Games go on

By Lu Wenao Source: Global Times Published: 2020/11/25 21:28:40

Real-life players, celebrities to invigorate game: EA Sports

The venue for the EA Champions Cup Autumn 2020 Photo: Courtesy of EA Sports

The COVID-19 pandemic has hindered the progress of traditional sports activities in the world, but for esports it's a different ball game.

Though under current conditions, hosting competitive games with the attendance of spectators is not feasible, except in certain Chinese cities where esports events have already reemerged, esports, like Electronic Arts (EA) Sports' FIFA, could take the chance to host events remotely and broadcast the games online.  

"We are unique that we can do a lot of these things without actually having to be present with a massive number of fans," Brent Koning, Group Director and FIFA Commissioner for EA Sports, told the Global Times in an exclusive interview. 

"We're trying to build interactive entertainment for the fans and we are lucky we still can do that through our league partners and players."

Brent Koning Photo: Courtesy of EA Sports

But Koning believed that holding remote events was just a temporary choice for FIFA.

"Part of the magic of esports is the live events, with the confetti and the lights on the stage. Now part of the magic is lost [due to the pandemic]," he said. "Our hope is that we can continue to provide entertainment to all football fans around the globe."

Safety first

At present, hosting remote events also requires epidemic-prevention measures to counter the spread of COVID-19, as Koning underlines that safety must be the highest priority. 

"We are trying to entertain and engage with our fans, and we need to do that safely and securely. We want our players to be safe. We want our fans to be safe. And obviously our staff as well," he noted.

"We have increased the number of events that we do online and we've reduced some of the scale and scope of those online events."

FIFA, a video game series centered on the real sport of football and named after football's world governing body, is considered as one of the most engaging brands in the world. 

The intersection of football and gaming in FIFA has made the esport popular among genuine football players, including Liverpool's right back Trent Alexander-Arnold and Manchester City winger Raheem Sterling, who are among the elites that can do well both on physical and virtual pitches. 

FIFA has decided to introduce more celebrities and influencers to the game, as it hopes to bring more entertainment to the fans.

"The success that we've had on FIFA in viewership has come to really being relevant across all platforms, not just esports, but also football," Koning said. 

"We want to do that because I want fans on FIFA to be watching players like Trent. I also want fans of Liverpool to be watching our esports competitions… It's crazy to see how good some of these footballers are."

Huge potential

Esports enjoys immense popularity in China, even though the COVID-19 epidemic in the country has partially halted its progress. 

According to a report released by Penguin Intelligence think tank in August, there is a rise of 26 million new esports participants in China this year, compared to the figure in 2019 of 350 million esports practitioners in the country. 

And with the development of 5G technology, esports fanbase in China is deemed to expand further. 

"Obviously esports is massively popular in China. So is football, and we are really lucky that we can bring world-class content and entertainment to the fans. But it's gonna take a while," Koning said. 

"We want to be safe, and at the same time, we want to make sure that those experiences are going to be memorable for our fans." 

FIFA is facing competition from several other esport video games vying for market share in China, but Koning believes other esports are not FIFA's biggest competitors.

"A rising tide raises all ships," he told the Global Times. "I think our biggest competitors are not other esports but people's time and entertainment [channels]. What we're trying to do is give people a choice on what they want to consume." 

EA has introduced EA Champions Cup Autumn 2020 for gamers in Asia to compete, and the regional competition featured a duel between two East Asian esports ­giants - China and South Korea. 

But due to the impact of the COVID-­19 epidemic, the tournament was held remotely, thus athletes could compete without physical travel. 

After weeks of competition, South ­Korea's Crazy Win team claimed the champions of the event, while China's Luneng Taishan SC finished runners-up and the Wolves, another Chinese team, in the third place. 

"We want to make sure that we're controlling the environment so that we can guarantee that competitive integrity," Koning said. 

He also noted that EA is also working on the dedicated network environments to help control and look at balance and latency.

"FIFA is more than just a game. FIFA is a platform to help people experience their fandom football," he said. 

Posted in: SOCCER

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