For most people, football gaming is a recreational activity, but that is far from the case for VFL Wolfsburg’s David Bytheway.
The 23-year-old is widely considered as one of the best Fifa players in the world, and his reputation has only continued to grow since signing for the Bundesliga outfit earlier this year.
Bytheway is very proud to be the first British gamer to be snapped up by a professional football club.
“It would feel amazing at any point [to represent a huge football club as a gamer], but to be the first British gamer to be signed to a club is a massive achievement,” expresses Bytheway.
“There can only ever be one person who is the first. I just want to repay the faith they have in me with tournament wins.”
The recruitment of elite-level gamers by football clubs is a relatively new development, and Bytheway admits he didn’t set out to become a professional.
“I got into professional gaming purely by chance,” he reveals.
“I was playing Fifa and only wanted to beat my friends, no other goal. When I got to that stage, I wanted to play better people so starting looking for online leagues.
“That is where I started playing some of the best players in the country and where I was first introduced to e-sports [also known as electronic ports]. I have been doing this for the past seven years.”
In that time, Bytheway has had his console highs and lows.
“My high is definitely finishing second at the Interactive World Cup in 2014. It is our world championships and felt amazing. It was also my 21st birthday the same day.
“The lowest was probably recently in a YouTube tournament with other football clubs,” he confesses.
“I lost three out of four games. It was within the first week of Fifa 17 [being released] and I had barely played it, which is my reason. But it was still an awful feeling.”
Bytheway is aiming to eradicate that feeling with some stellar performances for Wolfsburg, but how did the link-up come about?
“I was lucky enough to be a part of the Stark Talent agency who have the relationship with Wolfsburg, and I’m grateful for the opportunity they have given me,” he said.
“I think we are very close to a number of clubs announcing back-to-back that they have entered the scene”
And while there may be pressure attached to being an official Fifa player, there are also many perks.
“I often go to the games, which is great,” reveals Bytheway, who is currently working in marketing in central London.
“I also get treated just like one of their squad players with behind the scenes access and I have met quite a few of the first team.”
What advice does he have for anyone who plays Fifa for fun but thinks they could take it to another level?
“With friends, everyone wants to win but losing isn’t the worst thing ever. But when you are known for being one of the best, the pressure just doubles.
“When you are in a competitive game, you have to be one hundred percent focused one hundred percent of the time.
“One bad player switch, one wrong pass, one wrong skill move and you can lose the game.
Bytheway thinks other opportunities like the one he took are in the pipeline, with West Ham recruiting at least one official Fifa player and other Premier League clubs set to follow suit.
“I think we are very close to a number of clubs announcing back-to-back that they have entered the scene,” he said.
It’s a great opportunity for them to enter a new growing market and would be stupid of them not to at least consider it.”
Sport or not?
Despite the rise of e-sports and its growing recognition as a sport, many still refuse to accept it as such.
But Bytheway rejects any notion that competitive video gaming cannot be mentioned in the same breath as chess or snooker, for example.
“In my experience, it’s more of the older generation who refuse to accept it as a sport, and I can see why they don’t like it,” he said.
“It starts off with people just playing games in their bedroom, but the difference is massive,” he emphasises.
“When I play, I’m playing with the best players in the world.
“I compare it with playing football in the park and Barcelona playing in Champions League. It’s the same sport but different levels.
“They struggle to accept it as a sport because there’s no physical input, but that’s because it’s a mental sport.
“There are many sports with minimum physical input. Chess, snooker and many others. e-sports is just as much of a sport as they are.”