Connecting with fans through gaming

Which team do you normally choose when gunning for glory on FIFA17? Real Madrid, Brazil and reigning world champions Germany may have the best ratings, but everyone enjoys playing with their favourite club from their domestic league once in a while. Now imagine what it would be like to not only play with your club, but for them as well.

While that may have been inconceivable just a few years ago, it has become commonplace nowadays. For example, Benedikt "SaLz0r" Saltzer (VfL Wolfsburg), Sean "Dragonn" Allen (West Ham United) and August "Agge" Rosenmeier (Paris Saint Germain) have all made that dream come true and now play for top European sides. And increasing numbers of clubs, including AS Monaco and Schalke, are becoming eager to vie for honours in the gaming world and are consequently signing up talented FIFA players.

But what is in it for the clubs? "Fans can be reached very well through virtual sports and a lot of football fans are gamers," said Tim Reichert, head of eSport at Schalke, in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. In addition to the economic and marketing aspects, the biggest appeal remains the sport itself. "In eSport, it's all about competition too," said the former professional footballer, who laced his boots in the second division. "It's about winning or losing."

Professional structuresSchalke currently have three players on their books, all of whom are coached by Joshua Begehr. The 28-year-old has been involved in eSport for approximately 15 years and his role is to help the gamers improve and to support them in organisational matters. "I'm the link, so to speak, between the club and the players," said Begehr, describing his duties to FIFA.com. "It's my job to scout talented youngsters, to train them and shape them so that they can compete for titles soon."

One such award is on offer at the FIFA Interactive World Cup 2017. Qualifying for the planet's biggest computer game tournament has been running since the start of November, with numerous live events organised this year. "I think it's great because live events are much more transparent," said one coach, who won several titles himself under the moniker 'Crown', of the new development.

"We absolutely want our players to play there," said Reichert when asked about the FIWC 2017. "Everyone wants to be the best and therefore we want to be there with our players too." Yet, there is still a long way to go for the Schalke contingent before they reach the Grand Final in August 2017 in London.

New format: Club World Cup At the inaugural FIFA Interactive Club World Cup, the club gamers will play against each other, participating in a kind of virtual Club World Cup to compete for two places at the Grand Final 2017. "It's fantastic and we really want to be there," said Begehr of the special competition.

In order to do well, Schalke are working hard on improving their team. What are the qualities needed for a player to be signed? "They must be ambitious but not be too old yet," said Reichert. "They also need to have the right character." With that in mind, coach Begehr scouts as many tournaments as possible to form an idea of who the best young talents are. The race to sign the best players is on, so now is your chance!