The FIFA esports scene in India has proliferated over the last few years. What used to be considered a recreational video game played only among friends is being taken more seriously nowadays. Indian FIFA players are making huge strides in their domain, and Lokmanyu Chaturvedi is one of the key figures in this development.
The Delhi-based esports athlete was a part of the quartet that represented the Indian eNational team at the FIFA eNations Online Qualifiers earlier this year. Apart from playing FIFA competitively, the 25-year-old streamer has also worked as a commentator and a reporter.
After the announcement of eISL, the growth of FIFA in India as an esport will be exponential. In conversation with Sportskeeda Esports’ Yasho Amonkar, Lokmanyu looks back at how it all started, shares his thoughts on FIFA 22, and sheds some light on how the entertainment value of FIFA can be increased in India.
"FIFA 22 is a lot more realistic than FIFA 21": Lokmanyu
Q) Since when have you been playing FIFA? What is the earliest memory you remember of playing the game?
Lokmanyu: I have been playing FIFA ever since I was a kid. I think I started off just like everybody else. I used to play Career Mode and some matches with my friends in my society. Competitively, I started playing FIFA around 2018; that’s when I thought I was pretty good. My friends suggested I try out some tournaments. In fact, I ended up playing an online match and beating one of the best players in India at that time. That gave me a lot of confidence to actually go ahead and start competing.
The earliest memory I have of playing the game is when I was playing with my brother. That’s when I realised that maybe we could try out some Career Mode, and we played together with Manchester United because I am a massive United fan. I think this was in 2008, with Ronaldo, Tevez, Rooney in the team together.
Q) Unlike most esports, FIFA players have an additional attachment towards the game because of real-life football. Can you throw some light over which team you support and whether that has played a part in you devoting your life to FIFA?
Lokmanyu: Absolutely, I think there’s a natural shift from football to FIFA. I was a professional football player myself, and I’ve played till the national level. When I realised that I wouldn’t be able to go pro in football with the injuries, there was a natural shift to play FIFA.
Being a massive Manchester United fan ever since I was a kid, I started playing with them in Kick Off Mode and Career Mode. That has had an enormous impact on me to devote all of my time to FIFA. I constantly built new squads with Manchester United in Career Mode and played the mode all day long.
Q) EA Sports has a habit of constantly changing the Ultimate Team meta with every iteration. Sometimes they change the meta multiple times during the same instalment. How do you adapt to the changes?
Lokmanyu: Yeah, absolutely! I think EA, like any other developer, has constant patches coming in because they have to fix the game for a glitch or some new changes. Obviously, it is sometimes difficult to adapt because you are playing a certain way, and you have to change that completely in accordance with the meta. I believe it all comes down to practising.
As soon as the new patch comes, I hop on with a pro in any game mode in FIFA. You go there and start focusing on the changes rather than actually playing the game throughout. I think it is all about quality over quantity in terms of adapting to the meta and then implementing it to your normal game when you play tournaments or proper game modes.
Q) FIFA 22 has been out for around a month now. What are the significant changes you have observed in the game when compared to FIFA 21?
Lokmanyu: There’s a massive change because EA Sports introduced the new HyperMotion Technology in FIFA. It is an entirely new game engine, at least on the PS5. I felt there is a massive difference, and the game is a lot better, in my opinion.
FIFA 21 was all about exploiting a couple of skill moves in the game, where you do a couple of skill moves, and you just go through. FIFA 22 is more realistic to build up the play and play actual football. However, some changes are not as good, which I think will be fixed along the game cycle.
The major change that I have observed in the game is the shooting mechanism. It’s not easy to spam a particular skill move and go past your opponent’s defender easily. One has to isolate the defender in a 1v1 situation, perform a basic skill move and then take a shot on goal.
Driven shots are back; they were in FIFA 19, which were the grounded shots. Green-timed shots are more important to score goals. Apart from the shooting aspect, defending is better. I feel you have more control over your defenders, and your defence stays in shape instead of going here and there, which is also a good change. Driven pass (R1 + X) is very overpowered in FIFA 22. Set pieces, especially corners, are also effective, just like in real-life football.
Q) What is your preferred formation and play style in FIFA? Does it change every year, or do you try sticking to a formation by tweaking the tactics and instructions depending on the meta?
