Among the rally drivers, wakeboarders, BMXers and triathletes on Red Bull’s UK roster of sponsored athletes, there is something of an anomaly.
20-year-old north London native Ryan Pessoa isn’t your everyday professional sportsperson.
That’s because for the last 16 months, Pessoa has been travelling around the world as a professional FIFA Esports player for one of the biggest names in the scene; Hashtag United.
Known more commonly as “Hashtag Ryan”, the die-hard Arsenal fan has been on a rollercoaster journey from signing for his favourite Esports organisation, to being sponsored by Red Bull and coming agonisingly close to qualifying for the FIFA 18 eWorld Cup Final.
Ahead of his first tournament on the competitive calendar, the FUT Champions Cup in Bucharest, GiveMeSport spoke to Ryan about all things FIFA 19 and his goals for the season ahead.
Take us back to the start of your journey with Hashtag United. What was the transition from FIFA fan to FIFA pro like?
“It was a bit surreal to be honest, I’d never intended to become a professional FIFA player it kind of just happened! I used to watch Spencer Owen and Hashtag United all the time before signing with them so when they approached me it was just so surreal and hopefully, I can repay the faith they've shown in me.”
They’ve now both moved on from Hashtag, but what did you learn last season from Hashtag Agge and Hashtag Boras as they are both seasoned FIFA players?
“Oh, I learnt so much from them because they’re, like, FIFA veterans. They’ve been competing for years and have won so many different titles between them.
"The style of FIFA I used to play wasn’t really defensive and on reflection, it wasn’t smart because I’d always just go for goal rather than keep the ball when I needed to. Playing alongside them and learning from their gameplay kind of highlighted my weaknesses in my game and has made me improve as a player.”
You’ve qualified for the first FUT Champions Cup of the season in Bucharest, what are your expectations going into that tournament with so many big names also qualifying?
“I feel like with the first cup of the season it takes a bit of getting used to the LAN experience again. I personally don’t see any favourites for the first cup as anything can happen. I’m really aiming to win it and go and win everything I’m part of this season.
"I think I’m now past the 'settling in' and 'getting used to it' period of being a pro and I now think I’m good enough to win titles. I think experience at events last season helped me and I’m ready to compete at the highest level.
"I’ve got some key players in my squad now like the icons Ruud Gullit, Patrick Vieira, Rio Ferdinand and Ronaldo so the team's looking really strong. I’m feeling really prepared and I don’t think my side has any weak points.”
What are your thoughts on the ePremier League that was announced last month?
“Other nations have had their own Eleagues for a little while like Germany (eBundesliga) and France (eLigue 1) so it’s great that we have it now in the UK.
"The whole concept hasn’t been entirely explained just yet, it’s not entirely clear how to qualify for each Premier League team but however it’s done it’ll be difficult. I’m hoping I’ll be able to get in with my club, Arsenal, and it hopefully won’t clash with my Hashtag United contract, but at the end of the day, I believe I’m good enough to compete for any of the Premier League teams.
"I feel like this is a huge year for FIFA Esports and with the Premier League getting involved too it is only going to increase the viewership and popularity.”
What would you say to those outside of esports to get them to give it a watch and start following the action?
“From my own perspective, I’m a huge Arsenal fan and I love watching and supporting my club and that’s the same in Esports. You can follow an esports organisation and kind of get to know the players and follow their route to qualifying for big events or even becoming a champion one day.”
The FUT Champions Cup in Bucharest will take place November 30th-December 2nd.