The FIFA 22 ePremier League Finals get underway this weekend, with 40 UK players donning the shirts of the 20 Premier League clubs to compete for a cut of £100,000. While that prize money, and the reworked format, is enough to get excited about, this year’s ePL Finals will mark a significant moment for some of the UK’s established pro players – a return to live events.
With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing the entire ecosystem online, the ePremier League Finals will finally see players take to the stage once again. While this will be some players’ first ever taste of a LAN event, it may also feel that way for some of the FIFA esports veterans that are taking part – it has been more than two years since the last LAN event UK players were eligible for.
Tom Stokes, who is representing Watford, was on the rise before the pandemic stopped the FIFA Global Series in its tracks. After mixed fortunes in the online era, Stokes is now keen to get back to where he once was.
“I’ve missed [live events] a lot,” he tells The Loadout. “[Before the pandemic] there were a whole bunch of events, and I was almost going away once every month to compete. It was a big part of what makes competing so enjoyable. Obviously, when [LANs] went away it got a lot harder to stay motivated and keep up. Looking at things now, it seems we’re going to start competing in person more and more, so I’m looking forward to starting that [with the ePremier League].”
It’s a similar story for Everton’s representative Jas Singh, who had competed at two of the last FIFA LANs pre-pandemic. He says the ePremier League’s return to live events has been a “big motivating factor” for him this season after hitting a bit of a rough patch in the online era.
“Ever since [live events ended] it feels like it’s been a bit of a blank moment for FIFA esports,” he says. “It’s amazing to finally be back. The feeling of playing from home doesn’t come close to the thrill of being in an arena, with all the nerves and the momentum you can get from playing live. I’m really looking forward to it.”
One of the true veterans of FIFA esports, 2017 world champion Spencer ‘Gorilla’ Ealing, is also excited to get back on stage to compete – this year for Spurs.
“[Throughout the pandemic] we’ve had plenty of online tournaments, but it’s never the same,” Gorilla says, echoing Singh’s sentiments. “It’s hard to explain the difference, it’s something you’ve got to experience yourself. But you’ve got the added pressure of the broadcast, people watching, you’re face-to-face with your opponent – it’s the whole package that goes into a LAN event that just puts it on another level [compared to] online tournaments. I’m looking forward to the ePL Finals, it’s gonna be big.”
Brighton’s Marc Marley has made a name for himself thanks to the ePremier League, and has competed at every iteration of the tournament since it began. The 2019 ePL was his first ever FIFA esports LAN, and a second place finish in 2020 put him on the map. He says he’s “excited” to return to the stage, and hopes that this is a turning point for the FIFA esports scene after a tough online period.
“Competitive FIFA needs live events,” Marley says. “Every esport does, but FIFA especially. Over the past few years I think the numbers have been down a bit – it’s tougher for players to show their personalities as well [in online tournaments]. Having the support for live events back is great, and I can pretty much guarantee the viewership will be up as a result.”
While the increased prize pool of £100,000, the new format, and the chance to represent Premier League clubs are all compelling reasons to get to the ePL Finals, being back on stage once again might be the most compelling of them all.
The FIFA 22 ePremier League Finals will take place this weekend, March 26-27. You can watch the action live on any of the Premier League’s social or content channels, on the EA Sports FIFA Twitch channel, or on Sky Sports and Sky Sports’ YouTube channel.