Esports showdown in competition to become Vancouver Whitecaps pro gamer

·4 min read

A 2021 contract as the Vancouver Whitecaps' official esports gamer is on the line Friday when Alex (Exraa) Gonzalez takes on Erfan (Skill Shack) Hosseini.

Both are familiar with the job. Gonzalez is the Whitecaps incumbent while Hosseini had the job before him.

Hosseini got his shot at winning the post back via a qualifying tournament to find a challenger for Gonzalez in "The ONe Final presented by Alpha Esports." Hosseini won all six matches en route to the final, the last man standing from some 50 contenders.

"It was a bit sweaty, a bit tough to get through," said the 20-year-old SFU student from Burnaby, B.C. "I played some good opponents."

Gonzalez, whose gaming handle is pronounced X-ray, is under contract with the Whitecaps through the end of the year but the 2021 job is up for grabs. Hosseini knows the vagaries of the position all too well — his contract ran out in 2019.

The good news is MLS clubs are allowed to sign up to three esports players so Friday's loser may still get a look. But the winner will be set for 2021 — and will also pick up a $1,000 Sport Chek gift card.

Gonzalez and Hosseini know all about each other.

"I actually didn't know he signed up (for the tournament) but I think overall from those players he's definitely the best one," said Gonzalez, a 19-year-old native of Regina. "So It's only fitting I play the best player from there."

The two have played against each other before, but never in a tournament setting. Friday's final will be an all-Whitecaps affair with both gamers playing with the home team.

Since leaving the Whitecaps post, Hosseini stepped away from the FIFA video game.

"Last year I didn't really enjoy the game much so I decided to take a bit of a break just to get my head sorted and get my mental capacity back. That time off actually really helped sort a couple of other things out in my life.

"And this year I feel the game suits my play style better, so it was just right to come back and start competing again."

He believes FIFA 21 fits him better because the game is more receptive to the kind of skill moves he likes.

In April, Hosseini teamed up with midfielder Marco Bustos represent Pacific FC in the eCPL Home to Play tournament.

Both Gonzalez and Hosseini will be looking to compete when EA Sports' FIFA tournament season starts in December. MLS' EA Sports FIFA League will feature 27 players in 2021 with Inter Miami and expansion St. Louis City SC joining the fray.

Whoever wins Friday, they will be up against stiff competition on the FIFA circuit. Both say the level of FIFA play in ever-improving.

"Absolutely" said Gonzalez. "The way EA is formatting its events and kind of giving more people a chance to be involved and compete, honestly the number of people who want to take this more seriously and who are good and are willing to put the time in has definitely gone up so much. There's more competition by the year,"

"He's absolutely right," added Hosseini. "There have been new faces every year as the game changes each year and people adapt to it."

Gonzalez was fourth in the standings heading into the US$20,000 eMLS Cup in June where he was beaten in the quarterfinals. He had hoped for better.

Still, with his contract expiring at the end of the year, he had interest from another MLS club and some Mexican teams. He elected to stay with the Whitecaps.

Gonzalez was 18 when he was named the Whitecaps' pro gamer last December after turning heads with top-10 performances at FIFA tournaments in Atlanta and London.

Gonzalez grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico, before moving to Vancouver, at age 12, and then Regina with his family. He started playing the FIFA game in 2008 with his older cousins.

In his first competitive gaming season, Gonzalez finished the FIFA 19 Global Series as the second-highest ranked Canadian and the fourth-highest North American.

Gonzalez spent time as 15-year-old playing in the Whitecaps BMO Saskatchewan Academy Centre, a partnership with FC Regina.

Born in Iran, Hosseini moved to Vancouver when he was eight years old. The first FIFA game he played was FIFA 15. He was just 17 when signed by the Caps in March 2018.

Friday's final is being streamed live at 9 p.m. ET at www.whitecapsfc.com/theonefinal.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 12, 2020

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press