Lokmanyu: My preferred formation has always been 4-4-2. I like to have two strikers playing up front, and I fancy building up my play through the midfield and the wings. It’s the classic Ferguson formation that we’ve all known. Going back to me being a United fan, and how we used to play on the counter-attack with two wingers and two strikers. So yeah, I think 4-4-2 has been really good for me.
As far as sticking to a particular formation, you have to tweak the tactics according to the meta. For example, if you know that your opponent is keeping a lot of the ball, you have to switch to a pressure tactic as soon as you lose the ball. You cannot play balanced, you have to put constant pressure on, or you have to put some instructions to get your players running behind the backline if your opponent is playing a very high line. It all comes down to how you adapt to the gameplay of your opponent.
Q) How was it representing India in the FIFA eNations Online Qualifiers?
Lokmanyu: I think it was the best experience of my life. All pros have been working hard in the last four-five years when FIFA was nowhere near to being recognised. The first national team selection happened (AIFF eFootball Challenge), where I was competing against the other 15. There were a total of 16 top Indian pros based on the rankings competing against each other.
When the challenge came out, it was understood that only two players would be selected as eTigers. However, AIFF decided to choose the top four. As I finished in the top four, I was also included in the team.
Of course, to be able to play against the likes of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and South Africa was a splendid experience because those guys have been doing it for a long time. We were one win away from qualifying to the grand finals in Copenhagen. Finishing 22nd in our debut season just goes to show how much potential the Indian pros have.
I think it was the best because officially wearing the jersey and being recognised by the federation, and doing what you love is the biggest honour for any FIFA esports athlete.
Q) With FIFA being the game of the world’s biggest sport, how can we make it more entertaining for the FIFA fans in India?
Lokmanyu: I think this is an issue that needs to be addressed. FIFA as an esport is still very nascent in India when you compare it to Europe. Since many pro players in Europe have won so many things, it is easier to capture a bigger FIFA audience. In India, the pros are still growing, and they are yet to reach the world stage.
A lot of content activation strategies can be employed. Many people are playing the game casually with their friends and family. However, they are not consuming enough FIFA content. If celebrities or influencers collaborate with FIFA pros, it will expand the FIFA audience in India.
Q) How thrilled are you at the recent eISL announcement? Is there any particular club which you look to represent?
Lokmanyu: I think it’s a massive announcement. Along with the Rs. 78 lakh prize pool, it will be a dream come true for any pro player to play in the eISL officially. It’s massive, really, and the prize pool in itself is a life-changing amount for many people.
I will be playing all qualifiers until I qualify because the ultimate goal is to play in the grand finals. I admire all the clubs because football, in general, is growing on a massive scale in India. FIFA has now caught up to its pace. I’ll be giving my 100% to any team that I represent. However, the first aim is to qualify, which will not be easy because there are only 11 spots and many competitive players competing.
Q) What was the exact moment when you realised that this is what you enjoy doing and you will pursue this as a career?
Lokmanyu: This happened right after my college finished. During college, I played competitively. Till 2017 I was doing my graduation, and that’s when I started. I was just playing tournaments on weekends, and I realised that I am good at this, and I will try to push for this after I am done with my studies.
When I won that online tournament against a top pro during that time, I managed to play more tournaments in my city, Delhi. In fact, I ended up winning many tournaments and finishing in the top 8, top 4. There was a time when I played seven tournaments (online and offline), and I ended up winning all of them because I performed well. This gave me an excellent boost to go ahead and do well in other tournaments. That’s when I decided that I would push to become a pro and get signed by organisations and develop the esport.
Q) Despite growth in the esports scene in India over the last few years, a vast majority of the society is still sceptical of choosing it as a viable career option. What are the challenges you faced in making this decision?
Lokmanyu: So personally, I wasn’t spoilt for choice because I was already independent by the time I had to make the decision. On the other hand, esports players nowadays start at a young age, and their parents are sceptical about allowing their children to do this full-time. In my case, I was quite old enough to take a call on my own.
Parents need to realise that esports athletes are doing very well for their countries at the highest level. This should persuade them to allow their children to pursue esports, just how they would let them take up any other career.
