It’s already been a huge month for the FFA and the Hyundai A-League, with preparations for the FIFA 18 e-League almost complete. With the esports competition kicking off in just under a week, marketing has started gearing up and fans are talking. And while most of the talk and anticipation has been seen in a positive light, some big names in the country have been fuming about the competition and what it could be doing to hamper the development of the A-League, the W-League, and the youth setups in place.

Having recently spoken to a handful of e-League players who are all getting prepped for ten weeks of intense competition, all of them echoed the same sentiment: that the e-League can only be good for the development of both the Australian FIFA scene and the A-League itself.

“Esports is a huge industry around the world, and the idea that they think that resources are being taken from the W-League, or the A-League, or the U23’s is probably not correct,” Brisbane Roar e-League player James ‘Cripsy’ Williams said.

James ‘Cripsy’ Williams was Brisbane Roar’s Xbox pick for the e-League competition.

Well known as Cripsy online, Williams didn’t even care for the A-League two weeks ago. That all changed when he was contacted by three-time A-League champions Brisbane Roar and drafted in to compete against some of Australia’s best FIFA 18 players earlier in the year.

Not only that, Williams also claims that his following on social media and audience on Twitch have developed an interest in the A-League as well because of his inclusion in the competition.

“People look at it in such a narrow-minded way, they don’t look at it from a bird’s-eye view,” Mark Brijeski, Sydney FC’s e-League competitor said.

“If you have a look, esports is growing and it’s only going up – it’s not going down.”

“In reality your children, your family members, your friends.. they all play games, and a lot of people do play competitively, whether it be Call of Duty, FIFA, or something else.”

Brijeski, also known as xMarkoHD and the second player to be officially announced for the e-League competition, says support from high profile personalities and those with power in the industry needs to happen for the competitive scene to grow, and for Australian FIFA players to keep up with the competition overseas.

Mark Brijeski, Sydney FC’s PlayStation 4 e-League competitor.

“We need to have the right support from the right people that are pushing the right information instead of pushing the negativity.”

If the e-League turns out to be successful, Brijeski wants to see each club backing their players and pushing them to new heights, especially on an international scale. He believes this would not only back the player and improve their skills, but it’d also raise awareness about the A-League and the clubs that are supporting an industry that will only continue to get bigger as time goes on.

“I want [the e-League] to eventually catapult each club’s own specific set of esports players — [to] back that player for a long period of time,” Brijeski said.

“You’re hopefully getting them to qualify in competitions overseas if they’re good enough, and if you really back them and push their brand overseas, it’ll be good for everyone.

“If I were to qualify, for instance, and people were to see Sydney FC and notice that the club’s involved… they’ll know Sydney aren’t mucking around and it’ll only look good for esports in Australia — to know that they’re actually getting behind it.”

You don’t have to look too far to see that this is already happening with Melbourne City’s Marcus Gomes, the first pro FIFA player in Australia to be signed by an A-League club.

Having just returned from the first FUT Champions Cup of the year in Barcelona, City’s social media activity — talking about Gomes and his results throughout the event — showcased what’s possible for attracting media and fan attention to the e-League and its competitors.

Marcus Gomes was signed by Melbourne City last year.

Further, with the FIFA series having sold over a hundred million copies throughout the years — and with it continuing to sell better and better each year — kids are more than likely going to be exposed to the sport from a young age. Being such a social game, those kids are also probably going to play against their mates, and the interest in both the game and the sport grows from there.

Speaking from personal experience, I’ve known people who have had no interest in playing football at all (preferring rugby, for the majority of the time), only to still show a huge interest in FIFA, picking it up each year when it launches to play against their mates.

The draw is, without a doubt, there.

According to Adelaide United’s e-League player Jamie O’Doherty, there’s no doubt more kids in Australia play FIFA than those that tune in to watch the A-League every week and play the sport, and because of that there’s clearly an opportunity for cross-brand promotion with the e-League and the normal competition.

“With esports there’s a lot of kids that watch it and a lot of kids that play FIFA,” he said.

“There’s a lot more kids that play FIFA than those that play football in Australia, I’d probably say.

“So with them watching this, it can make them actually want to go to A-League games and things like that.”

Adelaide United’s Xbox e-League player, Jamie O’Doherty.

O’Doherty, known as FUTWIZ Jamie online, also has a large social media following, and he too sees the potential in what the e-League can do for the sport and how it can engage the A-League in a unique way.

“For people like Cripsy, myself, and people that have a half decent following on social media… it would give [fans and followers] a reason to actually want to support a team.”

Whether the argument’s against the baseless accusations that the FFA’s attempting to take funds from the A-League, from the W-League, or from the youth level setup, the most important thing to know is that the e-League is its own beast, designed for a different market. There’s certainly no reason for the FFA to strip funds from the aforementioned competitions for an (at this stage) unproven esports competition.

Looking at it from the bigger picture, the FFA is tapping into two different markets with the e-League and the A-League, in turn promoting both leagues in different ways. By having well known FIFA competitors drafted into teams and promoting not only the e-League itself but also associating with the club they’ve signed with, the A-League could well see a huge boost in attention and that can only be a good thing for all involved.

Its early days for the e-League for now, but it could be a massive forward step for both Australian esports and the Hyundai A-League — the potential is certainly there. There’s no doubt some negativity will be around for a while, of course, but the potential for cross-brand promotion, getting more people interested in both sets of competitions, and actively engaging different markets could well make the e-League an important step forward for all involved. It’s going to be fascinating to watch unfold.