The Evolution of FIFA: From Game to eSport

Ten years ago the concept of betting on a game of FIFA would have seemed alien to the people of Sweden. Now however, whenever there is a big clash or a high-profile tournament, Swedes frantically look for oddset live to either back or bet against their favourite streamers.

In this article we take a look at how a game first released in December 1993 has gone from an iconic title played between friends to a worldwide sensation that fans follow avidly and even bet on.

FIFA’s Birth

In December 1993 millions of fans across the globe queued up to get their hands on Fifa International Soccer. The game which featured David Platt and Piotr Świerczewski on the cover was available on a whole host of consoles but was most popular on the SEGA Mega Drive and SNES.

By today’s standards it was a pretty horrendous game with poor graphics and a lot of glitches, most notably one that allowed players to avoid red cards for horror tackles by simply running away from the referee.

At the time though it was ground-breaking. It used isometric technology instead of 16-bit style which gave the game a more realistic feel to its rivals. It was an important release as it woke developers up to the possibilities of sports titles.

World Cup 98

In 1995 real names and 3D graphics were introduced to the game along with a player and team editor which made the game much more engaging. Two years later Road to the World Cup was released with David Beckham on the cover and the novel addition of the offside rule.

It was World Cup 98 though that became a huge hit with fans as it was the first FIFA game to successfully incorporate a major tournament. Extra features which included 15 historically significant World Cup games were immensely popular with fans too.

Culturally this game was important as it showed the public that FIFA was here to stay as a video game and that the developers were taking improvements seriously.


In the 12 years that followed, FIFA had a difficult time cementing its position as the public’s favourite football video game and much of that was down to their own inaction and mistakes.

The graphics were criticised for being too ‘cartoonish’ and stunts like making the FIFA 2001 disc  ‘smell the pitch – scratch and sniff’ were widely criticised by industry experts. FIFA’s stagnation also opened the door for a rival title and one duly arrived in the form of Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer.

In the noughties PES was the undoubted king of football video games despite not having the naming rights for some of the world’s biggest teams and players. It was at the time considered to be a much more realistic game than FIFA and much more fun to play.

In fact, some have even suggested that if it weren’t for FIFA’s lucrative naming rights during this period that the game would have lost its grip on the market altogether and perhaps even ceased to exist.


In the same year that Eminem raced to the top of the charts with his hit album Recovery, Fifa staged one of their own. In March 2009 Ultimate Team was released, but it wasn’t until the FIFA 2011 game that Ultimate Team really took off.

The online mode that saw players battling it out with squads of players that they had assembled from packs and coins won from games helped to tip the balance of popularity back to FIFA from PES. Over the coming years the gap between both games would widen as the former continued to focus heavily on its online offering.

Cementing eSports

Throughout much of the 2010s there were various high-profile FIFA eSports tournaments and leagues, the most popular of which was perhaps the 2014 FIWC which was held alongside the real World Cup in Brazil.

In 2017 though FIFA began to properly embrace the rise of eSports by staging higher profile tournaments and leagues with bigger prizes than ever before. In that year the cash prizes for the FIWC were raised to a staggering $300,000.

In the years that have followed we have seen individual leagues like Serie A and the Premier League promote their very own eSports leagues.

FIFA’s position as the leading eSports title in the football world is now unquestioned. So much so that PES, after years of stagnation has been forced into becoming a free to play title in one last bid to recapture its previous appeal.

In Summary

FIFA was the first title to successfully bring across the world’s most popular sport to console and is now undoubtedly the biggest sports game on the planet. Its journey from that early release in 1993 to an eSports giant has not been straightforward though.

If in the noughties, PES had managed to secure the naming rights to the world’s top players and teams it would undoubtedly have killed FIFA. It was quite simply a vastly superior game, but it just lacked that authentic edge.

FIFA in a moment of reflection recognised that it couldn’t rival PES for gameplay or tactical detail and instead focused on its online offering. This proved to be monumental as from 2010 onwards FIFA became an online giant and the world’s most revered eSports title.

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