December 2 marked the start of the second season of the ePremier League, a competition in which players can sign up to represent their favourite club in the Premier League football competition, except instead of weekly matches on the pitch players battle it out on FIFA 20.
It's a unique way of making esports approachable for all generations, bridging the gap between traditional sports and the virtual space by having players don the kits of their Premier League team of choice. We've been keeping an eye on the competition, and more recently we got the chance to talk with some of the pros about the experience, and find out what it means to wear that shirt on your back.
"It was an unreal experience, as a fan of 32 years I never expected I would be representing Everton in a professional manner, so for me, it was a dream come true," said Everton's Simon Duxbury, who was actually able to turn pro after the inaugural season of the competition.
"It is quite special. That is why I chose them. Not many people can say they play for their team and represent them on FIFA. It is a great feeling," added Reece Rusher, who plays for Southampton, and who was actually scouted by their traditional football team at an early age.
"Representing Brighton means a lot to me being born and raised from this area and also following the club from a football perspective for the majority of my life. Being able to represent them from a FIFA standpoint is also great for me as football and FIFA are two of my favourite hobbies," Dan Hilliard adds, who is also a season ticket holder at the Amex.
If you watched the first season, you'll know that British star Donovan 'Tekkz' Hunt won the trophy in the first season, representing Liverpool FC. Sky Sports even broadcast the finals, but it was about way more than just winning for the competitors, as Hilliard explains when talking about the importance of the competition:
"I believe the ePL is a good force in the community as it will only help the esport grow further and reach a wider audience."
Of course, broadcasts and coverage on Sky Sports and more traditional gaming outlets help increase exposure for esports, but there are also thousands of fans watching online via streams on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitch, bolstering the community and attention around FIFA esports.
Those who are in the know will also be paying attention to the FIFA Global Series too, which looks to crown the best FIFA players through points and offline events, like the eWorld Cup earlier this year, which took place at London's O2 Arena.
Not everyone can go pro straight away though since FIFA esports doesn't allow that for everyone. Burnley's Sheikh Iqbal, for example, had his first competitive outing in FIFA in the first season, but he's actually a teacher when he's not battling against others on the digital pitch.
"The balancing of pro FIFA and teaching is very tough, it does require me to work long hours during the week to allow me to free up time to play the Weekend League," Iqbal explained. "In terms of weekday FIFA, I don't play much at all during the week, maybe the odd hour here or there. But in comparison to most FIFA players, I play a fraction of the time due to my teaching commitments. So to answer the question, it is very challenging but having the balance between the two and organising my time efficiently is the key!"
"The ePL can inspire young people by showing them there is another route to representing the clubs you support throughout your life. Not everyone can make it as a footballer for their dream club but through the ePL it gives you a chance at that opportunity! It has also opened massive doors for me in regards to representing Burnley FC. For someone who only joined the FIFA scene in FIFA 19 it shows how quickly the ePL can throw you into the limelight!"
"The Premier League's global reach combined with the worldwide player base of EA Sports FIFA sets the ePremier League up to be one of the most popular esports tournaments across the industry," said Brent Koning, FIFA Competitive Gaming Commissioner, when the second season was first confirmed.
"Esports drives increased engagement with traditional sport and this ePremier League partnership now gives fans an opportunity to represent or cheer for their favourite club on both the traditional and virtual pitch."
In a sense, the ePremier League is the culmination of various efforts to get people into FIFA esports. Clubs around the world have been signing players for years now, but this brings them all together into an easy-to-understand structure you can see below. People know the Premier League, so understanding this concept isn't difficult, while the nuances of the Global Series can be intimidating to a newcomer.
We're looking forward to seeing how Season 2 goes now that it's just kicked off, especially since it can build upon the foundations of the first. With a £20,000 prize pool, this can be life-changing money for some of the players, and of course, there are plenty of bragging rights as all of these clubs go head-to-head once again.
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