The rise of eSports has been somewhat meteoric. What used to be distinctly frowned upon (“why would you want to watch someone else play a game when you just play it yourself?”), has now become an accepted part of our gaming landscape. One of the latest additions to the world of eSports is sports teams ‘signing’ gamers to represent them. Two clubs in the English Premier League have joined this trend, with Manchester City FC signing Kieran ‘Kez’ Brown and West Ham United FC signing Sean ‘Dragonn’ Allen. These two gamers are among the best FIFA players in the world.
Last week I got the opportunity to interview Kieran and ask him about this partnership with Manchester City, FIFA, and his thoughts on eSports. First though, I asked Diego Gigliani, Senior VP of Media and Innovation for Manchester City Football Club, about why the club signed a professional eSports player
Steve Clist: As one of the major players in the Premier League, what made you decide to enter the eSports arena?
Diego Gigliani: We believe eSports will continue to grow and complement the wider world of sports and competitive entertainment. We recognize that the audiences for eSports and ‘traditional’ sports may not necessarily be the same, but we also see how sports-related video games, such as EA FIFA and Madden, play a role in engaging fans and helping them feel more connected to the sports, teams and players they love. We wanted to find ways to reach out to eSports fans who enjoy the competitive aspect of top level gameplay, and our objective is to offer fans more opportunities to engage with football off the pitch, as well as on it.
SC: How do you feel having an eSports player enhances the Manchester City brand?
DG: As part of the unique structure of City Football Group – with a family of clubs including Manchester City FC, New York City FC, Melbourne City FC and Yokohama F Marinos – we want to push the boundaries on how football is played and enjoyed. By welcoming an eSports player to the Club, we are investing in yet another way to connect to our fan base around the world. In the last year alone, we’ve introduced many other new ways of connecting with our fans and giving them more, such as 360° Tunnel Cam, Virtual Reality immersive experiences, a completely revamped website and a Facebook Messenger bot.
In addition to this, signing a young eSports player is an opportunity for Manchester City to further its commitment to the development of young footballing talents. On the pitch, this is something we strive to do every day and is at the heart of our City Football Academy facility. In the eSports world, Kieran is one of those naturally talented young players with great potential and we are excited to support his journey and advancement in the eSports world together.
SC: We have seen FC Schalke 04 field a League of Legends (competitive multiplayer battle arena game) team, is this something you could see Manchester City diversifying into?
DG: Manchester City’s venture into eSports is still at its very early stages. For now our focus will remain solely on FIFA, which we believe holds an authentic connection to Manchester City, which is first and foremost a football club. We don’t know what the future could hold, but we hope to play an important role in helping EA SPORTS FIFA become a bigger and even more popular eSport enjoyed by people the world over.
I was then able to ask Kieran ‘Kez’ Brown some questions. Kieran is 18 years old, from York in England, and participated in this year’s ‘Play Like a Legend World Championships’.
Steve Clist: How long have you been playing FIFA?
Kieran Brown: I have been playing FIFA for the past 4-5 years.
SC: At what point did you realise that you were among the best FIFA players in the world?
KB: It’s hard to believe that I’m considered one of the best FIFA players in the world, I first realized that I could be good when I was regularly winning division one season. Because of this, I decided to look around on the Internet and soon came across a platform that allowed top players to compete in tournaments for cash prizes. It was when I was beating other top players on here I realized I might be better than most people.
SC: How does it feel to be an official Manchester City player/employee?
KB: It’s early days yet, but considering a few weeks ago I was revising for A Level exams, It’s exciting but at the same time it all still feels a bit surreal.
SC: How did the connection with Manchester City come about?
KB: Manchester City first contacted me when they saw that I had come runner up on the Spencer FC Game Academy, which was a competition in which the winner was awarded an eSports Contract, and because of this, they saw that there could be potential with me. They had also seen some of my videos on YouTube and believed there could be a further opportunity for both myself and the club to make an impact on the world of eSports.
SC: What does your role for the club actually entail?
KB: The main purpose of my role is to represent Manchester City online in the gaming world. The main way I can do this is by placing well in FIFA tournaments, which will be my main focus throughout my time at the club. I will also be live streaming on Twitch and will continue to upload content to my YouTube channel throughout FIFA 17.
SC: With other clubs like West Ham also signing professional gamers could we see an eSports version of the Premier League in the future?
KB: This is something myself and many others would love to see happen. Personally, I don’t think it will be long before we see other clubs getting in on this whole idea and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.
SC: Has the rise of eSports surprised you?
KB: Not at all. With the amount of people who now own an Xbox, PlayStation or PC, combined with the advance in technology and games in general, the potential with eSports is huge
SC: So, what’s next for you in the eSports arena?
KB: I know there are FIFA players at the moment which are definitely better than me, however as a result of this opportunity with Manchester City, I’m going to have much more time to practice and improve my own game for FIFA 17, so that is my main focus for now. Although winning FIWC would be a dream, this is one of the hardest tournaments around and I know it will be challenging for me. Realistically for me, I will be aiming to qualify for future Play Like A Legend events and any other types of tournaments that are announced for FIFA 17.
SC: If you could only give one piece of advice to FIFA players to improve their game what would it be?
KB: When people beat you, take something that you see them do which you don’t and add it into the way you play.
SC: Who is your favourite Manchester City player (past or present)?
KB: Sergio Aguero