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From Casuals to Pros: The Inspirational Journey of CLA Croatia's Сoaches

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

Source: the CLA's official blog.

Two coaches from CLA Croatia, Filip "FICO" Babic and Miloš "brstimir" Majdevac talk about their backgrounds, journey to becoming professional players, experiences in balancing esports with other commitments, and share their thoughts on the future of Croatian esports.

Can you tell us about your background and how you got started playing FIFA competitively?

Filip: My journey in eSport started with FIFA 18 my first competitive year where things began to take off. At the time, I had just finished high school and started college, but due to a football injury, I had to spend a lot of time recovering at home. It was then that I discovered my passion for FIFA and started playing it obsessively.

In my first year as a competitive player, Austria hosted the eBundesliga championship, an officially licensed tournament by EA. Despite being a casual player with no prior experience in serious events, I decided to take a chance and signed up for the tournament. To my surprise, I won both the qualifiers and the grand final in Vienna, which marked the start of a successful career in eSport.

I began competing in the Virtual Bundesliga where players from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, were eligible to compete. I finished Top 32 which was a great result but I realized that these players were better in this tournament. After that event, I started working even harder to determine whether it was a stroke of luck or a sign of my talent.

Over the past five years, I have played for one of the biggest names in eSports such as Fnatic / AS Roma, and SK Gaming / Cologne, and I can say with certainty that it has been an enjoyable experience. Every day, I strive to improve my skills and better myself in the game, and that's where my heart truly lies.

Miloš: My experience is similar to Filip's. We started playing FIFA for fun, purely out of passion, back when the competitive scene was still in its early stages.

I've been playing FIFA since I was three years old, but FIFA 11 was the first time I played online against real people. I was 15 years old and in high school at that time.

At the beginning of my professional career, I primarily competed in events held in my hometown of Novi Sad and in Belgrade. I won most of the time, which made me curious and motivated me to delve deeper into the scene.

The FIFA Global Series event started in 2017 with FIFA 18, and that's when I started taking things more seriously and competing at the highest level. I received my first professional contract from Red Star, a Serbian football team, and played with them for three years.

In addition, I was a part of the FIFA Global Series consultant team, where I acted as a referee. The other guys and I were called upon by the admins if there was an issue with players cheating that they couldn't handle. We were responsible for making decisions. Therefore, I have experience on both the competitor and organizer sides of FIFA Global Series tournaments.

How do you balance participating in tournaments and other events with other commitments you may have, such as school or work?

Filip: I made a YouTube video for young and inexperienced kids who are interested in pursuing a career in professional esports. Many of these kids watch YouTube videos about esports and think it's all fun and games. They believe that it's easy to make a living from playing games professionally because they only see the positive aspects of the industry, such as the World Championship with a prize pool of $250,000 for the winner. However, the reality is often different. For instance, if you finish in the top 16 out of 32 players in the Xbox and PlayStation World Championship, you'll only receive a meager $750 prize. This just goes to show that making a living as a professional gamer is not as easy as it seems.

Many people chase their dreams, but luck isn't always on their side, and they fail to attain their goals. It's not always due to a lack of skill or dedication. In some countries, the infrastructure for esports simply isn't there. As an example, let me share my own experience. Although I didn't take a year off, I only participated in one out of four qualifiers. My full-time job was a priority for me, so I couldn't compete in the other qualifiers. My job provided me with the means to pay my rent, bills, and other expenses. In esports, contracts typically only last for a year, which means that there's no guarantee of financial security after the contract expires.

A good example of how infrastructure can impact esports is Germany. Even players who aren't in the top 50 in the world can receive €2000-€3000 per month from the German Football teams due to the country's favorable financial situation and infrastructure. It's essential to adopt a similar approach to promote esports in smaller countries like Croatia where finding sponsors can be challenging. With time, I believe that esports will gain popularity in Croatia, and I hope to be a part of that growth. In fact, we're currently working on a project with the Croatian Football Association, where we plan to involve the League, Club, and sponsors in developing the infrastructure for esports. This initiative aims to provide opportunities for young people and future students to pursue their dreams and make a living out of esports. However, as you pointed out, balancing these pursuits can be difficult.

Miloš: Filip did an excellent job of explaining how difficult it is to make a living from esports. It's especially challenging for pioneers in the field, such as Filip and me, who were among the first to introduce competitive FIFA to the Balkans. Despite the obstacles, we derive immense satisfaction from coaching and mentoring others to become better players. Our ultimate goal is to create opportunities for future generations to pursue esports as a viable career path, where they can not only earn a living but also find fulfillment in what they do.

Currently, we're focused solely on FIFA, and that's where our expertise lies. However, we're also keen on building an infrastructure that supports emerging talent in esports and secures their future. Over the past three to four years, I've leveraged live streaming to support myself while studying in university, and many people have asked me how I manage to earn a living from playing FIFA while still attending school. Some have even asked me whether they should stop playing altogether.

In my opinion, the key to success is having the right mentality. I'm a living example of this - I was able to finish my studies while still competing at a high level. However, when people ask me about the money, I always respond by saying, "If money is your only motivation for playing, then you should stop now. Don't do it just for the money."

This is why Filip and I are such strong advocates for passion in gaming and football. You need to be fully immersed in the world of esports and the game itself, not just chasing money and success. When you have passion and dedication, everything else will come naturally, including the financial rewards.

You can be a social person, go outside, study and still excel in esports, but it requires good organization and discipline on a day-to-day basis. If you want to be successful, you need to set aside a specific amount of time each day for practice while balancing other commitments such as school or work. It's possible to manage everything if you're motivated by your passion for the game rather than just the financial rewards.

Can you describe your current involvement in the CLA esports community and the league as a whole?

