AS Roma’s FIFA manager tells us what it’s like to be the Jose Mourinho of esports
Brought to you by Gfinity Elite Series.
What is it like to be a manager of a FIFA team? And we don’t mean you’re Ultimate Team – we mean being in charge of a squad of pro FIFA players. Kansas-born Colin Johnson is the manager of AS Roma’s FIFA side. Not just that, he also handles the FIFA, Rocket League and Street Fighter teams for esport organization Fnatic, and he told us the realities of getting a load of talented adolescents into shape to take on the world.
Colin’s Fnatic Rocket League, Street Fighter and FIFA teams recently took part in the Gfinity Elite Series Season 3 where his FIFA side stole the show in the finale to be crowned champions.
So how on Earth does someone become manager of a FIFA pro team?
I was a university student in America, and then I realized I hated what I was studying. I decided to leave university to work in esports. At first I was helping a couple of tournament organizers run FIFA events and I met pretty much every pro in the community. So I became an agent for a while. I was emailing hundreds and hundreds of football clubs, basically saying "If you guys are interested, I can help you get into FIFA". And through that, AS Roma actually responded.
Were you always a football fan?
I grew up in Kansas and I was always interested in soccer. I played from when I was like five years old. At first I kind of wanted to be a journalist. There's actually a third division soccer team in my town [Wichita FC], and I ended up following them all across Kansas and Oklahoma. It was really cool experience and through that I got the slightest glimpse into what it is like to be involved with a football club.
I guess my whole situation is kind of remarkable in a way, right? I mean three or four years ago, I was eating at Freddy's Frozen Custard in Kansas, and now I'm living in London and meeting Andrea Pirlo and Francesco Totti.
So what does a FIFA manager actually do? Are you the Jose Mourinho of esports?
It's actually funny because when I was an agent, I wanted to be the Jorge Mendes of FIFA! With traditional football managers, it's more so about trying to get the best of the players, because at the end of the day, all you can do is put them in the best position to succeed - Mourinho can't go out there and, like, move the players. And putting players in the best position to succeed, that's 100% like my job - so that the only thing they have to worry about is playing the game. Whether it's logistical, day-to-day, chatting with the guys about family issues or problems they're having at home. Or anything they need like controllers or more FIFA points, or any of that kind of stuff. It’s travelling with the players, making sure that they're fed, that they go to bed at a reasonable hour and get up at the correct times. I love my job, but it's definitely like it's a wide range of responsibilities that you’re responsible for.
What sort of things do you do with them to give them a proper adolescence?
So I think it's about kind of encouraging them to not always just stay in the house. For example , with a player we have living here right now in London, on my day off we went to Thorpe Park just for the day, just to get away from it all for a bit.
Pushing them to work out is another thing that we think is pretty important. We pay for their gym memberships. They are sitting in front of a screen for quite a few hours a day, so being able to get a house and do that kind of stuff is important as well.
Going back to before you joined Roma, and were approaching clubs unsolicited, what sort of responses were you getting? Did you have to convince them that having a pro FIFA team was worth it?
So this was 18 to 24 months ago, just before the big wave of competitive FIFA. I probably emailed between four and five hundred different clubs throughout that three to six month period. And the general response was, uh, nothing! But when we would get responses, it would [usually be] "We're already looking into this ourselves". I think some clubs have found that that ended up working out, and some of them found out that... that didn't work out very well. I think kind of general education level [about FIFA] was pretty low.
How did you pitch it to those that did respond?
I genuinely believed in kind of the long-term future of the scene. When it comes to esports, FIFA is definitely one of the easiest to understand right? It's football. You turn on the TV you see FIFA; you turn on the TV, you see football - It's the same exact thing. I'm sure that, you know, Jordan Henderson can't score a scorpion kick from outside the box, but outside of those like random moments, it's pretty easy to understand. I kept pushing that point and basically saying this has the potential to be massive. And of course, three months later after that, EA came out with the FUT Champions $1 million prize pool, etc, etc.
Finally, do you think Pro Evolution Soccer could ever overtake FIFA as the main football esport?
No, not really. Here's the thing. Everyone likes to talk about Pro Evo, and how it used to be so great. And I'm sure it was great back then, but the problem is that it just seems like it's so far behind, you know? And it seems like Pro Evo is more used as a threat by FIFA players, to like improve the game, than it is as like a legitimate alternative! People will be like "Oh, we're all just going to go play Pro Evo if you keep doing this or that!" - but are you really though!? You've still got your FIFA account which you invested two grand into this year. I highly doubt you're going to go over to Pro Evo.
Watch all of the action from the Gfinity Elite Series Season 3 by visiting the Gfinity esport stream or on Facebook. Fancy yourself as an esports pro? Keep an eye out for the Gfinity Challenger Series later this year for your chance to play on the stage amongst the world’s leading esports pros for Season 4 as part of a professional team!