‘I would love to play against Messi on PlayStation’
Ivan Churov, one of Bulgaria’s top esports players, on virtual football’s rise and why FIFA 16 is the all-time best
Let’s start with the million dollar question: proper sport or pure entertainment – which category do esports more fit into? And do you think they’ll make the Olympic Games agenda?
To me esports are a form of entertainment, above all. At least that’s how it all started for every professional player – as a hobby and a way of having some fun. Slowly, esports are turning into a sport, though – the same way some people consider chess a sports discipline, for example. Having said that, I have no intention of comparing chess to playing FIFA, but the concept is the same – it’s not a sport that requires a physical effort, yet it’s extremely stressful and it demands more and more training sessions and mental preparations. In my opinion in a few years’ time there’ll be eOlympic Games – that’s my way of answering your question whether esports will become a part of the traditional Olympics.
As the story goes, you started playing FIFA thanks to your brother – he had the first game console you were learning on. Be honest, what was your parents’ initial reaction to your new passion? And what would you tell all the parents out there who’re afraid their children are wasting their time by playing electronic games?
Yes, my brother and his old computer opened the doors for me to FIFA 2002. My parents were always aware of the fact I was very much into football. Let’s say that’s a more modern version of my passion for the game. In the beginning, they also thought I was wasting my time, but once I started participating in various tournaments in Bulgaria, they suddenly realised it was more than a pure hobby. And then I managed to make a name for myself on the international stage which was the truly turning point. Of course, one should be able to be in control of their time while playing. Luckily, I’m capable of knowing when to stop.
As for the parents out there whose children like playing games – I would tell them it’s not a waste of time (given that this is not a 24/7 activity their kids are obsessed with, of course). Not only is playing games a way of enjoying some time off, but it’s also a nice brain exercise. And last but not least – it’s a new form of online socialising.
Where does your Night Watch nickname come from?
To be honest, I don’t really remember, but one thing I can say for sure is that it’s not inspired by Game of Thrones!
How many hours have you played the most? And how often do you train nowadays?
My longest sessions? It has to be the moments a new edition of the game has just been released – then you need to learn all the new tricks as soon as possible. In this case I could play up to 13-14 hours, but again – that’s a huge exception to the rule! As of now, I’m playing 1-2 hours on a daily basis – sometimes maybe a bit more – it all depends on my studies.
Which one is your all-time favourite FIFA and why?
FIFA 16! The reason is that this edition used to draw a clear line between the good players and the best ones. Strange as it may sound, I’ve been more successful playing later versions. Yet, it’s down to my mental toughness rather than the quality of the game itself.
There was a time when you used to be part of Manchester City’s esports team. We’re completely aware of the fact you didn’t get any guidelines from Pep Guardiola (and thank God – sometimes they could be way too exhaustive!), but what was the closest you got to the Manchester City brand?
I was part of City’s division which was partnering with Epsilon that allowed me to participate in a Gfinity tournament in London. And since the event was in London where I was travelling to in the space of a few weeks/months, I didn’t get a proper chance to get a taste of the City brand – apart from a matchday shirt. 😃
Football powerhouses like Real Madrid are really cautious when it comes to building their own esports team. The reason is they’re afraid of what the consequences might be if things didn’t go particularly well with their electronic version. Do you think that sooner or later all the big clubs will jump into that virtual adventure?
I’m sure that in a few years’ time all the big guns will have their own esports divisions, especially when it comes to FIFA (for all the obvious reasons). This is inevitable – one way or another.
Do you consider esports a threat to the real football? With a whole new generation being impatient to stand still and watch a football match throughout the entire 90 minutes, could we get to the point where the virtual version of the game will be more popular than the actual one?
I don’t think the real game is under any threat and I’ll give you two separate reasons. First, all the little boys that are currently growing up still dream of playing football professionally. The love for football always comes first, then you might discover the world of esports. On the other hand, in order to make it as a football player you need to start training at a very early age, whereas with esports you might get into them when you’re 15 or 16 and still become a good player. Popularity-wise, I believe FIFA will never be able to overshadow the real football, but it has the potential to be the most popular esport, for sure!
Leo Messi is obsessed with playing FIFA – would you like to come up against him some day?
Oh, I would love to! 😃
What do you make of the Volta update (a new street football mode) that will form part of FIFA 20?
It’s an interesting feature and it reminds me of FIFA Street a bit. Let’s wait and see what Volta is really like – we’ll get the chance to test it and it certainly has the potential to be something fresh.
Have you ever dreamt of playing football professionally?
I never got the chance to train professionally, although I really wanted to. When I was old enough to enroll myself in an academy, it was already too late for my footballing ambitions. But joke’s on my parents – I switched from the real football to the virtual one – it’s the tech magic of the 21st century!
Right – be absolutely honest about this one – Bulgaria lost to Kosovo a few weeks ago and in moments like these do you heal the pain by playing FIFA with Bulgaria and winning the World Cup, for example…
Honestly… no! On the one hand, the level I’m currently at there are no teams in the classic sense (neither club nor national sides) and that’s why I’m not even considering that. On the other, right now for me there’s no such thing as playing FIFA just for the sake of having fun.
In one of your previous interviews you did say that at the age of 22 you were a bit old for your industry. How long do you plan to continue playing for? And what do you dream of working one day?
If you want to be in Top 5 worldwide, you have to be, more or less, between 16 and 24 years. At least that’s what the recent trends in our esport have been. It’s just like the actual football game – once the players are on the wrong side of their 30s, their decline is inevitable (there are just a few exceptions, of course). As far as my own esports career is concerned, I think I can continue playing a bit longer than the rest, but only time will tell if this will happen.
I would dedicate myself to something related to my studies or I could continue working in the esports field – maybe commenting on matches or assisting in creating the future editions of FIFA!
And, finally, a few really quick ones…
FIFA or Pro Evolution Soccer?
PlayStation or Xbox?
Messi or Ronaldo?
Virtual or real football?