The FIFA eClub World Cup usually features 2v2 gameplay on two platforms in a LAN setting, but due to the global pandemic, this year’s event has had a radical shake up. Organised by the football governing body and not EA, the 2021 eClub World Cup sees professional FIFA esports players compete in regional conferences and divisions under a club banner with the overall goal of reaching the finals in their respective region.
With over 450 clubs taking part across all regions, spots in the final of each region were always going to be fiercely contested. In Europe though, it’s just got a whole lot harder. That’s because FIFA says the European finals will now only contain the top 14 teams (essentially the top team from each of the 14 European conferences) rather than the previously billed 28 (top two from every conference).
According to a tweet from FIFA, a change in plans for the finals broadcast has forced them to cut the number of teams.
“Due to the global health situation, the competition format had to be adapted to a remote production,” it reads. “Therefore and as a result, the number of teams going through to the final event had to be reduced.”
This announcement comes just days before the qualification process was billed to end. Many players, coaches, team managers, and club owners have expressed their disappointment and frustration with FIFA for changing the format and “moving the goalposts” so close to the end of qualification.
Due to the global health situation, the competition format had to be adapted to a remote production. Therefore and as a result, the number of teams going through to the final event had to be reduced.
— FIFAe (@FIFAe) January 18, 2021
“Put simply, 14 world class FIFA teams or football clubs will lose out on the possibility of participating at the biggest and only international club championship,” Graham Pitt, head of operations for North, tells The Loadout. “For absolutely no reason. It hasn’t directly affected any teams yet, but it will.
“The previous system allowed for the best two clubs to be in one conference and to both get through and then in theory meet again in the finals. Now only one of them can get out, so it completely screws any second best team who could potentially be better than the other 13 teams [that qualify].”
This sentiment was echoed by Saul Ashon, esports executive for City Football Group clubs Manchester City, New York City FC, and Melbourne FC.
“I’m very disappointed to hear the news, many organisations have invested time and money with the promise of 28 qualifying slots from the EU region, only for that to be snatched away after 3 of 4 rounds of qualifying,” he says. “The global health situation has been cited as the cause, which I completely understand. However, I don’t think this can be used as a justification for moving the goalposts halfway through a tournament.
“The initial information was distributed in December when, without doubt, FIFA and their staff would have been entirely aware of the situation. A format that was appropriate for both in-person and remote broadcasts should have been developed.”
Ashon points out that these opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of City Football Group.
The Loadout has given FIFA the opportunity to comment on the community’s reaction to its decision, but is yet to respond.
This decision is the latest source of frustration for teams competing in this year’s online eClub World Cup. Aspects such as lack of communication around club registration, unclear rules, and an online tournament platform that was “filled with bugs” are all cited as problem areas by one team manager, who wished to remain anonymous.
“Honestly, this whole competition and process surrounding it has been incredibly stressful,” they add.
Sources also say that many teams have fallen foul of having to register players before every round of qualifying, which has seen many lose out on points in their conference due to missing deadlines.
While eClub World Cups in the past have been one of the highlights of the competitive FIFA season, with a fresh format that adds an interesting team element to the esport, this year’s online version has clearly struggled to set the same tone so far.