Esports

The Brazilian Soccer Player Who Overcame Messi, then Became an Esports Pro


Being the current champion of one of the most prominent FIFA 20 leagues in the world and having a YouTube channel with more than 500K subscribers, few would guess the story of this pro-player in the esports world starts like this:

“At the Puskás ceremony [an award given at The Best FIFA Football Awards ceremony for the most beautiful goal of the year], the guy who was FIFA SOCCER world champion needed to make a game, and [Lionel] Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar [Jr.] could not play this match with him. As I was nervous about the ceremony, I was told ‘come on, play a little bit so you can loosen up a little’. And then I ended up playing with him and won 6 to 1.”

This unlikely story comes from the 2015 FIFA Puskás Award winner Wendell Lira. The award was the highest point of his career as a professional soccer player, but it also marked the beginning of his journey as YouTube content creator, streamer, and professional player of EA SPORTS FIFA SOCCER.

Born in Goiânia, a city in the center-west of Brazil, Wendell Silva Lira started his playing career at Goiás, the biggest club in the region. He became part of the Brazilian Football Team U-20 in 2006, but did not get a chance in the teams with the highest media coverage in the country. He went through teams from the countryside until he reached Goianésia in 2015, when he scored the goal that would change his life.

Wendell was nominated and won the Puskás award that year, with fan support in Brazil. The story of the player from the modest Goianésia who overcame Lionel Messi in an award ceremony was celebrated throughout the country. What the audience did not expect was that a 61 victory over then-champion FIFA Interactive World Cup (FIWC, now FIFA eWorld Cup) Abdulaziz Alshehri would be the turning point for a drastic career change.

It is worth mentioning that Wendell Lira was not totally unaware of his skills with the game controller. “I always had this intention of becoming a YouTuber, to do something for video games,” he told The Esports Observer. Wendell was already a very well ranked player on the EA SPORTS FIFA scene in the country and was the champion of the state of Goiás in 2012.

Video games were cited even in his speech when receiving the award: “I would like to thank this opportunity to meet these players who are my idols, who I knew only from video games and today I am meeting in person,” he said at the time.

Lira’s potential in virtual fields caught the attention of businessman Felipe Carvalho, a specialist in sports management and an agent licensed by the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF, from the acronym in Portuguese), who contacted the player to make a proposal. Together, they built the project that made Wendell Lira dedicate himself exclusively to esports.

“When Felipe got in touch, he told me it was a soccer proposal. And when we sat down to talk, he detailed the whole project, which consisted of playing soccer and being a YouTuber at the same time. But as I already understood this world, because I already had the intention of becoming a YouTuber or streamer, I told him that I was not able, because I already knew that I would be very busy, that there was a great demand of time and it was impossible to reconcile both careers,” said Lira.

Felipe Carvalho also spoke with The Esports Observer, sharing his vision of the project’s conception with Lira: “In 2015 it was my first contact with electronic sports, and as I already worked with traditional sports, that caught my attention. My associate was also impacted by the esports and came up with the idea of bringing a football player to it. This was in parallel with the Puskás Award, and my associate drew attention to a footnote of a story about Wendell’s victory at the event, briefly mentioning the victory over the world champion. That was the insight to model the winning project we have today. It was a great deal, which attracted a lot of market attention.”

From there, Lira says that his experience as a soccer player helped a lot in adapting to his career in esports: “The psychological factor helps a lot. I can do most games and tournaments without feeling a lot of pressure, something that most people can’t, ending up tilting and playing low. Also because I have been a professional football player my whole life, I can understand a little more about how to have tactical information, how to play, how to create plays, how to defend, and that ends up making a difference.”

Lira said that one of the biggest challenges was adapting the routine to become an esports professional while also being an effective communicator. “It was difficult to adapt to the way you prepare and conduct an interview and the way you prepare your life, because it ends up being a very complicated one. Friday, Saturday and Sunday I spend playing, making live streams and creating content. If I said only one or another isolated factor that was challenging, I would be inaccurate.” 

Today Lira plays for Sporting CP Esports, an organization belonging to the Portuguese sports club, and has signed partnerships with Coca-Cola, Nike, HyperX, and Twitch, having past relationships with brands such as Heineken, DHL, and EA Sports. However, this is not the only source of income for the athlete, who claims to have multiplied his monthly income by three or four times in relation to his time as a soccer player. 

“Today I have a company in which we work with my image. I have done events, event coverage, advertising, coverage of the FIFA World Cup in Russia, and I am a speaker. I have even lectured at the World Football Congress in Portugal. So there are several segments that come together thanks to the strong image I got.”

Carvalho also celebrates the project: “The market is still lacking in initiatives today, and in 2016 it was even more unknown. So we had the courage to convince a professional player at the top of his career to become a video games athlete, which caught the attention of many people and many brands. It was very positive for us and also for Wendell.” 

Since the beginning of 2020 Carvalho has served as the CEO of the Kick-Off Electronic League (KOEL), which is today one of the most prominent FIFA 20 competitions, featuring esports teams of traditional sports clubs as Ajax, Brugge, Sporting, Cruzeiro, Athlético-PR and Wolverhampton (playing as Wolves), along with the traditional Brazilian esports organization Black Dragons and other teams. The competition is currently broadcasted by the sports streaming service DAZN.

Regarding his perspective for the professional scenario of EA SPORTS FIFA 20, Lira said that “the scenario is still little explored in Brazil. There is no official confederation. Now KOEL, which is the largest in Brazil, has appeared and has set up and carried out tournaments with a structure that did not exist. Today in the KOEL league we face the best teams in the world and the best Brazilian players are there. That shows the size and quality of this league today. But there is still a long way to grow. 

“There is a lack of investment, a lack of understanding among football clubs that soccer video games today are a reality that can add a lot to traditional soccer. But little by little people are opening their heads and understanding that esports are here to stay. It has a target audience of 15 to 25 years old people who actually consume the goods, and it is a reality as it is one of the sectors with the highest investment and growth in recent years. Whoever invests in this scenario will certainly have a very high return.”



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