existing esports fan base and expand it."
With mere days to wait until the first matchday football fans and esports fans will be keeping their eyes on the eFootball.Pro league and the names attached to it, but for now, we've got a solid idea of the format and the teams that'll be competing. Everything has fallen into place, so all that's left to do is to see how these big ideas work in practice and whether the two worlds can meet in a satisfying and exciting way. We can't wait to watch these top clubs battle it out, and who knows, perhaps you'll see your favourite club signing up sooner rather than later.