In the final part of our series, we look at how FIFA entered the world of esports and how it established its legacy as one of the most popular games of all time.
FIFA in the Past Decade: Gaining A Competitive Edge
FIFA’s development continued to progress as we entered the next decade with the first instalment coming in the form of FIFA 11. With several new game modes, the game also added essential features to the chemistry of FUT cards, allowing for changes should a player move clubs during the middle of the season.
The FIFA Interactive World Cup continued to grow in popularity, and the final in 2011 was won by Francisco Cruz of Portugal, who defeated eventual Elite Series alumnus Javier Muñoz 4-1 in the final in Los Angeles. The global appeal of FIFA would see the competition’s popularity swell in the years to come, and by 2013 over 2.5 million players were signing up to compete in the FIFA Interactive World Cup.
FIFA 12 saw the implementation of the Impact Engine, a project that had been in the works for many years at EA Sports, which allowed for a more accurate depiction of collisions. The update affected the in-game physics, and many reviewers said that this gave the game a much more realistic feel as it made the movements made by the players less predictable. The move was seen as a risk by many, as the task of asking a developed audience to essentially “re-learn” a game they have an entrenched affinity seemed a tricky one. However, the gamble paid off as the consensus remains to this day that FIFA 12 is one of the best-ever versions of the game.
Game speed was also improved by removing some cut screens when players moved to take throw-ins or free kicks. Some other differences to the modern versions of FIFA played in the Elite Series also included the formations included on every player card and chemistry between national team players were valued at 1.5 rather than 1. The 11 and 12 versions of FIFA proved extremely popular with some diehard fans who were still playing the game as recently as 2017 when the servers for these editions of the games were finally shut down.
Part of what has made EA Sports’ approach to FIFA so successful over the years is that apart from committing to realism, gamer enjoyment has been placed at the heart of each game, and FIFA 13 was described by Eurogamer as a game “...full of glamour and intensity”.
The 2014 edition of the FIFA Interactive World Cup was contested in Rio de Janeiro to coincide with the FIFA World Cup for the very first time. The tournament was won by ex-Hashtag United pro Agge with the trophy presented by O Fenômeno Ronaldo himself. England’s David Bytheway, with the latter going on to become the first ever Englishman to be signed by a professional football club as an esports professional.
2014 was also the first year that Gfinity entered the world of competitive FIFA, with the FIFA 14 Championship LAN taking place in London. The final was won by former Unilad player Tass against Vinch of Epsilon eSports, with ex-Epsilon player Mover also appearing in the commentary box.
Gfinity’s third major event G3 took place later in the year, and FIFA was included as a part of the game line-up for the first time. As a part of the event, YouTubers KSI and Miniminter took to the stage to compete for 200 million FIFA coins in a best-of-three series with Hashtag United founder Spencer Owen overseeing the action.
FUT icons were introduced to the series for the first time in FIFA 14, with some of the players on offer including Paolo Maldini, Robert Pirès and Michael Owen. The introduction of icons added a new element to the online game, with gamers now not limited by the current professionals, and this change added greater diversity to online gameplay.
FIFA 15 introduced a new feature to the FUT system whereby players could be loaned for a limited number of matches, and gamers also had the chance to build “dream squads”, and drastic improvements were also made to the AI built into goalkeepers in the game. FIFA 16 took another huge step forward as female players were included in the game for the first time ever. Extensive motion capture using the movements of professionals Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux, Megan Rapinoe and Steph Catley was undertaken to ensure that the female players in the game moved correspondingly to their real-life counterparts.
Another future Elite Series competitor Mobacha won the FIFA Interactive World Cup in 2016, defeating Sean “Dragon” Allen on away goals in the final in New York City. Mobacha became the second Dane to win the title after Agge’s victory in 2014, and he would later go on to represent French esports team Ares in the first ever season of FIFA in the Elite Series in March 2018.
The 2017 edition of the FIFA Interactive World Cup would be the last under its former guise before changing its name to the FIFA eWorld Cup in 2018. The tournament’s association with Gfinity competitors continued as ex-Unilad player Gorilla took on Epsilon’s deto in the final, with the Englishman coming out on top 7-3 over two legs in the final in London.
FIFA 17 took gameplay to new places as the first campaign mode (titled “The Journey”) was introduced, allowing gamers to take control of a young player named Alex Hunter and follow his story from a young hopeful to FA Cup finalist. The addition of the journey showed that EA Sports has remained acutely aware of FIFA’s position in the gaming world, as although previous versions of FIFA allowed gamers to take control of a single player’s career and build their future, this version of the game often felt a little cold and lacking in theatricality.
The acknowledgement that FIFA could do more regarding its offering was a positive sign for many critics, with IGN describing its inclusion as “...something unique and rewarding”.
In 2018, FIFA took to the stage at the Gfinity Esports Arena for Season 3 of the Elite Series. The tournament carried its own level of prestige within the FIFA community as it would serve as an official qualification pathway to the 2018 FIFA eWorld Cup in Russia. AS Roma Fnatic’s Zimme and Rannerz ultimately came out on top in the final against Unilad’s Shellzz and Tass, with Rannerz’s rise particularly remarkable as he had only turned pro at the start of the series after competing in Gfinity’s amateur tournament, the Gfinity Challenger Series.
After 25 years, FIFA stands as a giant of not just the sports gaming world but of the gaming world at large, and this is arguably one its most significant achievements. Often derided by “true gamers” as something apart from other game titles, FIFA has crossed over to become a game popular in its own right regardless of its inherent connection to football.
FIFA can also be credited for generating a tremendous amount of interest in esports, with tournaments such as the Elite Series showing that the game’s popularity has moved from participation to competition. The introduction of FUT was a crucial development in this regard, and with qualification for the 2019 FIFA eWorld Cup already underway, the competitive FIFA scene continues to grow bigger with each passing year.
Catch up on the first instalment of the series here 👇