ROTHERHAM United has become the first team in Yorkshire to set up an official FIFA e-sports team.
A team of 16 FIFA players from Rotherham and across the country will represent the club in the Virtual Pro Gaming league — a platform which allows teams of players to play the FIFA video game online competitively.
They will represent the club in the 11v11 format of the game — with each player controlling a virtual player on the pitch from the comfort of their own homes — in a series of regular online fixtures.
Each of the 16 players has signed 100-game contracts with the club which means they can’t play online for any other team.
Rotherham United played their first fixture in the Division League Two South last Monday and they will play three games a week against other virtual teams.
The squad contains four players from Rotherham and others from as far afield as London, Newcastle and Wolverhampton.
Rob Hawden, who has set up the team, recruited a squad of 16 players through a series of trials.
“I saw QPR was the first professional football team to set up an official e-sports team and I thought getting a football club involved was a great idea,” he said.
“I put a proposal together and approached a couple of football teams and Rotherham United really liked the idea.”
The team will be paid through sponsorship, however, that will not earn enough for its players to give up their day jobs.
Fans will be able to follow the fortunes of the team by visiting their social media accounts and watching games live on streaming service Twitch.
Craig Utley (28), of Bosville Street, Dalton, was unveiled as a player at an official signing event at the New York Stadium last week.
Craig said he had played every instalment of FIFA since it was first released in 1993 and had fond memories of playing the early versions on his Sega Megadrive.
“I don’t have all of them because unfortunately I let my mum sell a lot of them at car boot sales,” he said.
“But FIFA is the closest you can get to playing real football without playing it and it the most realistic compared to other games I have played.”
Craig, who supports Rotherham United and Liverpool, said he played FIFA for three or four hours every night and had to juggle his gaming commitments with his day job as a customer service advisor for the Environment Agency.
He also has a partner, Donna, and a six-year-old son — but he said he managed to fit his gaming commitments around spending quality time with his family.
“Prior to signing for Rotherham United E-sports, Donna was a little bit like, ‘Why are you always on that?’
“Now that I have signed for a team, she has not stopped praising me.
“There has been a lot more understanding since signing that there are designated game days and training days.”
Craig said he had played in online leagues before but this would be the most competitive league he had played in.
“It feels excellent to be playing for Rotherham United’s official team,” he said.
“Initially, after trials, I was reassured that I was going to be signed, and after that I was banging the manager’s door down for the next couple of days to ask when it was happening.
“A week or so after that (my name) was on the Virtual Pro Gaming site where the league is based and, once the contract was signed, that was official.
“I couldn’t wait for it to start and I think we’re going to do well.”
Fans can follow the team on social media by visiting https://www.facebook.com/RUFCESPORTS/ or on Twitter @RUFCesports
Anyone interested in playing for the club can email firstname.lastname@example.org
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