There's no room for mistakes on FIFA 19. One bad pass, missed tackle or—even worse—a dreaded internet disconnection can see the best in the world eliminated from contention. The pressure is a lot to take for anyone looking to dominate the infancy era of this esport, but imagine dealing with this when you're just 12 years old.
Meet Anders Vejrgang from Denmark, the youngest player to go unbeaten on FIFA 19's Weekend League.
Yes, you read that right: Anders is just 12 but is already playing FIFA at an elite level. He even has a manager.
For the uninitiated, the Weekend League acts as a qualification gateway for major FIFA tournaments. Each week, players from around the world compete across 30 matches to determine their rank. Anyone can take part, but only the upper echelon will become "verified" for EA Sports' tournaments by hitting 27 wins. Doing that is one thing, but going unbeaten—with a perfect 30-0 record—is another altogether.
Anders has done exactly that not once but twice in the last month.
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The Weekend League is a constantly challenging task of trying to overcome mega-teams and, oftentimes, the game's willingness to test your patience. Only the best consistently win Ultimate Team matches where everything goes against them. You need tremendous skill, dedication and patience to even reach FIFA 19's "elite" mark, which is set at 23 wins.
For those who want to progress further, consistent luck or a significant injection of funds is needed to stay ahead of the curve. FIFA's top players can only be acquired through opening randomly generated packs or accumulating funds and heading to the auction house.
The "pay to win" formula is a taboo subject in FIFA's development as an esport—most competitive games allow players to participate on an equal footing—but it's a huge reason FIFA Ultimate Team has become a financial juggernaut for EA.
Most FIFA pros are in their late teens to early 20s. Many are juggling school, exams and jobs with the grind of trying to become a world-class player. It's a constantly evolving, patience-testing environment where one run of bad results can see you forgotten forever.
It doesn't seem like a natural fit for a 12-year-old, so how on earth did Anders achieve something so challenging at such a young age?
"I had many difficult matches, and I was behind in five of them, but I play better when the opponent is leading because I can focus better under pressure," he said. "I was very happy when I won. I had never gone unbeaten in all matches in a Weekend League before despite playing it since 2017."
That last sentence sums up just how young Anders is. Achieving a holy-grail score—something the majority of FIFA players will never do—in just over a year's competitive play is a remarkable feat. FIFA's standing as an esport is unique because it often forces players to learn a new game through patches, updates and the annual release. A year is a long time in the cycle, especially if you haven't reached your teens yet.
"I was five years old when I played my first FIFA, which was FIFA 11. I realised I was good when I participated in my first FIFA 17 tournament in Aalborg, where I made it to the quarterfinals and lost to a player who made it into the final. I also beat [2017 Danish champion] Fredberg from Brondby esport this day."
Such a win was a watershed moment for Anders. Understandably, it wasn't long before the talent scouts came knocking.
"Everybody was talking about how Fredberg lost to a 12-year-old kid," said Tonny Le, Anders' manager at Vendsyssel FF Esport. "At Anders' first training, he won against every one of our players, some of whom were at least five years older than him. The rest is history."
Managing such a young player is a unique challenge. The FIFA scene offers high-stakes cash prizes and exposure. It's dog-eat-dog by nature, with millions of players fighting to qualify for the FIFA eWorld Cup that had a prize pool of $400,000 last season. How does a 12-year-old learn the skills to handle that?
"There are many positive and negative sides about managing players that are the same age as Anders," Le said. "The positive sides are that they have more time than the average FIFA player to play the game because they have less homework, no job and aren't old enough to party.
"The negative sides are that there can often be challenges with how they handle frustration, because there is a lot of random things happening throughout a match. Because of their small size and young age, younger players are also more likely to get intimidated by an opponent who is yelling and celebrating loud."
The pressure doesn't subside with age. FIFA takes no prisoners, and it's a constant battle to remain relevant on the pro circuit. As Manchester City pro Shellzz explained, these are vital years for Anders' development.
"There's always a lot of pressure when you're a top FIFA player," said Shellzz, who finished second in 2017's FUT Championship. "It's a very competitive scene, so you have to work hard to try to stay at the top before someone new comes along and takes over. Anders won't be able to compete at EA events until he's 16, so that will give him plenty of time to develop his game and technique.
"I don't think I feel more pressure [as I get older]. For me personally, I always put a lot of pressure on myself, as I know I can compete with the best and place well. And for me, that has nothing to do with age. I don't know how much pressure Anders feels, but he's clearly playing pretty fearlessly right now."
Most casual gamers will know the risk of competing online. Abusive messages and trash talk are commonplace, whether you're on FIFA, Call of Duty or any other multiplayer game. The players who do this typically don't consider that a minor could be on the receiving end of the message. However, this anonymity plays a useful role for Anders.
"I don't think that the people I play know my age," he said. I've never received messages about it. It is only Danish players that know who I am, because I participate in the Danish tournaments.
"But I once played Nepenthez [YouTuber with over 1.7 million subscribers] in the Weekend League, where he tweeted about me afterwards. He didn't know my age at the time, and Fredberg commented that I was 12. Nepenthez reacted positively, which gave me a smile."
It's perhaps wrong to assume that young means disadvantaged in gaming. The competitive scene doesn't rely on physical attributes like most sports, and as generations progress, it's becoming more natural to pick up a controller and use it competently.
"To be honest, in FIFA and gaming in general, I don't think age means too much," Shellzz said. "In FIFA each year we learn the game, adapt to the new mechanics, and then it comes down to who can perform when it matters. If you put the time and effort in, you will see results.
"That said, it's still very impressive that Anders has hit 30-0 multiple times in Weekend League as a 12-year-old. To have the mental strength at that age to go a whole weekend unbeaten is impressive. I think we'll definitely see more young kids coming up the ranks as the competitive FIFA scene continues to grow."
There are practical challenges to overcome with players so young, though. For example, most adult FIFA pros have their own networks and means of travelling to competitions. Anders' development is reliant on the figures around him.
"[Young players are] in need of parents to get to training and tournaments," Le said. "Luckily, Anders' mother Laila is very supportive by driving all over the country so he can participate in tournaments. She also enjoys watching him play FIFA and learn the aspects of the game."
The common theme for any FIFA pro is dedication. Whether it's time, money or both, sacrifices have to be made, and a healthy life balance needs to be struck. Anders' age opens up more opportunities to play, but he doesn't overlook the importance of time away from the virtual pitch.
"I play approximately two hours a day," he said. "I also play football at the local club, and I have lots of time to play other games, but I choose to spend the time I have on FIFA. Sometimes I play Fortnite."
It's no wonder such care is being taken with Anders, who has accumulated close to $5,000 in winnings this year. Last season, FIFA eWorld Cup winner Mosaad "MSdossary" Aldossary took home a life-changing $250,000 after demolishing opponent Stefano Pinna in the final.
His moment was captured in front of thousands of spectators at London's O2 Arena and hundreds of thousands more across Twitch and cable sports channels. He got to stand alongside football's greatest at FIFA's "The Best" awards. MSdossary is now a household name in the competitive world of gaming.
He's in Anders' sights already.
"My first goal is to participate in the Danish FIFA League and win it. My next goal is to qualify for the FIFA eWorld Cup and win it."
It's perhaps pointless to ask Anders what he wants to do when he "grows up." With such focused determination and talent already, there was only ever going to be one answer.
"I would like to make a living off FIFA."