By Dustin Yarde
AIFF Media Team
NEW DELHI: While Indian Football has been making its presence felt across the continent, our eTigers are now gearing up to leave their mark in the ever-expanding digital space, with the FIFAe Nations Online Qualifiers kicking off on Friday (April 30, 2021).
The youthful duo of Charanjot Singh (18) and Siddh Chandarana (20), will be India’s first-ever representatives at the Qualifiers, competing for the ultimate prize -- a chance to represent your flag at the FIFAe Nations Cup 2021. They will, however, face tough opposition in the form of South Africa, Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East and Africa Zone.
“It means a lot to me!” exclaims Charanjot, who was crowned Champion of the AIFF eFootball Challenge held recently to pick the Indian squad.
“This (AIFF eFootball Challenge) was the first tournament of its kind for India and now if we finish in the top two of the FIFAe Qualifiers and earn the right to represent India at the eNations, it would be absolutely amazing to be among the top 24 countries in the world, not even in Asia.”
Charanjot’s journey into the world of eSports began at a “local tournament” which he signed up for at the tender age of 15, “There was a tournament in Chandigarh where all the top players arrived and participated. I played it like a local tournament and didn’t know that it was a national tournament until I actually won it. So, that was when I decided that I could go pro.”
“I think people think it’s easy to play video games,” says Charanjot. “You just sit there in front of the monitor and play. But, it’s really tough. The level of competition is extremely high. You have to play day-in-day-out, give your best, learn the new mechanics that the game has to offer and constantly adapt. To be at the top every week, every month and every year is really tough.”
The youngster, who will compete on the PlayStation 4 at the Qualifiers, has had to juggle both his studies and an eSports career, but is immensely grateful for a supportive family, “During this time, I also had my exams and practicals. They (family) cooperated very well and allowed me to carry on with both commitments side-by-side so I’m thankful to them for that.”
“My parents do force me (to study).” chuckles Charanjot, on being cross-questioned, “But even before, like in my 10th, I used to manage my studies and my FIFA career so they know that I can manage it myself and get good results in exams and FIFA.”
While Charanjot started at a relatively young age, his teammate Siddh initially harboured dreams of becoming a professional footballer. “I’ve been a football fan ever since I was a kid. I used to play professional football as well but then I had bronchitis and would get tired easily. Doctors told me I had to stop since it was affecting my lungs. So, I had to stop playing completely but that’s when I took up FIFA due to my love for the game. That’s when I started entering tournaments and I knew that I have something in me so that’s why I choose to follow it.”
A self-confessed Arsenal fan, Siddh turned professional in 2017 and after a tournament win in Singapore, he was snapped up by M10 sports, a professional eSports team owned and created by former Arsenal player and German FIFA World Cup winner Mesut Ozil.
“Ozil follows only three Indians on Twitter -- Shahrukh Khan, Ranveer Singh and me. He used to keep tagging me in his stories so that was quite some experience.” beams Siddh.
But, playing ‘video games’ isn’t all fun and games. “It affects your social life. You see your friends enjoying and you have to be on your couch. Every weekend, we have to clock in 30 games in 48 hours and so rarely do you get a chance to go out. You have to be in front of your screen and it gets tiring and exhausting but you have to prepare in that way.” warns Siddh.
But while the journey is a demanding one, Siddh hasn’t had to tackle it all on his own. “I think my family has been very supportive. Especially my dad. He’s always been there no matter what. I just want to thank him for showing all the faith and believing in me since day one. You know in India we still have a lot of question marks about a career in eSports but my dad and my family have been very supportive so I’m very grateful for that.”
However, now that they’re within touching distance of reaching the main stage of them all, the FIFAe Nations Cup, what are their expectations from the upcoming qualifiers?
“I expect us to be in the top two,” states Charanjot. “We have a great roster of players and I think we can finish in the top two and represent India at the eNations. Both of us are playing extremely well right now, we’re in good form and hopefully, we can do a good job in the qualifiers and move forward together.”
“It’s the first time we will compete in a FIFA tournament officially. So we’ll give it everything we have,” says Siddh. “We hope the fans support us because we have what it takes to get to the highest level and it won’t be possible without their support.”