While many try to adapt to the near-lockdown conditions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, gaming competitions have turned out to be a main sources of entertainment. Kurt Aquilina spoke to eFootball Malta National Team players Christian Spiteri and Dunstan Vella about their runners-up finish in the FIFA eNations Stay and Play Friendly Tournament…
The two-man team chosen by the MFA through seeding, sped through the group stages of the tournament, beating Spain 3-2 on aggregate and Portugal 10-4 despite the challenge of stars like Wolves’ Portuguese forward Diogo Jota and Spain’s DjMario.
In the knock-out stages the Maltese duo crushed Schalke 04 winger Rabbi Matondo’s Wales 11-0 in the quarters, hit three past Germany in the semis and were only edged 2-1 by Saudi Arabia in the final.
Malta’s top seed Spiteri highlighted the Saudis prowess, calling them the team to beat, especially after having played with one of their stars, Abdulaziz Alshehri better known as MrDone, in the FIFA eClub World Cup and placing in the top 16 back in February.
While his former team-mate was not the side’s representative this time around, Spiteri fully believes he would have merited a place.
“They could have easily chosen MrDone, but they went for Msdossary – they’re both world champions.”
Hibernians and Malta international midfielder Vella, who played against Jota, DjMario and Matondo told the Sunday Times of Malta he expected the game’s creators to give the tournament a bit more importance considering the players involved.
Asked about the involvement of players from the physical sport into the virtual tournament, he admitted most of them are crazy about the game and deserve a place in tournaments like this.
“I thought EA would give it more importance. I say this because I know there was a tournament prior to this one which was given much more exposure,” Vella explained.
“(Jota) looks like he’s a FIFA addict and he’s got a win percentage of 67% which is great.”
The Portuguese forward has been particularly active online and on Saturday won the English Premier League invitational virtual tournament.
Spiteri, a professional gamer ranked 37 in the official world rankings, echoed this despite emphasising that star players’ involvement was mainly to raise awareness about the tournament, especially because the players may have less time to practice due to their other commitments.
Spiteri, who represents Sta Lucia in the Malta BOV ePremier League, had words of praise for his compatriot, especially after his win against DjMario, who boasts having more than six million subscribers who follow his non-stop
“Spain had a very good advantage with DjMario so it was a great result for Dunstan to win against him,” he remarked.
On his part, Spiteri drew to Spanish four-time champion Jaime ‘Gravesen_1’ Alvarez and beat Portugal’s Diogo Mendes, ranked fourth worldwide and a part of Sporting Lisbon’s eFootball team.
While this is the most recent effort for Maltese sport going online, Vella explained that the trend is continuously growing.
“In the last few years eSports has started being taken seriously and events are being organised even in Malta – It’s sparking more interest,” he said.
“I think the mentality of esports being a waste of time is wrong and that’s maybe the reason it’s been kept back for so long. Now we hear about courses and famous players taking part and even creating their own teams. I think that helps.”
Spiteri expressed his satisfaction in the way eSports is being taken on by the MFA for its national team.
“Games like (Stay and Play tournament) are still competitive because of the pride we show when representing our country,” he said.
“It is a dream of every player to be given the opportunity to represent your country in doing something you enjoy.
“At the moment, virtual sport is being used mostly to substitute physical sport but after the (covid-19) virus, I’m sure competitions will continue.”
The pair usually compete against each other in the Malta virtual league, but this has also been halted due to the pandemic. The league, which serves as qualifier for the Global Series event, announced in March it would be taking a break with a date for continuation not defined yet.
Vella, who represents the Paola club both on the pitch and online, lamented that the “situation we’re in is unfortunately one we can’t control because we don’t know what’s going to happen and when we can start again”.
He aired his frustration to the fact that like every other athlete, the pandemic has stopped him from enjoying his passion.
“I’ve been training in the way that I can but it’s different than training with the team,” he explained.
“In terms of eSports, honestly it doesn’t affect me as much because there are only a few matches left and we can finish them much quicker than football matches taking place on the pitch.
“Realistically, there are a lot of differences between playing on the pitch and online. On the Playstation it’s much easier to get a result but on the pitch it feels better.”
While physical football is already different than virtual, the pair also described the difference between the two main football games Fifa and Pro Evolution Soccer (PES).
This is the second eSports national team event taking place in the space of two months, and while the Stay and Play tournament took place on Fifa, the Malta side also took their chances in the EURO 2020 qualifiers in March which took place on PES. Back then it was Spiteri and Valletta FC representative Gianluca Sant who had taken part.
“It makes a lot of difference. We both play Fifa the most and that’s where we normally compete. Even though the sport is the same, the mechanics are different and both games are far off from one another,” Spiteri explained.