If the FIFA eWorld Cup 2018 offers nothing else, it’s nail-biting tension.
For all the activity and eye-watering athleticism of recent events at the O2 Arena, there’s something unmistakably suspenseful about – on its surface – the venue’s most unique event.
Players rarely rise from their seats, move little but their thumbs and compete in a virtual world, yet it boasts all the hallmarks of top-level competition.
That being said, it’s not just tension that FIFA 18’s flagship event has to offer.
Although the mechanics that decide winners from losers are accumulated in pixels, the delicate twitches of the controllers suck the real-life spectators and belligerents directly into the narrative before them.
The biggest FIFA eWorld Cup yet
Of course, for many, eSports is a new world and entering the competition area, there is a disarming seriousness about the events unfolding.
There are coaches mulling over tactics, gamers luring their minds into strict focus and passionate supporters fidgeting away as games play out in their presence.
Players walk around in club uniform with Manchester City gamers passing you in the corridor clad in the same attire you’d expect from Sergio Aguero at the Etihad Stadium on match day.
Lose yourself in the O2 for too long and you’ll have Werder Bremen, Bayer Leverkusen and Lille badges on your mind without thinking.
And when the spotlights descend on the players, attentions turn to not only the FIFA 18 match before them but the behaviour of the players behind them.
Some gamers leave their seats glazed in the sweat of in-game worries, others mouth wide open with excitement and some swaying between the focus of an elite mentality and nagging perturbations.
Players are media trained and equipped with translators as they reflect on each game through an alley of advertising backgrounds.
New levels of competition and professionalism
The multitude of languages heard throughout the venue reiterates how much of an international affair the tournament really is and that FIFA's 'couch to champion' journey can often span thousands of miles.
Stepping out before Wembley Stadium or the Nou Camp certainly inspires more awe and sense of size, but even the O2 swells in scale when the focus is narrowed to such an acute site of action.
Anybody entering the arena in anticipation of trivial button pressing and pure idleness, didn’t get the memo.
The whole event is an operation. From the caterers hurriedly preparing meals behind the scenes to DJs puppeteering atmosphere during intervals and media scurrying for interviews, the competition has confidently departed from its humble beginnings.
For anybody in doubt about the scale of the event, any skepticism could be swiftly dispelled upon the turn of Saturday when the final itself approached.
The once empty seats of the O2 Arena quickly became abuzz with supporters as if transforming the half-circle stadium into gaming's answer to the Coliseum.
Fans gather for the Grand Final
No less than 3,000 fans took their seats to watch FIFA 18's four finest players battle it out to become world champion, regardless of whether their attendance was born from impassioned support or pure curiosity.
The all-round suspense suggests the former made up the majority and the latter were swiftly invested in the action, not to mention the roars amongst certain sections matching that of the players themselves.
Footballers have long documented the unrivalled ecstasy of scoring a goal and you’d mistake certain gamers for coming close to that feeling.
Passing by the laptop screens of the media area and the tension is often ruptured by partisan cheers from a corner of the stadium, as Cristiano Ronaldo’s digital counterpart celebrates his latest strike.
Commentators provide a constant backing of updates, rising and dipping in tone as the game unfolds and journalists peer up from typing with a new score-line prompting major permutations.
Players are heard noting they need to organise their eating schedule as others shuffle off in the direction of anti-doping tests.
High stakes for players
It’s only a video game, though, right? Well, the growth of the tournament certainly applies more pressure on the gamers than a mere ‘single match’ with every other interview reiterating the potentially life-changing prize of £190,000.
Not only that but with every qualified player rising from a crowd of 20 million hopefuls, arriving on the south bank of London is a conquest in itself.
Therefore, as the rounds progress, the tension dial is gradually turned to 10 as each and every goal sees one ear roused with celebration and the other catching sounds of anguish.
After all, the prize money and opportunities edge close and closer as fewer players stand between them and the constantly lit trophy.
For those who have played FIFA in their bedrooms at a younger age or amongst friends in teenage days gone past, it’s perhaps strange to see that same pastime knocking on the door of mainstream sport with big money and whole new levels of professionalism.
Yet its astronomic rise suggests greater publicity will spark a wide-spread acknowledgement in years to come.
Say what you like about eSports and FIFA flirting with its own reserved seat in the sporting theatre, but even the harshest critic is seduced when they see the competition live.
Who do you think will win 2018 FIFA eWorld Cup? Have your say in the comments section below.