Few FIFA esport stars are as recognisable as Ryan Pessoa, since 2018 he's been a regular fixture at the game's biggest tournaments, in a career that spans four titles and competing in the FIFA eWorld Cup (then the FIFA Interactive World Cup), the eClub World Cup, and the ePremier League to name just a few.
The London native and Red Bull athlete made headlines back in 2019 when he signed for Man City, the club's second esport player. He joined teammate and friend, Shaun "Shellzz" Springette, who signed the year before. It was Pessoa's third organisation after stints at Excel Esports and Hashtag United.
FIFA 21 esports has been, like so many other things in life, disrupted by the pandemic, but when we sit down to speak to Pessoa, rather than bemoaning lost opportunities (which would be easy to do in the current circumstances), you get the impression that each year, each tournament, maybe each game, is an opportunity to improve for him.
We spoke to Ryan in the weeks following his appearance in the FIFA ePremier League and talked about esports past, present and future, favourite FIFA games, the transition to online play, and why the controversial Kurt Fenech should be allowed back on FIFA.
How did you find the transition to online play once it became clear that the pandemic had put LANs on hold?
It's been really hard. I'll be honest, especially at the start. You need to get the right equipment and everything needed to compete and, of course, there are connection issues. But I can't complain too much. There are people that have it worse than I have, I'm still able to do my job from home. So that's a good aspect of it. But my performance this year hasn't been the best, I still qualified for two major events but it's been my worst year for competing since I started in 2018.
Do you miss the live events?
I love live events! And it affects qualifying too. Prior to COVID, you play in headquarters, I play with my teammate. And there are situations where let's say, I might be in an important game, and I might be going one or two goals down, I might lose my head a little bit. But next to my teammate, next to my coach, the people and everyone that's around me, they're able to lift me up and motivate me.
However, when you're at home, just playing by yourself it's very lonely in a weird way. And even if you do qualify for an event it's still online.
You recently represented Man City in the ePremier League (Pessoa reached the semi-finals of the Xbox bracket) your teammate, Shellz, ultimately won that event - did that manage to capture something of what FIFA esports is all about?
(Picture: Manchester City)
I wish that was in person again! I would have loved to of seen Shellz win that in person.
There are always debates among pros and the wider community about the gameplay in any given FIFA title, where do you stand with FIFA 21?
With FIFA 21 I've tried my best not to focus on that, the gameplay part of it. Usually, that would frustrate me a bit, especially with FIFA 20 and FIFA 19. I never used to like either of those editions of the game, and it would affect my performance throughout the year because I'd be frustrated about certain things that would happen.
With FIFA 21, I tried to eradicate that mindset. It's easier said than done. I actually did better in FIFA 20 than I did this year, but that game was opposed to my whole game style. Very defensive. Every game was like one-nil, or penalties. The number of games I lost on penalties last year was remarkable! It was crazy. Whereas this year it's still a slow-ish game. And I don't like certain things, for instance, any fullback is basically a better centre back than a centre back is just because of how the game is. I don't like that. Some mechanics we can glitch through people, or I could defend a situation really, really well, but the opponent would glitch through my defender, and you'd end up conceding from it, which is unfortunate but it works both ways.
I feel FIFA is getting slower, the way the game is. I prefer how it was in FIFA 17 and FIFA 18, where the game was really fast-paced, it was tiki-taka, you could dribble it as well, dribbling has always been focal to the way I play FIFA. That's probably the best aspect of the way I play the game. And you haven't been able to do that for a couple of editions. So it's just about trying to adapt to how the game is now.
How much passion do you have for still competing? Are there certain tournaments that you are desperate to compete in?
The passion is always gonna be there. I can't see that ever leaving even though I say I didn't like FIFA 20, the passion is still always there, win or lose. I'm a competitor by nature. So I just love it. I love playing and when I am forty years old, I'll be there competing against the 15 or 16-year-olds. I will literally play for as long as possible.
I see you've been playing a lot of Football Manager (Pessoa regularly streams on Facebook Gaming) with a number of FIFA players including the currently banned Kurt Fenech. Should EA allow Kurt back?
Kurt was the first person I ever met in the FIFA scene, in person, he was in my group for the first tournament I ever qualified for.
(Picture: Ben Hoskins - FIFA)
He was the only person that beat me in that tournament. And I always said, this guy is the best player in the world. I've never seen anybody like him. So of course, in terms of the competitive aspect, he was one of the best players to compete with at the biggest events. He's definitely learned his lesson from the mishaps he had in the past. I never saw it as a negative, I always think having personality is a good thing.
However, he knows that he did cross the line in certain aspects but he's definitely learnt from it.
What would you like to see in FIFA 22?
(Picture: EA Sports)
I'd like to see gameplay like FIFA 18 before they patched it. That was genuinely the best football game I have ever played. It was fast-paced, and it punished bad defenders because there was less AI assistance. I think FIFA needs to have a competitive mode where some settings are a little bit different when they are disabled, like auto clearances or autoblocks and things like that.
I'm not asking for a full manual game where you have to aim the pass and shot perfectly, etc. But right now the best way to defend is if I move from there and I flick off of him. So the AI doesn't and I don't. I want all of the AI assistant stuff to be toned down completely.
Looking ahead to FIFA esports next year and hopefully the return of LANs, is there a particular competition you are looking forward to competing in?
My favourite tournament every year is eClub World Cup. I absolutely love that competition just the 2v2 aspect of FIFA because obviously our scene is based around 1v1 other than eClub World Cup and the eNations.
I've qualified for the eClub World Cup every year. And it's getting harder to qualify every year! But it's the tournament that I love and one of my favourites, no doubt.