Finding the right balance between studies and gaming is imperative for students who want to become esports athletes. You can balance these things very easily; that’s what I did. Even after college, I managed work and esports together. It’s just about having a proper schedule and not wasting your time.
Q) Can you shed some light on how the FIFA scene in India has grown over the last few years? What were the difficulties faced by gamers like you during the pandemic?
Lokmanyu: Back in the day, we played FIFA tournaments with a 5k (INR) prize pool, which means the winner would only get 2-3k. The way it’s grown in the last few years has been encouraging. A company based out of Delhi, Gaming Monk, used to host many offline and online tournaments with a prize pool of 50k - 1 lakh (INR).
During the pandemic, when football matches weren’t taking place, several football fans wanted to feel the sport. Hence, they started playing FIFA regularly. If they believed they were good, they started competing in tournaments, and some also took it to the next level.
This has increased the number of FIFA players in India, which has led to more organisations coming in to host tournaments and more stakeholders coming in and investing in FIFA.
Q) What has been your standout moment in the competitive scene so far? Which have been the three most clutch Ultimate Team cards for you over the years?
Lokmanyu: There were actually two standout moments for me. The first one happened during an invite-only tournament in Malaysia. Apart from me, two other pros were invited to play against some of the best pro players in Asia. It was called the EFC Football Championship.
I was matched in a group stage game against SubaruMikey from Japan, who had been a FIWC world champion before. I lost one game to him, but I actually won against him in the second group stage game. It was a massive moment for me because I hadn’t faced anyone of his calibre yet. I learned a lot of things from that tournament and also interacted with him after the game.
The other one was in Bhubaneswar, where there was a national championship qualifier. About 150-200 people participated, and 50-100 spectators watched the final. I ended up winning the qualifier, and the love I got from the people of Odisha was amazing because I never knew that place had so many FIFA fans. These are the two moments that have stood out for me.
The three most clutch cards I have used are last year’s Marcos Acuna Path To Glory card (98), Neymar is so good in every FIFA and Cristiano Ronaldo’s Team Of The Year card in FIFA 21 (98) was also really good. I think these three players have been the best for me.
Q) Apart from streaming, you’ve also worked as a caster and reporter. How did you get that opportunity, and how has the experience been?
Lokmanyu: I have always thought of putting more time into the game apart from just playing. How it started was I approached Nodwin Gaming for the ESL India Premiership. I was playing in that tournament, and I saw the casters doing a great job, but I thought maybe they might need an expert who plays the game.
I did one event for them, and they were delighted and called me a natural. I went on to do more events and got more opportunities. In fact, I did some streams with Borussia Dortmund as a host for their Twitch channel. I had cast the eNations games when I wasn’t playing, which was a massive opportunity.
Being a FIFAe reporter for the Middle East and Africa region was again a big thing because I could work as an analyst and as a reporter at the same time. I was the only Indian to have done that for the whole region. I think the experience has been phenomenal. When I retire, when I put my controller down, I would like to be a full-time caster or an analyst who is making sure that all the FIFA esports news is being delivered to the audience.
Q) As the usual FIFA game cycle lasts around nine months, what are the other games you enjoy playing during the off-season?
Lokmanyu: When I didn’t play FIFA, back in the 9th or 10th grade, I used to play Call of Duty a lot. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was my first title. My childhood friend made me play it when I didn’t even have a console. He persuaded me to buy a console so that we could play online.
I used to be pretty good at the game, and I was hooked on the game back in the day. Once I chose FIFA esports as my profession, I had to put Call of Duty in the back seat. I only play the game during my leisure time now.
Q) Finally, where do you see yourself in the next five years, whether in the competitive scene or casting?
Lokmanyu: I have had some ups and downs as a competitive player. Every player has that, but I think I am consistent in performing in tournaments, so I believe I have it in me for the next 3-4 years to play as a competitive player. FIFA has no age, honestly, and there are people in their 30s competing at the highest level.
Being a professional FIFA player for the next 4-5 years is the target. Casting will go on the side until then. When I retire, I might just want to become a coach and pass it on to the future generations that want to be FIFA players.
Like I said earlier, everyone likes to play casually, but everybody has a competitive spirit in them, and they want to get better. They will, of course, look up to the top players in India to learn. As far as casting goes, any opportunity I get to cast events and work as a host on a full-time basis would be the key for the next five years.