I'm an esports soccer player who won $10,000 in an online FIFA 21 tournament. Anyone can become an expert at gaming - here's how I did it.

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I'm an esports soccer player who won $10,000 in an online FIFA 21 tournament. Anyone can become an expert at gaming - here's how I did it.
Ryan PessoaCourtesy of Ryan Pessoa
  • Ryan Pessoa is a 22-year-old professional esports gamer who plays FIFA 21 competitively for Manchester City.
  • He first signed with the team Hashtag United in 2018 after developing his gaming skills during his free time while studying business management at the University of Surrey in England.
  • Since then, Pessoa has won thousands of dollars playing esports, including $10,000 from the Twitch Rivals FIFA 21 tournament in October of this year, and sponsorships from brands like Red Bull.
  • Pessoa says he enjoys esports because it's not divided by gender or physicality rules, so he's proud to be part of an industry that's inclusive and open.
  • This is his story, as told to freelance writer Mark Williams.

I never used to think staying physically fit had much of an impact on my online gaming ability until I got injured and couldn't go to the gym for six months. I'd get tired a lot more quickly and couldn't concentrate for as long. When you compete at tournaments you could be playing for six or seven hours straight, so you have to keep your concentration levels high and perform at your best the whole time. There will be plenty of other people there who will be at the top of their game.

My mum thought the invitation to my first FIFA tournament was a scam.

I'm an esports soccer player who won $10,000 in an online FIFA 21 tournament. Anyone can become an expert at gaming - here's how I did it.
Ryan Pessoa playing with a member of the public who attended the launch of the Red Bull Gaming Sphere in London.Ryan Pessoa

I initially wanted to go into accountancy or financial advising, so I studied business management at Surrey University. Esports was never a thing I was actively trying to get into when I was younger.

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I'd always been sporty in school, and got into competitive FIFA by playing my friends on the weekends, regularly beating them, and looking for more competition. I've been a huge gamer for as long as I can remember, I've always loved playing games.

During my first year at university I had a lot of spare time, especially on the weekends, so I started playing the Weekend League on FIFA 17. You had to play 40 games a weekend for a month and you could only afford to lose one or two games out of 160 if you wanted to be in the top five in Europe and make the qualifiers, which is what I did.

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Even when I won entry to the qualifiers in Munich in July 2017, I didn't think this was something I could do professionally. I didn't know esports was a thing you could make a living from. I had competed in some small tournaments with prize money, but it was usually never more than around £50 for a win. I had no idea there was the FIFA eWorld Cup with major prize money involved and professional gamers who were signed by Premier League teams.

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The Munich event was due to take place a month after I qualified but my mum thought it sounded like a scam and told me not to go. Esports wasn't as well known a few years ago as it is now, it's growing so rapidly. The organizers wanted my passport details to arrange the flights and mum didn't think I should tell them. Luckily I managed to convince her it was genuine and ended up going to Munich, where I won the qualifiers and got through to the grand finals in London. I've been playing competitively ever since.

My family has always been behind any decision I've made about my life or career. My mum knew I had my heart set on going into the financial sector, so if something persuaded me to go in a different direction it had to be worthwhile.

Read more: Johanna Faries, commissioner of the Call of Duty esports league, on what she's learned at the helm of a growing industry after 12 years at the NFL

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I signed for Manchester City after playing for them on loan from Hashtag United.

Football teams primarily sign esports players for the marketing and content-creation opportunities, as well as the fact we compete for them under the club name. I do the same kind of thing for Red Bull, creating commercial content for them and wearing branded Red Bull gear at tournaments.

I'm an esports soccer player who won $10,000 in an online FIFA 21 tournament. Anyone can become an expert at gaming - here's how I did it.
Pessoa signed for Manchester City in 2019.Mark Roe/Red Bull

The Manchester City roster has just two players, myself and Shaun Springette, also known as Shellzz. Previously I was with Hashtag United, but I was sent on loan to Manchester City for the Club World Cup in 2019 and signed for them shortly after.

A club like Manchester City is already massive in footballing terms but they're still trying to get a foothold in esports, which can take years. There are so many esports teams competing at FIFA that have been there right from the beginning of the first FIFA eWorld Cup in 2004, whereas Man City came in a few years after them.

