How Red Bull Is Advancing eSports by Making Its Pro FIFA Players Train Like Real Life Ballers
Manchester City's pro FIFA player, Ryan Pessoa, is one of the first eSports stars looking to sports science to improve his performance on the virtual pitch.
Like all professional athletes, eSports pros take their careers very seriously – but for the first time ever, Red Bull are now training their sponsored gamers like their regular athletes.
Red Bull have left a dramatic mark on the landscape of sports in the last decade. With RB Leipzig now regarded as one of Nike’s ten ‘Elite Teams’ in Europe and an established Champions League side, Red Bull Salzburg blessed with one of the best training facilities in Europe and nurturing superstar talents like Håland, and a couple of the world’s coldest young ballers in Trent Alexander-Arnold and Alphonso Davies on their roster, the future is brighter than ever for the brand and everyone affiliated with it.
Now, Red Bull are pushing the envelope even further by opening up their doors to its eSports players, with an astute focus on taking their ability to new levels – just like they do with their regular athletes. It’s a landmark moment for eSports in this regard, with this Red Bull backing one of the clearest indications yet of the power shift we’re seeing take place in gaming at the moment.
People still have a tendency to imagine eSports as reclusive blokes sitting in their dimly-lit bedroom, curtains drawn, with Dorito crumbs in keyboards and unwashed plates lying around. The reality is a lot different.
There are now genuine superstars in the world of gaming. Red Bull-sponsored Ninja – perhaps the most popular gamer and streamer – now has his own fashion line with adidas, is part of the “Time 100” list, and links up with the likes of Drake and Neymar to play Fortnite in front of millions of people.
The numbers are also insane. Last year’s EA Sports FIFA prize money for the eWorld Cup Final was $500,000, with the Grand Final attracting over 47 million views – and with so much at stake on such a regular basis, with tournaments going down on a monthly basis, it’s only right for scientists to look at this competition seriously.
eSports is also now regarded as cool by the biggest fashion houses in the world, with Louis Vuitton collaborating with League of Legends at the 2019 World Championship and team Fnatic – one of eSports biggest hitters that have won “thousands of tournaments” – were invited to sit on the front row of Gucci’s AW20 showcase. In short, eSports is hot right now.
Red Bull’s mission to maximise their sponsored player’s potential is going down at the brand’s new Athlete Performance Centre, situated in the unsuspecting location of the Eastern Alps on the secluded outskirts of Salzburg. Despite it looking nondescript Austrian barn from the outside, upon entry, you instantly see the APC for what it really is: one of the most high-tech facilities in Europe.
Manchester City’s pro FIFA player Ryan Pessoa is the first FIFA player to use the facility, and is put through his paces in a bid to improve his performance on the game as he builds up to FIFA eWorld Cup this summer – the biggest date in the FIFA calendar.
Asking why he decided to head out here with Red Bull, it was clear Pessoa is driven to make any marginal gains he can when it comes to his FIFA tek: “I wanted to see if I could take my game that step further with Red Bull at the APC. The past couple of days have been crazy – I’ve never done anything like this before! We’re just trying different things to improve my performance in eSports…the psychology behind it, the nutrition too. We’re just trying to see how different things impact my levels.”
Pessoa’s first 24 hours at the APC are spent assessing his current physical and mental state. Rigorously put through his paces by a Red Bull physiologist, Pessoa is told he’s in good shape as a regular gym-goer – but it’s fair to say he wasn’t expecting the sort of strenuous activity demanded of him at the APC: “The testing was tough! They proper put me through my paces, stamina-wise and fitness-wise. It was different!”
The Red Bull Athlete Performance Centre divided the tests over two days, with a nutritionist the first specialist enlisted to help Pessoa’s outlook when it comes to his food intake: “I spoke to a nutritionist about how I can improve my diet, and how much effect it has on fatigue and my performance. It wasn’t just food-related stuff though. She told me that matching up my sleeping hours and my working hours at home would improve my performance, rather than staying up late to play, would improve my performance – something I’d never really considered.”
Pessoa, like the majority of eSports pros, regularly streams his own games as well as competing in tournaments. His usual routine involves playing FIFA 20 through the night, with the game’s competitive mode – FUT Champions – requiring players to complete 30 games in a single weekend. Some days he gets up at 6am, others at 6pm – meaning his sleep pattern is a bit all over the place. The nutritionist pointed out some useful things to Pessoa here: “Making my sleep relative to how an event will be set up should help me out. That’s in terms of when I’d wake up; when I’d play; how long I’d play for and the type of meals I need to eat to try and maintain that level of concentration.”
Of course, it’s not just about mental improvements at the Red Bull APC and technology like LED reaction pads are aimed towards bettering your physical attributes. He learned his reaction times are “pretty decent” after his first ever go on it, but it certainly seems the mental side of his game is the aspect that he can build on the most straight away.
“It’s so important,” he says. “I notice that whenever I’m not at a good enough physical level I know that I always feel very tired, no matter how many hours of sleep I get. Having that mental side of the game is very important. I can’t emphasise it enough, it’s 50 percent skill and 50 percent mental preparation, so the mental side is very important.” Pessoa goes on: “I think it can be massive, that’s why I’m quite excited to try all the things I’ve learned.”
Speaking to Pessoa after he played in several tournaments since, it’s clear that the changes and assistance that Red Bull’s Athlete Performance Centre provided him with were beneficial: “The main thing I noticed from myself from the APC was that I felt like I was in control of my emotions and nerves, which hasn’t been the case for a very long time when competing. I felt like my mindset and decision making was extremely good, and it was too early to notice much about my reaction times but I feel like the APC will definitely make me feel like I am in the best situation to qualify for future events.”
While FIFA 20 still has it faults, glitches and problems – the last patch in particular was one which Pessoa struggled with – his overall composure and ability is on the up, and he’ll be chasing greatness with Manchester City through the rest of the year. Despite taking a few L’s recently – such is the nature of the game – Pessoa is adamant that he feels a lot calmer and more motivated to get back and implement the routine the Red Bull APC has taught him. The centre has helped changed his negative energy into positive: “I often have a negative outlook on FIFA games and I need to change that because the moment you think something isn’t going to go your way, you’re pretty much 1-0 down before a ball is kicked,” he explains.
“So that’s something I have to work on, and I feel like coming to the APC, that’s something that the psychologist has helped me with already. I feel a lot more confident now, before I even pick up a pad to play, I feel a lot better.”
Red Bull and Pessoa’s partnership is a landmark moment for the brand, the player and way the game is played. With perceptions on eSports changing, more money on the line and a steadily increasing viewership, future FIFA pros are set to follow Pessoa in his footsteps and take a traditional sports science approach to this brave new world.