SA Esports hits new high as gamers compete in Fifa tournament
Julio “Beast” Bianchi and Kaylan Moodley are the first two South Africans to compete in the finals of the 2021 FIFAe Club World Cup, which will be held from February 24 to 28.
For Bianchi, the chance to compete has been worth the effort. “These qualifying weeks have been physically and mentally tough,” he said. “We’ve been competing for the World Cup for a couple of years and we did well, but we never managed to qualify. So this time around, to be able to do that, it feels amazing and hard work that’s paid off.”
The 22-year-old from Ravensmead who has been playing video games since a young age and tied to a passion for the real sport, felt a sense of pride towards the event.
“It feels like I’m living my dream,” he explained. “When I play actual football, my goal was always to represent my country. It’s something I’ve worked so hard toward, it’s a goal I set myself when I started playing and entered the series. It’s great just being able to share some positivity among my fellow South Africans as well, especially at such a difficult time where we are flooded with negative news and our daily lives.”
With 42 teams from six different zones representing countries, gamers will compete for the cup and a total prize pool of $245 000 (R3.67 million).
The duo will be competing in the Zone 3 region which includes players from the Middle East. First prize for the zone finals is $22 000 and second prize is $10 000, with the winner heading through to the grand finals to face-off the winners from the other zones.
If he won the prize money, Bianchi said he would give something back to his parents.
“I’d also like to do something for the community, some charity work or support the schools in my area.”
Esports viewership has seen an explosion in growth in the wake of the Covid-19 global pandemic. The FIFA 21 Challenge, hosted in October last year by games publisher Electronic Arts (EA), pulled in an average viewership of more than 250 000 fans, a first for an Esports event.
Across all game genres and tournaments, Esports is expected to increase its global viewership to 646 million by 2023.
With players representing different clubs around the world, Bianchi and Moodley will play under the banner of local Esports club Goliath Gaming, who manages several teams playing games such as Fifa, Fortnite, Street Fighter, and Counter Strike: Go.
Bianchi serves as captain of Goliath’s Fifa squad and has been playing with the club for two years. He has also seen previous success with the game, having competed at the 2018 Fifa eWorld Cup Global Series Playoffs in Amsterdam where he beat two-time world champion August Agge Rosenmeier. Locally, he is ranked in the top three of the best Fifa players on Playstation 4, and ranked 155th in the rest of the world.
An accounting student in his final year at CPUT, Bianchi hoped he could continue to pursue a full-time career in Esports in some way.
“Besides gaming, there’s also the management side of things, the media side to it,” he said. “With my accounting background, that’s also another possibility for me to explore in the long run. I Hope I can stay in it.”
Meanwhile, Moodley 18, from Fourways in Joburg has competed in multiple editions of the Fifa FUT Champions Cup in both Romania, and France where he finished in the top 16 players in Fifa on Xbox. He is ranked 33rd in the world on the console and is number one locally.
Moodley said while he would like to continue playing professionally, he had doubts about the sustainability of Esports as a full-time career.
“It’s not as sustainable as people might think it is, you have to be consistent for years and years just to make a living off it,” he said. “So right now, I would just like to have a backup in place which is studying and I hope this passion will eventually take me to being the best Fifa player in the world, that’s the goal and that’s the peak, there’s no higher than that, I will keep working and pushing until I achieve that.”
Having played video games since the age of 5, Moodley said his passion had drawn admiration from his peers. “People find it cool that I can be in school and still make money playing games,” he explained. “That’s every kid’s dream, doing what you love. But, you do then get the older people who look down on it as you’re just playing games and it will take you nowhere in life. Those comments you just have to ignore and focus on the goals you have in place.”
The Zone 3 group stage will take place on February 26 and the finals the next day. Fifa has yet to confirm channels on which the tournament can be watched. For more information, see the official Fifae Twitter page at www.twitter.com/FIFAe