Ajax Joey: eSports is tough, mentally and physically

  • Ajax’s Joey Calabro discusses the challenge of being an eSports pro

  • eClub World Cup quarter-finalist reflects on “crazy” life with FIFA

  • Currently 21st in the world on Xbox as he aims for Grand Final return

“Compared to another job, you always have to be at the top level, it’s tough, mentally and physically.”

For many, this isn’t what springs to mind when picturing an eSports professional. Playing games all day just doesn’t conjure the imagery of intensity and strenuous exertion for the uninitiated. For most it’s a hobby. For the pros it was a pastime, too, until suddenly it wasn't.

“It’s changed my life a lot, man. It’s crazy,” Joseph Calabro – better known as Ajax Joey – explained to FIFA.com. “It’s a full-time thing for me now, which I never would have thought it could be, as FIFA was something I did as hobby growing up all the time.”

In a field populated by hundreds of players in a similar position – who can’t believe their luck that they are earning a living from what they love – taking it easy isn’t an option if you want to stay at the top.

“Honestly, I’m not the best at [balancing life and FIFA],” admitted Calabro, who’s currently ranked as USA’s top FIFA Xbox play and 21st in the world. “I probably overly play. I spend most of my days at home grinding. I could probably have more of a social life, but it is what it is. I’m happy and fine with it.”

And while Calabro feels the time pays off and enhances his performance, it’s not the overall key to success in his eyes. “The mental part of the game is probably the biggest part of it. Because once you can compete at the top level you need to be able to hold your head.

“Some days I just play really bad and it drives me crazy as I know I can play better, but once you can get your mentality under control you’ll be alright.”

That doesn’t mean that he isn’t a fan of a passionate celebration here and there.

Like plenty of his peers, having been an avid FIFA gamer for some time, once Calabro stepped into the eSports arena he quickly rose to the top. “Whenever FIFA 17 came out I found out it was a competitive game, so I started playing it. Then FIWC regionals came around, I qualified – I did very well there – and headed to the Grand Finals of FIFA 17 to finish seventh in the world. So I was like ‘I guess I’m in the scene now’!

“My parents would always tell me ‘this is never going to make you any money, you can’t do anything with it’, but now they support me.”

Having initially signed for Epsilon eSports team, he’s gone on to represent New York City FC and most recently joining Ajax almost a year ago, the latter ranking alongside his seventh-placed finish as his career highlights to date.

After reaching the quarter-finals of the FIFA eClub World Cup, Calabro no doubt has his eyes on negotiating the playoffs later in the year to once again reach a Grand Final. The professional landscape has grown somewhat even since his last visit.

“As from FIFA 17 until now, it’s raised the bar so much. Every year we’re getting more tournaments, more prize money, more viewers. It’s crucial for any eSport, as we want it to grow.”

But the scene is not the only thing that’s come on some way in the last two years, either.