Last Thursday evening the Newcastle Jets fell in a 5-1 defeat to the Western Sydney Wanderers, with a red card for defender Carles Puyol tipping the balance against the Novocastrian team.
Except legendary Barcelona star Carles Puyol retired in 2014 after making 392 appearances for the Spanish club, and never once stepped foot on the pitch in Australia.
The 5-1 defeat was the opening round of the inaugural E-League, where Australia’s footballing clubs are competing for digital glory on EA Sports FIFA 18 title.
The eSports matches are played across both Microsoft’s Xbox One and Sony’s PlayStation 4 video game consoles, and with the best players the world of football has to offer in an ‘Ultimate Team’ mode of FIFA 18.
It was a special honour to pull on the red-and-blue now synonymous with Newcastle sporting clubs, Cessnock’s Dane ‘Bossierhickory8’ Crow said.
“I knew a lot of people that were watching on the stream, so that was a bit nerve-racking, but once we were in game I kind of put it out of my mind,” Crow said. “I didn’t go that great, but it was good.”
“We’re looking to get a mid-table finish in the first season, there’s a lot of big FIFA names in the competition that stream a lot and the Jets have placed a lot of faith in us because we’re locals – we want to repay that.”
It was an interesting experience taking what was originally just a gaming hobby and turning it into a competitive venture, Crow admitted.
“We play a lot of games but we try our best to get as many wins as possible on FIFA,” Crow said. “I never really thought I’d get into the club when I first applied for the trials, so it’s still a bit of a shock.”
“The fact that they picked me for the first E-League is really cool. This is the first professional thing that I’ve done, and especially competitively on FIFA, so I’m just looking forward to the whole season.”
Crow played on the Xbox leg of the match against the Wanderers, and then played the PlayStation reverse leg as well due to the absence of his club partner, Bohdan Ling.
Wallsend’s Ling (BLFifa when online) missed the opening round of the season due to travel, but took to the stage in the second round 3-4 defeat at the hands of the Brisbane Roar last Thursday evening.
The Roar’s James ‘iCrispy’ Williams won the Xbox One leg of the fixture 2-1 over Crow, while Ling debuted in the E-League with a 2-2 draw against Dino ‘ol_Mate_’ Flocco.
“I was on holidays last week but I jumped on the stream to give Dane a bit of support and see how it all goes on,” Ling said on missing the opening round.
The FFA are dove-tailing off the success and popularity of the FIFA video game series to help raise the profile of the A-League with a younger audience, and Crow believes it’s a step in the right direction.
“I haven’t been to many A-League games this season, I follow more English Premier League matches overseas,” Crow said. “Now that we’re involved I think we keep up with the results more and that will have a big effect on a lot of the community.”
The E-League's opening night attracted 138,000 viewers on streaming network, Twitch, as well as Fox Sports' website, and the online community appears to have embraced the E-League.
"We were really pleased. You never know what you're going to get, 138,000 people watched part of the show on Twitch and we haven't got the Fox Sports stats yet," FFA's head of commercial, digital and marketing, Luke Bould, said.
The E-League’s inaugural season will run for 7 more rounds, with each team playing each other once before entering into a tournament-style finals series.