FOR A LOT of youngsters these days, becoming a professional footballer isn’t their dream – playing FIFA for a living is.
For David Bytheway that fantasy is a reality after he was signed up to become the first British official eSports star to join a top level club.
The 23-year-old eats, sleeps and trains like any other sportsman, competing against the elite for hundreds-of-thousands-of-pounds.
He now travels around the world, facing the best players on the planet, across America and Europe, representing their unique brand.
Bytheway said: “I never started playing FIFA in the hope of doing what I have done today, travelling the world and playing in these tournaments.
“It just sort of happened. I wasn’t intending to get into it, but I’m grateful I did and it’s really benefited me.
“There is a genuine market here. eSports isn’t just a buzzword, it’s a real thing.”
The youngster was picked-up by the Bundesliga side after coming second in the FIFA Interactive World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2014.
A German-based agency called STARK saw his achievements and signed him, before Wolfsburg got in touch to make a swoop on a deal worth tens-of-thousands a year.
He now travels to Germany on a regular basis, and is treated like any of the multi-millionaire footballers, with special hospitality treatment and plush matchday tickets.
Bytheway added: “They are really good. They treat us like we’re actually players of the club. We’ll always get taken around by their representatives through their back rooms and stuff.
“I’ve worked with the players closely. The club have a football museum and on the one-year anniversary I was sat there signing autographs with Andre Schurrle nd Max Arnold.
“It was just the three of us signing autographs. They are all really friendly and we get treated like actual players. We get hospitality and tickets. We’re treated so well.”
While the world of eSports might seem like nonsense to some, it is one of the fastest growing sports in the world worth a staggering £700m.
And Bytheway expects there to even be an Olympics-style tournament in the near future as the industry’s popularity increases.
He said: “I think there could be a World Cup for eSports. Football clubs in general are losing their younger audience because of ticket prices.
“YouTubers are now becoming bigger than TV. You’ll see young kids with idols on YouTube instead of Steven Gerrard.
“In three to four years time, I can see FIFA selling out a stadium for people to watch. I see that as a reality.”
With a grueling training regime spanning hours of gameplay, it isn’t easy at the top, and just as hard to stay there.
And with professional gamers retiring at the tender age of just 23, Bytheway knows it’s hard to keep at a competitive level.
But with huge transfer fees for eSports stars the norm, and mega-contracts handed out to the big players, he believes he has a long time left at the top.
The avid gamer said: “I think the thing is the career span of players is going to increase now players can earn a full-time living from it.
“In the past players weren’t able to earn the same money from gaming as if they just had a normal job which is why at the age of 23 they’d be pushed.
“I’ve always said along the way I see eSports as an industry that I want to stick within whether that’s playing the game or working in.
“In terms of playing I’d like to continue for as long as possible. For me, when the fun stops, I’ll stop. Working with EA Sports would be a target of mine.”
DAVE’S ADVICE TO BECOME PRO FIFA PLAYER
“It’s easier now than it’s ever been. I stumbled into it without even knowing, but now even in the game you can see you can qualify for live events.
“You’ve got to put the time in. People want to get good but aren’t putting the time in or when they start losing or have a rough patch, they just quit.
“It’s really through those moments you learn from your mistakes. You just have to put it right and learn from your loses.”
But his success was just an accident, and he fell into the virtual world after discovering his talent while beating school pals on the PlayStation.
He said: “I started playing my mates and I had one friend who I’d play a lot who would beat me at the start but as we gradually played more I beat him all the time.
“I started playing online more and gradually going through the divisions, and I decided I wanted something more challenging.
“I started looking online for leagues and found one with hundreds of people. In one of my first games I matched with the guy who was first in the ladder and ended up beating him.
“It was at that moment I started thinking that I was maybe good at this game, that was what got me into the world of eSports.”
He added: “The fact we have football clubs involved now and big companies like Turtle Beach, it just shows how far we’re progressing, it’s huge.
“It’s a great sign of things to come. I have been playing FIFA for seven-years and I’ve seen it peak and drop.
“This time last year it was at its lowest point in its status within eSports, but now it’s growing with Turtle Beach, and it’s amazing for the scene.
“It’s good for the players to see that companies are getting involved. From a personal point of view it’s great, it’s absolutely massive. It’s an exciting project.”
DaveBTW was speaking at the announcement of Turtle Beach’s partnership with VfL Wolfsburg eSports