Filip: I joined CLA six months ago in September, and Miloš joined us two months later. When we arrived, there were only 3-6 players, but now we have grown to around 25-30. We spend our whole day watching, analyzing and playing FIFA in 95 Rated mode, which is the same competitive mode we use in the Austrian and German Championships. Our main focus is to improve the players' skills, discipline, and mentality. However, we also strive to maintain their passion and enjoyment for the game.

As a team, our goal is to analyze and promote eSports in the region. We aim to connect our company with important structures and events in the eSports industry. Only time will tell what kind of opportunities will arise from our efforts.

Miloš: We share a great vision fueled by our passion for eSports. Working together, we feel fulfilled and grateful to be a part of this exciting journey. We take pride in seeing our tournaments come to life, like the one we were recently attending in Slovenia. Our players are thrilled to participate in these events, as they provide valuable experience and exposure for young talents in the industry.

CLA provides unparalleled opportunities for those seeking a future in eSports. Our project is ambitious and not just limited to our region but extends to Europe. We are delighted to share our knowledge and teach players important skills about FIFA and eSports.

Can you tell us about any plans you have for developing CyberLive!Arena in the future?

Filip & Miloš: CLA Academia will be a major step for us in educating viewers who are interested in FIFA and want to learn how to play the game. We have a structured plan in place to make the educational process clear and accessible to anyone, whether they already have experience or are just starting to play FIFA. They will see how the game has evolved over the years, learn how to play at a professional level, and compete with their friends for fun. Our goal is not only to promote professional eSports but also to encourage players to have fun and improve their gameplay.

We're excited to share that our educational efforts will not only be focused on players but also on viewers. Through our gameplay analysis and expertise, we aim to provide a fun and informative learning experience. We will teach with enthusiasm, as we know our viewers are also avid FIFA players who can benefit from improving their skills by watching and learning from our gameplay. We are confident that the knowledge and skills they acquire will be retained.

What upcoming tournaments or competitions are you planning to participate in, and how are you preparing for them?

Filip: Let's begin with the FIFA Global Series Qualifiers. Last week, I ranked 125th in the Top 528 players in Europe in the Swiss format tournament. In the first day you need to survive the swiss format and in the second day you play in a single elimination Knock out format. If you manage to place, you gain a money prize and points towards the playoffs. In addition, FIFA players can qualify for the World Championships. I like to compare these qualifiers to the tennis Grand Slams finals with the Top 8 players. However, in FIFA, we have the finale with the Top 16 players in PlayStation 5 format. My teammate Miloš finished 188th in the Top of Europe with 3 wins and 3 losses, earning us some valuable points.

We are keeping our eyes on qualifiers 3, 4 and 5. It's a marathon, not a sprint. We need to advance to deep rounds in tournaments. Even one deep round can mean a lot. This tournament is of utmost importance for us. We need to get into the knockout rounds to claim points and secure our position in the leaderboards. Unfortunately, Serbia and Croatia do not have official license league competitions, so I’m competing with Austria Wien in the eBundesliga to qualify. Currently, we are in the top three and the finals will be played in March. I'm hoping to win the tournament and keep the title we've worked so hard for in the past two years.

We are mentally strong and I'm determined to compete. Additionally, the promotion from Division II to Division I with Croatia in the eNations is significant for us. Representing our country in the tournament holds a special place in our hearts. We finished second, with Scotland finishing third. Now, we're in Division I, playing against some of the best teams in the world, including Germany, Italy, Sweden and Scotland. It's going to be a new experience for us, especially for my 18-year-old teammate who is new to the scene. I'm trying to push him to be more competitive. We are all excited about this upcoming tournament.

Miloš: What's interesting about eSports is that in addition to 1 vs 1 tournaments, there are also Co-op tournaments where teamwork is crucial. It's not just about individual skills, but also about how well we work together. This opens up a lot of opportunities for young talents and teenagers who want to compete with us. I play for the Serbia National Team and Filip plays for the Croatia National Team, and we're both eager to encourage new players to compete with us.

Our goal is not just to compete against each other, but also to help teach and develop players to reach our level, and ultimately, represent our countries together.

What advice do you have for aspiring FIFA players who want to compete at a professional level?

Filip: To become a part of CLA, watch a lot of FIFA, play a lot. But it takes time and dedication to succeed. You need to immerse yourself in the game and gain a deep understanding of its mechanics. That's where we come in – to teach and show you the way. However, this is not the only piece of advice we have to offer.

There are multiple paths to achieving your goals in FIFA. One of the most important factors is to have confidence in yourself. Without belief in your abilities, no one else will believe in you either. In esports, physical strength isn't necessary, but it can be an advantage. Staying fit and healthy will lead to better mental endurance, which is essential in long and grueling tournaments against tough competition. It's also crucial to maintain balance in your life.

Ultimately, watching the game is the key to improving your skills. CLA provides an excellent platform for this. So, if you want to be successful in FIFA, watch a lot of it, play a lot of it, and don't give up. With hard work, dedication, and a strong mentality, you can achieve great things in the world of esports.

Miloš: Practice and playing a lot is essential to improve your skills in FIFA, but it's also important to understand which areas of the game you need to work on and organize your practice accordingly. While chasing your dreams is important, it's equally important to prioritize your health. You can achieve anything you want in life, and that's what we teach at CLA.

As Filip mentioned, physical fitness can make you mentally stronger and more prepared for the game. However, it's crucial to balance your FIFA practice with social activities and time spent outdoors. Football should always come before FIFA, and if your friends invite you to play football, you should prioritize that over FIFA. Taking care of your physical and mental health is essential for overall well-being and can even improve your performance in the game. Don't underestimate the power of health and its impact on your happiness.


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