Since the ePremier League’s creation in 2018, FIFA esport teams have become a regular fixture among Premier League football clubs.
A chance to play in the Premier League is every aspiring footballer’s dream, and it’s this level of prestige which attracted West Ham United’s latest FIFA players to their ranks.
“When my manager said there’s a chance you can go to West Ham, I told them call everything off, I want to go to West Ham,” Jonas “Jonna” Ghebrehiwot, 24, tells GINX TV. “You don’t know if you’ll ever have another chance like that.
“In ten years, I can tell my kids I’ve played for a Premier League team. Maybe not as a football player, but close enough.”
Joona is the first Dutch player in Premier League esports (Picture: West Ham United)
For Jonna, who originates from Gronigen, Holland, it represents another landmark moment as the first Dutch player to represent a Premier League side in FIFA. His rise hasn’t been entirely smooth however, getting largely noticed for losing in the final of an AFC Ajax competition where the prize was a contract with the club.
“I was very unlucky and I deserved to win, if I do say so myself,” Jonna says. “I was very heartbroken after that. For me, that was my chance to make it and get a contract with Ajax for one year.”
It was a loss which became his breakthrough moment however, gaining exposure in competitive circles and signing with Team Bundled; an esports management organisation who help young players sign with pro teams, eventually leading to West Ham United’s call.
It was a similar path for teammate Alfie “AC RedLac” Calder from Mansfield, UK. After signing with Team Bundled last year, his move to West Ham United has become his first professional contract with an organisation aged 17.
Alfie is from Mansfield in the UK (Picture: West Ham United)
“I was buzzing. You see West Ham playing on Match Of The Day every week, they’re such a big team and everyone knows who they are, so I thought it was amazing,” AC RedLac says.
Signing with a team however doesn’t just mean competing in tournaments. Putting your personality into the public domain and building a personal brand through livestreams is another expectation weighed on pro players across esports.
“People ask, what do you want to do this year? And the usual answer is like competitive answers of where you want to finish. But at the same time, you want to build your profile and social media, and you want to be able to make an impact with viewers,” AC RedLac says.
“You want to make them better at the game, help them with what they want and be really influential for them.”
The release of FIFA 21 will likely be the focus of any streams moving forward, and they’re both in agreement that it’s an improvement over its predecessor - despite some issues with AI.
“I’m very positive right now,” Jonna says about FIFA 21. “Obviously there’s a few things that can improve but it feels very fast and they’ve improved the dribbling as well.”
AC RedLac adds: “I think it is a major improvement because, like the start of FIFA 20, there’s usually a few issues that are bigger - you couldn’t really switch players efficiently and stuff like that [when FIFA 20 released]. But this year is fine, it’s just the in-game thing where the AI in the defenders will block things to an unreal level.
“Apart from that, I think it’s a really good game so far.”
FIFA 21 has met mixed reviews (Picture: EA)
Along with their teammate Curtis “Paps” Poole, the coming months will see players drill down the best tactics and team formations for the coming FIFA season.
“It took me way too long to find my own formation, tactics and my own players last season and two years ago as well,” Jonna says. “It took me at least three to four months to really understand the game and how it works, and find my own formation suitable to my play-style.
“You just try to figure out as much as possible and try to see which formations are the best. I didn’t really do well in the beginning of last season in the league, but after a few months when I got the hang of it and everything became natural, I started doing very well. So that’s something we’ll have to improve and try to get as fast as possible.”