Interview: The Southampton FC ePremier League FIFA players who left football behind for the virtual game

Esports News UK editor Dom Sacco sits down with Southampton FC ePremier League players Owen Venn and Reece Rusher ahead of the ePL finals.

 

Owen Venn interview: 'I broke my leg the same time I found out about esports'

FIFA might be full of British talent, but for every Gorilla, Tass and Tekkz, there are a dozen other hopeful players and rising stars looking to make a name for themselves. For 21-year-old Owen Venn, his story his more unique.

After breaking his leg, he couldn't return to real football, so turned to the video game instead. He quit university a year ago to try to make esports his full-time job, and after playing for Method in the Gfinity Elite Series, he's now qualified for the ePremier League finals, where he will be representing Southampton FC. 

We ask Owen about his ambitions and thoughts going into the finals.

 

Please tell us a bit about yourself, your background and how you got into FIFA and esports.

I'm a 21-year-old professional FIFA player who has been doing this for a year now after leaving uni to pursue esports as a full-time career.

So I have been playing video games from a very young age, starting from playing on the Game Boy to then adventuring into console video games, thanks to my older brother Ryan who introduced me to games such as Call Of Duty and the idea of playing online.

I always used to play the old-school FIFA games on my PSP where I would play the career mode, but once I discovered online FIFA I instantly fell in love with it. As I got older and the more I played, I found out about esports back in 2014 through Call Of Duty.

When EA decided to back FIFA esports and we saw the prize pools increase, with more events being held, I decided to give FIFA a real go on FIFA 18. I wasn't enjoying university and it was always a dream to have a career in gaming in some sort of way, so this was the step I took. At the start, balancing uni and FIFA was hard - then decided to drop out of university in January 2018 and haven't looked back since.

 

 

"I'm very confident going into the ePremier League finals. I believe in my ability, having just qualified for the eChampions League last weekend."

 

 

Before you broke your leg, what kind of trajectory did you foresee for your career? Did you ever think you'd get involved with pro gaming back then?

I actually broke my leg the same time I found out about esports, so it sort of went hand in hand.

I first started to look into competitive Call Of Duty, but didn't really take it too serious. I just used that time to find out what the competitive gaming experience was like and how much it relates to my competitive nature in sports, such as football and going to the gym, where I found that wanting to better yourself was a common theme.

So maybe if I didn't break my leg I wouldn't have had that experience, but I always felt my path in video games was going to end with me having a job in the industry in some sort of way.

Ironically, one week after breaking my leg (and not knowing how to use the crutches at all), I decided to travel to London by train to watch a Call Of Duty event being held by Gfinity.

 

Speaking of Gfinity, they're the tournament operator of the ePremier League. What are your thoughts on this tournament? How do you think it can grow in the future?

For me I feel that the ePremier League is one of the biggest things to happen in the FIFA scene. Finally, I feel we can relate what we do to the real world - and people are understanding the relation FIFA esports has to real football.

With the backing of football clubs, it will only help the scene grow, as it will hopefully see some football fans become FIFA esports fans in the near future. I think it will grow year by year, because the ePremier League will learn something new each year and improve.

 

 

"I feel that the ePremier League is one of the biggest things to happen in the FIFA scene. People are understanding the relation FIFA esports has to real football."

 

 

How do you think you'll do in the finals?

I'm very confident going into the finals. I believe in my ability, having just qualified for the eChampions League last weekend.

I'm very sure of my ability but I have to take it game by game and adapt to whatever situation I get myself into. But I plan on getting far.

 

What are your longer-term aims and ambitions in esports?

My plans are to win an event and really get my name out there as a household name.

I want to be the best in the world but I also want to build a fanbase where I can connect with my fans, help them improve and take them on my journey to becoming the best.

 

Thanks Owen, is there anything else you'd like to add?

Check out my YouTube (Method Venny) where I upload my FUT Champions rewards, gameplay and more, and my Twitter, here.

 

Reece Rusher interview: 'On Saturdays I would train with Luke Shaw and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain'

22-year-old Reece Rusher played for Southampton's academy from an early age, alongside current first team players, and is now representing the club in FIFA.

We ask him about the transition and what's next.

 

Please tell us a bit about yourself, your background and how you got into FIFA and esports.

I was a very good footballer from a young age and I also loved playing Xbox. My strength in football and loving gaming translated into being a successful FIFA player. I first started playing with friends and family, but when FIFA 16 came out I got into the competitive side of gaming, first with playing for money, and then with the pro scene - starting with playing friendly matches against pro players, then joining an esports team.

Now I'm here I am - playing for Southampton in the ePL.

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You played for Southampton Academy at a young age. What was that like, what made you switch from football to pro gaming and how did you manage to represent Southampton in FIFA?

I played for Southampton's academy from six years old and I was released on my 14th birthday. Playing for a top club meant that I've always had a pro mindset from an early age.

At Southampton, the setup was very professional in things like how you ate and how much you slept, and I took that outlook into both everyday life and FIFA. As I was part of the Southampton Academy from a young age, as soon as I saw the ePremier League on social media, I thought it would be really cool to graduate from the academy to playing for Southampton in the ePL.

I have had a season ticket for 10 years at St Mary's, Southampton's home ground. Playing for the team I support has always been a dream and now it is my reality. In my age group at Southampton, I played with Jake Hesketh and Jason McCarthy who made the first team, along with others who have gone on to other pro clubs.

On Saturdays I would train with James Ward-Prowse and Luke Shaw and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who are now England players, plus I was managed by Mark Chamberlain, Alex's dad. Now I get to play for Southampton too.

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"I played for Southampton's academy from six years old and I was released on my 14th birthday. Playing for a top club meant that I've always had a pro mindset from an early age."

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What are your thoughts on the ePremier League? How do you think it can grow in the future?

The first tournament is crucial to determining how the ePremier League will grow. How it is organised is very important. Pro FIFA players are a close community and how professionally the tournament is run will really matter to the players.

A prize pool would make more players consider it and give it more attention. In terms of new ideas for the competition, 2v2 would be interesting to develop. You could combine a team's Xbox and PS4 combined scores to determine an overall winner and make it more of a team event, with a single Premier League team as the winner.

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How do you think you'll do in the finals?

I'm a very confident lad and I don't crack under pressure. I at least want to get through the group stages and I think I'll get past them, but I'd love to reach the final.

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"A prize pool for the ePremier League would make more players consider it and give it more attention."

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What are your aims and ambitions in esports longer-term?

My main focus is FIFA, although I am also good at COD and Fortnite. I'm part of a FIFA esports team already, but I would love become a real name on the scene and get a big contract at a club.

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Is there anything else you'd like to add about the tournament, yourself, or esports or FIFA in general?

How I get along so well with my Southampton teammate. A year ago I missed out on a tournament quarter final by one goal. For one month afterwards, I practiced against the other Southampton player, Owen Venn.

We're now really good friends and it's great to have that friendship while both playing for the team.

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The ePremier League finals take place this week from March 28th to 29th.

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