Esports: Charanjot Singh hopes for beginner's luck on Asiad debut
The Chandigarh youngster, who won the South Asian seeding event last month, is brimming with confidence ahead of his Asian Games debut
Eyes glued to his screen, lightening quick hands on his PS5 console, Charanjot Singh, at first glance, comes across as your typical gaming geek. But there is more than what meets the eye as far as India's premier FIFA player is concerned.
"A lot of people have wondered if FIFA is even a sport. Perhaps the questions will stop soon," he said. While it is tough to predict whether the questions will indeed stop in Hangzhou, what is certain is that the 20-year-old will enter the 21-nation field at the Asian Games as a bright medal prospect as esports makes its Asiad debut as a medal sport.
Charanjot will be accompanied by Karman Singh Tikka in FIFA and the duo is high on confidence going into their maiden multi-discipline event. "I always wanted to be a part of something like this. Rubbing shoulders with other athletes, bumping into the likes of Neeraj Chopra and Sunil Chhetri...I am really looking forward to the experience," Singh, who topped the South Asia seeding event in Seoul last month, said.
Pooled with athletes from Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh, Charanjot topped the event without dropping a match. FIFA being an individual sport, Charanjot and Karman may also run into each other at the Asian Games.
"I don't read too much into the seeding, to be honest. Esports has grown a lot in Asia over the past few years and there are good players all around. It is such a fast-moving sport that even an iota of complacency can prove detrimental," he said.
Charanjot has reasons to be wary. While he uses FIFA's latest version in India, the one set to be used in the Asian Games is an older one. "It may sound that since we play well on the latest version, competing on the older version will be easier, but it's not like that. FIFA is a lot about muscle memory and my muscle memory is attuned with the new version. That's why the exposure at the seeding event was important where they used the version that will be in play at the Asian Games," he said.
"This (difference in versions) levels out the playing field to a great extent. Chinese have been playing on their version for a while, so they have an advantage."
"The basic difference between the two versions is the availability of players. Kylin Mbappe, for instance, is very strong in our version but not so much in the one that the Chinese use. Also, the latest versions allow a number of legends such as Pele and Maradona, but the earlier didn't have many options. This means our strategies needed to be reimagined," he explained.
FIFA Online, Charanjot says, is almost as tactical as outdoor football. "You need to know the strengths and weaknesses of your team and those of your opponents. You can't play a footballer out of position."
While basic FIFA versions come with pre-decided teams, the professional versions require the athlete to form the team and decide on the formation. "It involves watching a lot of football. You ought to follow all leagues, all players. It is not an easy exercise."
Each FIFA Online game lasts 15 minutes with a 90-second halftime. Each gamer will be allowed two more breaks of 90 seconds each for in-game substitutions or revisiting their tactics. That's where Charanjot football nous, developed over years of viewing and analysing the sport, kicks in.
"I am a football fanatic. I started watching the game around 2009-10, before I turned 10. I was instantly hooked to Chelsea and looked up to Eden Hazard," Charanjot, who also admires Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylin Mbappe for their pace, added. "I like Reece James too. In defence, I usually go with Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane."
One night away from his Asian Games debut, there is one athlete Charanjot is looking forward to meet. "I would like to meet Neeraj Chopra and tell him all about my sport. I want to tell him that like him, we also work hard to bring glory to the country. I hope that helps our sport in some way."