‘This is an article from Issue 1 of Champions Journal‘
The eChampions League does not just mean an unprecedented opportunity for gamers – it also highlights the increasing crossover between football and esports.
It was not just Jurgen Klopp and his Liverpool players who had the thrill of lifting a trophy in Madrid on the evening of Saturday 1 June. For the very first time, another competition winner was crowned at the Estadio Metropolitano that night – eChampions League victor Chris “NYC_Chris” Holly.
The American video gamer had triumphed in the inaugural eChampions League grand final the previous day and duly received his trophy pitchside ahead of the kick-off between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur – a glittering reward to go with $100,000 in prize money.
“Madrid was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” says Holly, a professional for the New York City FC esports team. “I never thought I would be at the Champions League final and especially not on the pitch before to lift the trophy in front of the crowd.”
Holly’s “once-in-a-lifetime” moment marked a telling moment too for the burgeoning esports realm. The creation of the eChampions League represented another staging post in the sector’s rapid journey from niche pursuit to mainstream popularity at a time a growing number of clubs across the continent are opening esports departments.
“It’s been different because it’s the Champions League,” says Holly, whose own love of football was fed by the EA Sports FIFA series while growing up in the United States. “It was the first-ever event in the eChampions League so it was an amazing feel and great competition.”
FIFA 19 was the game of choice when the groundbreaking campaign began with online qualifiers in early March before the best 64 competitors gathered the following month in Manchester for the chance to become one of eight finalists.
For the eight who went through, the prize was the chance to compete for the title in Madrid on 31 May. There were quarter-final and semi-final contests before it all came down to a showdown between Holly and his Bulgarian opponent, DrNightWatch, in a final the American won thanks to a line-up flush with current and former talents – including a certain iconic Dutch playmaker. “My must-have has to be Ruud Gullit,” explains Holly. “He’s just an all-around player. He can attack, defend, jump and shoot.”
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