The Fifa game itself has avoided such disrepute – largely because, until recently, the stakes were too small. But this year there will be drugs testing and monitoring of betting markets for suspicious patterns during the eWorld Cup. “It adds more legitimacy to the tournaments,” says Ealing. “You don’t want anyone winning an event or taking someone’s spot at a tournament if they have to find an unfair advantage.”
For Fifa, supporting the eWorld Cup is a way of “expanding Fifa’s presence in the eSports marketplace” and “an important step forward in the continued professionalisation of competitive Fifa gaming,” explains Jean-Francois Pathy, Fifa’s director of marketing services. As the landscape develops, Fifa wants to position its event as the flagship of the sport. There are parallels with the World Cup itself, formed in 1930 because FIFA saw how popular football was in the Olympic Games and wanted to control it themselves.
Perhaps, rather than conceive of the World Cup and eWorld Cup as wholly disparate entities, they are better viewed as part of a continuum – like, say, Twenty20 and Test cricket, which are separate games but run by the same boards.
As the eWorld Cup grows, so the synergies with traditional football are growing too. After Gullit last year, this year’s official eWorld Cup ambassador – intriguingly, given his recent international retirement – is Mesut Ozil. As well as the cash and prestige, the winner will also be granted an invite to The BestTM Fifa Football Awards, the governing body’s annual gala. Last year, Ealing got selfies with Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar.