Ireland can still make it to the World Cup - the FIFA esports World Cup, that is
Limerick gamer Conran 'Rannerz' Tobin talks about turning professional playing FIFA 18 with the Fnatic Roma esports team and how he's come a long way in just a few months as he prepares to try to qualify for the grand finals of the FIFA eWorld Cup
IRELAND may still get to the FIFA World Cup after all if one Irish player has his way this week.
Conran Tobin, a 21-year-old from Limerick, has a shot at the finals if he qualifies via the play-offs starting in Amsterdam today. Sadly, it’s not quite the real World Cup in June in Russia but the next best thing – the FIFA eWorld Cup, which has a prize of €250,000 for the winner of the Xbox and PlayStation-based competition.
The top 16 out of the 128 players competing this week will go forward to the finals in London in August. “Top 16 is very doable for me, that’s my ambition,” says Tobin, a quietly spoken student of financial maths at the University of Limerick.
He is the only Irish person to have made the global play-offs after he played a stormer as one half of a two-man team to win the Gfinity Elite Series FIFA 18 finals in London last month.
When he finishes his work placement in August, Tobin will turn professional and move to London where he takes up his place in the esports team of AS Roma. The Italian Serie A club signed the Limerick player to their Fnatic Roma team after eyecatching performances in international esports competitions earlier this year. His journey from sofa to professional is all the more remarkable because he started actively competing only this January, although he had been playing FIFA since he was a boy.
Tobin, who goes by the online handle ‘Rannerz’, is one of just three players in Ireland to compete at this level. Without a hint of modesty, he reckons he’s easily our No.1 competitor: “I would say I am the best in Ireland, based on finishes and tournaments. I don't think you can argue. I am in the top 20 in the world. And out of that top 20, at least 15 have been playing at the pro level for about two or three years at least.”
The Fnatic Roma team will pay him a salary, cover his travel and accommodation costs – plus he gets to keep any competition winnings. Already this year, he’s banked €20,000 but that’s just the beginning. Tobin says: “Next year if I do it full-time, and using all avenues including YouTube, I'd hope to make six figures.”
Understandably, his family were “definitely concerned” when he first broached the prospect of deferring his final year at UL to turn pro. But they have warmed to the idea after seeing the money that can be made at this level.
“Originally I did it because rather than get a part-time job. I said I'd see whether I could make a bit from playing competitively because it'll be more entertaining than a part-time job while I was college. But it just kinda took off.”
Like all elite sports players, Tobin practises every day, fitting it in around his work. “At the moment, I can only do about three hours a day because obviously I'm working like 8-5. When I go full-time I'll be doing about eight hours a day.”
Top esports players in games such as League of Legends and DotA 2 can earn millions of dollars annually. FIFA is not yet in that league but Tobin has an eye on the long game too. He plans to get into lucrative streaming market when his days as a FIFA pro are on the wane. Streamers play games for fun, interacting with their audience, which can run into the millions of viewers. The money for popular streamers can outstrip even the best esports players.
“There’s at least 50 full-time FIFA streamers. I could switch to that but it will probably come five years down the line, having built up a following. You want to compete at the pro level as long as you can. You have to have a high level to do this professionally but when you're streaming you have to be a bit entertaining. Gameplay level is not a priority.”
Playing FIFA competitively doesn’t leave much time for anything else outside of work for Tobin right now but he has his priorities right.
“I play soccer in real life a bit. Any breaks I have it I would be going outside because I'm inside so much of the day I like to get out of the house.
"As far as games go, I also play a bit of Fortnite. I don't really play too many other games because if I'm on the Xbox I might as well be practising.”
* You can watch the FIFA eWorld Cup play-offs today at www.twitch.tv/easportsfifa
* If you fancy trying your hand at esports, check out the Gfinity Challenger Series