’With the official FIFA19 launch just weeks away, Stel Stylianou talks to Asia’s best Gamer, NFG eSports star Hibidi.’
A SUPERSTAR NAME FOR THE WORLD'S STAGE
Encore is my favourite Eminem album. When I entered my first competition, 12 years ago, I based my name on the lyrics from his single “Big Weenie” and it stuck.
FROM CORPORATE BANKER TO FULL TIME GAMER
Initially people said ‘This guy is crazy’, but banking isn’t as lucrative as previously. Forget the fantasy of The Wolf of Wall Street; real banking is full of compliance regulations. Esports is a brand new phenomenon and analysts and economists are revising their estimates of the industry upwards every year. It’ll be a $2bn industry by 2020, so the number side was right for me. In 2016, I made roughly the same amount of money from FIFA gaming competitions as I did as a corporate banker.
MY CONSERVATIVE BANKING FATHER KNEW THE FIGURES ADDED UP
I subtly prepared them for a year before I announced anything. My team (Team Singapore) finished 3rd in the biggest FIFA online tournament, and I realised that, actually, yes, I was good enough to compete with the best part-time. I was making $20,000 in one weekend simply by flicking my thumbs, so why not compete full-time and try to become the World Champion. My father, as an ex-banker, was very supportive because he knew the numbers made sense. He’s always guided me and knew this was more wholesome than what other teens were doing – going out, drinking, drugs, partying etc. I quickly received a lot of press and he just knew… he was on board.
‘Only 2% of gamers are professionals, so if you want to be viewed as one of the best in the world, you have to take criticism.’
ON CRITICISM FROM GAMING FANS
As a pro-gamer, it’s all about winning as many games as you can; that’s our job. Unfortunately, there are many ‘fans’ who enjoy criticising us, and with social media that’s amplified 1million fold. If you’re not strong enough to deal with the trolling, you’ll go mad. We’re in a very privileged position – enough to interact with such large numbers of fans just by doing what we love – but that’s that thing I dislike most about it all.
‘Definitely. It swings both ways though. Christian Fuchs was very complimentary about you when announcing your signature.’ Yes, what he said to the media was very nice. I didn’t expect him to talk about me in that way. I come from a region with less qualifying slots than Europe, so for him to say these things proves that he’s growing NFG to a global branding scale, with a world view that matches my ambitions.
ON MOVING TO THE NFG
In the final months of my contract with the previous team, they promised a lot but didn’t deliver. During that time, Trev from Sportego tweeted about a new eSports team that was being backed by a Premier League footballer. I sent him a video of my celebrations and he replied, saying Christian Fuchs would like to talk to me. It was exciting; I know I wanted to get on board. NFG fits my branding because I want to bring entertainment to my fans and the industry, and after one chat, we decided to work together. In terms of professionalism, NFG has really opened my eyes as to how things should be done in eSports.
The minimum is to qualify for the first event of the season. Immediately after signing for NFG I won 5 games out of 5 in the Asian FIFA division, but I want to dominate in both divisions. I haven’t competed in Europe before so it’s a great opportunity. Trev and Ben (from NFG) will also be there. They’ve done a lot of good work for the European eSports scene and I’ve wanted to meet them for a while so I can’t wait. The first event is in January, with the aim being a top 8 finish. I’ve read reviews of FIFA19 and the game suits my high pressing and dynamic style. Bring on the FIWC and let’s win that lovely trophy.
ON BEING THE FIRST SINGAPOREAN TO QUALIFY FOR THE FUT CHAMPIONSHIP…
There’s been so much support from my home region. They’ve watched me compete in the FIFA Online division and know that I want to bring eSports to the Far East. The February qualifiers were tough; I’ve never had to play consistently constantly for 1 month before. I don’t even realise how tough it would be until Week 2. Week 3 was very stressful – my account had been hacked and I had to really stay focused and win many games in a short space of time. After that, everything took care of itself. It’s probably how Trev and Christian noticed me.
ON FIFA 18
There was no skill gap on FIFA18. It was the most frustrating year in my 12 years as a competitive FIFA player. I’m one of the best defensive players in the world; I use a lot of manual defending and in FIFA18 they narrowed the skill gap so it was easier for casual players to play the game. I understand EA have to sell games and cater to the masses, but the game needs to have a skill gap if it is to be considered an eSports game.
ON FIFA 19
Attacking-wise I’m a more structured player. I prefer slower passes – something FIFA18 got wrong – because it widens the skill gap; you have to put some thought into your attacking. It helps people who can read the game. If the passes are slower then my players move faster in relation to the ball, meaning that I can control the play. From what I’ve seen, the game suits my style.