Living out the dream scenario of millions of video gamers around the world, John Oliveira keeps his trademark cool. He was signed to play as a professional gamer by the New England Revolution in March for his prowess in the internationally popular FIFA soccer game series.
Oliveira is a local talent who has played FIFA professionally for approximately two years. He competed on behalf of the Revs at the inaugural eMLS Cup in April, and is looking forward to the possible establishment of a regular eMLS League in the coming future.
With the World Cup showcasing the world’s passion for soccer, it’s worth discussing the world’s virtual soccer passion. The game is regularly one of the highest selling in the world, and Oliveira is in an elite class of players (his gamer tag is JKO1707).
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length and clarity.
What’s your soccer background?
JO: So I grew up on the Vineyard. I was born in Jersey, but moved to Brazil – my parents are Brazilian – when I was like a couple months old. So my earliest memories are actually in Brazil, playing soccer on dirt streets, kicking the ball around with 12-year-old kids and I was maybe four or five. When I moved here, I loved soccer since I’m a Brazilian guy. Everyone was playing baseball and football at school and I was like, ‘Why are we playing this? Don’t you know that soccer is the best sport in the world?’ So yeah, it’s stuck with me since I was little.
How early were you a FIFA player?
JO: The first time I remember playing FIFA was maybe FIFA 2000, the video game not the year. I don’t remember what year it was, but back then I just played that older version and just got into it. I became better and better, but competitively, I’d say it’s my second year doing that.
Did you ever imagine that you’d have an opportunity to play FIFA professionally?
JO: You know, it’s funny when you asked that I just got a quick flashback. The short answer is not really, but when I used to play with my friends, I’d joke around and say, ‘Dude, I think I’m good at this, but it’d be funny if I could actually make some money off of this.’ I just thought if they had a tournament up in Boston or something that we could do that. Just talking with friends, but I never really thought it come to fruition. I never thought MLS itself would get into it. The league itself, it’s really something I’d never imagined.
How did they find you and then sign you?
JO: They held a tournament in the Prudential Center in Boston, and I – being the FIFA feen that I am – had to play in it. I ended up doing really well, won it, so right from there that’s when the whole process was officially started from, that tournament. But a year before they had the tournament, I was kind of competing around the state for FIFA 17. I like to think that maybe that got their attention. This guy from the Boston area was doing something, and the FIFA esports team was doing growing and hopefully my name got thrown around somewhere in there.
And so the league hosted an eMLS Cup earlier this year? How often do you compete on behalf of the Revs?
JO: The eMLS came up because the league has just seen the FIFA scene, and its passion, and how great an opportunity it could be. They want to engage MLS and FIFA, and it’s been great and welcoming. Participating in eMLS was a dream. It was the first competition where I represented another team. I mean there are a bunch of esports organizations, but to represent a real soccer club itself is really cool. At eMLS, it was great but unfortunately I didn’t have the best results. But I’m looking forward to representing them again.
What’s your FIFA training schedule?
JO: I like to live and learn. I’d say two years ago when I really started playing competitively, I would tell myself that you have to play as much as you can to get that experience in and rack up those numbers. But now as I’m more experienced, I see that it’s more about quality than quantity. Get quality friendlies against someone who you know is going to challenge you. If I’m going to a competition or I’m trying to qualify, I’m definitely playing at least 20 hours a week, at the very least just to get my hand-eye coordination and muscle memory going. So on the day of the tournament, I’ll be fresh and my mind will be quick.
So is this your primary occupation?
JO: I’m actually a student, and I also have a part-time job here and there, one as an Uber driver. So this is more like a hobby more than anything. It’s not a full-time thing for me at this point. For the most part, I’m a student.
Do you have a favorite edition of classic FIFA that you still think about?
JO: It’s hard to pick, and as I get older I feel like some of my memories fade. But the earliest days, the FIFA that I spent the most time with was probably FIFA 06 or FIFA 07. The animations were really blocky, but I think I spent the most time with those games.
The way a team plays in FIFA is of course different from real life, so which World Cup roster do you think is the most talented from a purely video game perspective?
JO: Strictly FIFA? Alright, I’ll break it down for you. I think with Brazil, it’s only Neymar. If you’re just talking about it in FIFA, it’s only Neymar for Brazil. If he doesn’t score a long shot for you or dribble [past] five guys and chip the goalie or something, everyone else is kind of boring after that. But I think the team that stands out in terms of [FIFA] stats is probably Belgium. They have so many premier talents and athletes, so powerful. In my opinion, they’re hyped. All of their players are like extra strong or tall or fast, they have crazy stats. And a lot of those players are Belgian.
Do you play other video games or just FIFA?
JO: FIFA for me at this point is more serious than fun. So I can’t just zone out of a game and just dilly dally around, you know? I’m too deeply involved in it competitively, emotionally and mentally to just play for fun. But I to do try to get that fun aspect out of a video game, to get that sense of escaping this world that video games can give you. That being said, I loved the latest God of War game. I was playing that all the time. It’s awesome. I play Fortnite every once in a while, but I’m not too deeply involved in that game. Most of the time I’m on FIFA if I’m playing.
So when a new edition of FIFA comes out every year, how quickly do you master the new updates and tweaks that they make?
JO: I like to think that for the most part that playing FIFA is like riding a bike. I think if you’re good at it, you’re going to be good no matter what version it is. It’s a lot of playing a chess match, but with quicker reactions. Thinking about every move for a split second instead of 10 minutes. So for that part, it’s instinctively based for each individual. Of course you can get better, and that’s down to practicing. But I think that some people have it and some people don’t. That being said, there’s a little bit of learning curve with each new edition that comes out. With this emphasis on competitive gaming, EA Sports looks like they’re really implementing more manual inputs to the game. That should benefit the competitive scene, because it’ll make a wider range of error. And that’s going to reward the player who spends the time crafting their skill.