The FIFA 17 obsession has been taken too far

Ben Mountain

Everyone loves a bit of FIFA. It turns the average Joes and everyday wannabes into immortal footballing gods. The game is world-class. But now, the obsession has gone too far. And it’s going to ruin a sport.

Imagine this for a moment; you’re getting the lads around on a Saturday. The football is on and you’re all buzzing. A few beers are in the fridge and there will be no interruptions from your family. Bliss. Perhaps after the game, you’ll turn the TV off and switch your attention to something else. Enough watching, it’s time to play. Naturally, then, FIFA 17 comes out. This sounds like a reasonably normal thing for most of us, right?

But what about those of you who don’t fancy watching real, live football – like you do most weekends – and can’t be bothered to see your mates to show you up as the self entitled ‘Console King’ once again? Well, there’s now a solution. And it reeks of corporate desperation. FIFA 17 will soon be broadcast live on BT Sport.

That’s right, as if there wasn’t enough football on TV, there’s now some more. Only, it’s not real. It’s pixelated and computer generated. Essentially, you’ll be watching a screen, on your screen; that’s an enlarged screen of someone else’s screen. And they’re whacking away at buttons.

The remaining four games – sorry, EA FIFA Majors finals – of the Ultimate Team Championship Series are all set for being shown for the first time ever in the UK on live television next month. Unsurprisingly, the head of BT Sport has declared that:

“This is yet another example of live innovation from BT Sport. Competitive interactive football gaming is a rapidly growing industry and I’m delighted that BT Sport is now able to showcase it for the first time ever in the UK.”

Simon Green

He would say that, though. Wouldn’t he? He’s set to make an absolute killing from it.

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We don’t have any problems with playing FIFA, obviously. We’d be completely inhumane to suggest that. We don’t have a problem with playing it in a competitive, professional setting either. Competitive gaming, after all, is one of the fastest growing spectator sports in the world. What we do have a problem with, however, is the blatant exploitation of the sport to eke out money for the media elites.

BT Sport have noticed a gap in the market here. They’re now going to take that gap, load it with several hundred sticks of industrial sized dynamite, pour a healthy few gallons of gasoline over it and have Gary Lineker flick a flaming match stick on top. Just after this point, they will call upon their army of little miners to pick about in the rabble for any tiny scraps of diamond and then use them to encrust their Crown of Sporting TV. Afterwards, they’ll shove a load more dynamite into the now megalithic gap and blow again. In doing so, they’ll explode any surrounding eSports fans and coldly trample over their bodies and computers in the hunt for more lovely money to extrapolate and burn.

Let’s be honest now, how many of us really care for watching other people play video games? Very few, I suppose. Ever since your older brother used to make you be his ‘guard’ or ‘lookout’ for evil things as he played on the Game Boy, with you checking over his shoulder for any possible dangers, we’ve built up an inherent resistance to watching others play on consoles. Or so you’d think. There is, however, a core and passionate group of gaming fans who like nothing more than to watch their favourite gamers whack out a couple of games of FIFA. They enjoy the games from the privacy of their laptops, in this country at least; live in others, and are probably quite happy that way.

SEE ALSO: Europa League shocks and an English pox

Why then, are BT deciding that we are to suddenly take up an interest in what is, for many, a completely disregarded sport and then no doubt trample all over it with their corporate size 10s? It’s already a multi-million pound business, full of sponsorship, and not in need of any more.

It may feel a bit of a trivial point to make but consider it from this perspective. How do we, in England, perceive foreign sponsorship and their extensive coverage of the Premier League? Whilst there isn’t one single problem with football being screened in other countries – it’s a completely global sport and has a large market after all – we do feel somewhat invaded when it isn’t the fans who pay to go and watch their boyhood team, but those largely adoptive fans often over 4,000 miles away who the ones that are targeted?

Now, how are the fans of eSports going to feel when they discover that a previously mostly disinterested country (Chinese Super League, anyone?) has come along with big, Western bucks and said “we’re having a bit of that too, and we’re gonna milk it dry with no respect for the heritage or culture of the sport. Cheers!”

It is painfully reminiscent of what is currently happening to actual football today. Premier League, and some Championship, stadiums are being adorned with adverts for overseas fans and our clubs are beginning to globalise with the unashamed attitude of, these guys have money; let’s go get it. Forget the ones who have got us to this stage, they’re too poor these days anyway.

I’m writing this in terrified fear of coming across as nationalistic, to be honest. I couldn’t give two monkeys about keeping the sport in our country or putting English fans from English teams first. No. That sounds far too plastic chair throwing. But what I am concerned about is this: as football fans, we feel threatened by overseas dominance in the stadiums that we grew up in. Few of us care about having a large overseas following – in fact, it’s beneficial home and abroad – but each of us care when that following, in many cases one that enjoys the sport only casually, becomes the priority.

When those who see that the football is on and have their mates over to enjoy it as background or relaxed entertainment, are put ahead of those who dedicate their Saturdays to supporting a team who are deeply ingrained in their personal lives and culture, are put first by the very clubs that the latter adore, then there’s a problem.

And that is exactly what is about to happen for the diehard fans of eSports. We, who haven’t been interested until now, will become the ones who get our mates around and enjoy the sport casually, without too much concern or real interest for it. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But when we become more important to the ‘fat cats’ who run the game than those who genuinely adore it, then something is cataclysmically wrong with that. 

Just keep an eye out for the English adverts in the final of the Asia-Pacific regional final in Singapore. Remember that somewhere, someone who really, passionately cares, won’t be able to read what it says and they’ll know that they’re no longer important to the sport. They’ve wrung their pockets dry for what they love and now some anonymous customers over in England have taken their place. It will be an utterly tragic moment.

Sorry, that was a bit of a depressing end, wasn’t it?! Cheer yourself up with the greatest beards in football; there’s some absolute beauties in there!

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