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Sometimes we play the real footballers at FIFA. Trent Alexander Arnold is pretty good and I played Sergio Aguero recently too. They're not bad at all for guys who have busy schedules and don't have as much time to practice. I go a bit easy on them though - if I treated it like a competitive game it would be unfair.

Each tournament is different - at some you play as a team and others you play solo.

At some tournaments you play as a team and some are solo, like the FIFA eWorld Cup, where the winner gets $250,000 and second place gets $100,000. It's the most prestigious tournament of the year with an overall prize pot of $500,000. Last year the prize pool for each of the six FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) Champions Cups was around $200,000, with the winner getting $50,000.

At tournaments where we work as a team, I play opponents on X-Box and my teammate Shellzz plays on Playstation, then our scores are combined. In February, just before lockdowns started happening, we qualified for a tournament in Milan called the FIFA eClub World Cup 2020, where the winning team takes home $40,000 between them.

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I had a big win in a recent FIFA 21 tournament called Twitch Rivals in early October, alongside another player and we shared $20,000. One of my first big wins was in Barcelona, when I got $5,000 at a FIFA 18 tournament called the FUT Champions Cup.

My routine has changed a lot during the pandemic.

I'm an esports soccer player who won $10,000 in an online FIFA 21 tournament. Anyone can become an expert at gaming - here's how I did it.
When gyms were open before the pandemic, Pessoa would begin his day with a workout.Courtesy of Ryan Pessoa

When the gyms are open, I'll normally get up around 8 a.m. to go and work out for a couple of hours before playing FIFA and streaming online. Since lockdown and the gyms closing I get up later, maybe around 10 or 11 a.m. and exercise downstairs on the rowing machine. I'll stream myself playing FIFA for anywhere between three and five hours during the day before dinner.

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The pandemic has meant most of the FIFA tournament schedule has been put on hold, but I have played quite a few different casual tournaments such as the Fnatic UK Masters and Twitch Rivals FIFA21 Invitational.

On a day that I have a tournament I like to keep everything relaxed but focused at the same time. That means making sure I get in a morning workout, studying my opponents, and mentally preparing to go into the game. When I stream it's more about spending time with my community while at the same time getting in some practice and having fun. It's important to have a good balance between the two.

With fewer tournaments to play in, I have also kept my training and practice up by hosting a few friendly tournaments with my fellow Red Bull athletes, Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool and England footballer) and Jack Nowell (Exeter and England rugby player).

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Read more: The non-engineer's guide to landing a 6-figure job in online gaming or esports, according to senior executives and CEOs in the space

Lockdown has hugely increased our audience for streaming.

I'm an esports soccer player who won $10,000 in an online FIFA 21 tournament. Anyone can become an expert at gaming - here's how I did it.
Pessoa says he's been streaming more of his games on sites like Twitch during the pandemic.Courtesy of Ryan Pessoa

Esports has definitely benefited from all the lockdowns happening around the world, which personally has been a bit of a silver lining to this pandemic.

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Earlier this spring when all the top leagues had to shut down, some people started watching esports instead. Not necessarily to replace real football, but just to try something different. There's been a huge surge in the number of people watching streams and engaging in the content we create.

Playing in online-only tournaments has become normal now, I can hardly remember what it feels like to go to a live event. It's really hard to tell when live tournaments will start up again. I'd love to play in front of a crowd again but we also know it's important that everyone is safe. For the 2021 season, FIFA will be hosting the eWorld Cup online, and who knows, maybe a live final towards the end of the year.

I'm an esports soccer player who won $10,000 in an online FIFA 21 tournament. Anyone can become an expert at gaming - here's how I did it.
Ryan Pessoa TKTKCourtesy of Ryan Pessoa

One great aspect of gaming is that it isn't split by gender like regular football leagues. There are female esports players signed to some teams, like Red Bull Leipzig in Germany. Gender doesn't matter in esports, it's all about ability, and the FIFA eWorld Cup is open to everybody, regardless of gender or whether you are signed to a team or have a sponsor. It makes me proud to be involved in something so inclusive and open to everyone. Unlike regular sports, physicality doesn't play a big role in esports performance, so it's a very level playing field if you're talented and you train enough in the key areas.

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My advice for those trying to get into esports is that you're going to lose a lot of tournaments; it's a very competitive industry. But don't be disheartened. Accept it, learn from it, and try to improve by playing against better players. There's nothing to gain from constantly thrashing your mates 6-0.

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