Much like real football, FIFA’s competition structure places Australia in the extensive “Rest of the World” region. There’s Europe, the Americas, and “Rest of the World”.
As such, our FIFA competitors recently found themselves up against challengers from Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong, right in the middle of Sydney’s sweltering heatwave. But unlike real football, this FIFA is very much owned by EA, which can alter the competitive format to suit its bottom line.
At a time when mainstream sporting franchises are investing in FIFA as an esport, EA chose its Ultimate Team mode to carry its biggest ever competition -- featuring a $1.7 million prize pool (quadrupling its “main” mode) and unprecedented production values in commentary and highlights. Ultimate Team is a popular, yet provably pay-to-win mode in which you collect (or buy) a football dream team of stars, past and present. Competition finals are played on special consoles with everything unlocked, ostensibly levelling the playing field -- but earlier stages of the tournament are played at home with your own team, built on your own dollar.
It’s a similar issue to World of Warcraft’s Arena, which never blossomed as an esport outside of Blizzard-hosted events. Competitors could pick from an unlocked pool of items, but actually getting to that stage required thousands of hours of grinding for high level gear on the public ladder. In the case of FIFA Ultimate Team, it’s possible to buy your way into the final, but no further.
While history will forget those who didn’t belong, it was the Saudi Arabian duo Khalid “The Royal” Aloufi and Abdulaziz “A8drafwz” Alshehri who won the PS4 and Xbox One sections of the Sydney final. Longtime Aussie pro Kieran “Muzza” Murray picked up a 3rd place finish, and Mark “MarkoHD” Brijeski’s new Red Bull sponsorship gave him enough wings to reach the quarter-finals for a 7th place finish.