EA Sports has announced details of the FIFA 21 Global Series on the Road to the FIFA eWorld Cup, with its esports calendar "pivoting to focus on entertainment" amid plans that include bringing professional footballers and celebrities into tournaments.
The company has been running competitive FIFA tournaments for many years, with the first FIFA Interactive World Cup (FIWC) taking place in 2004.
The FIWC was renamed the eWorld Cup in 2018 with the Grand Finals held at the O2 Arena in London. This has seen the competition become a fan-attended event in its own right, with esports becoming more and more mainstream.
After the success of the FIFA 20 Stay and Play Cup, which featured 20 professional footballers from around the world including Joao Felix and Trent Alexander-Arnold, EA Sports has decided to create new competitions where footballers, celebrities and influencers compete along with professional gamers and esports players.
The Twitch Rivals Preseason Invitational launches on October 3, while the YouTube Gaming Creators Cup is a one-day event taking place on October 8 to coincide with FIFA 21's global release date the following day.
"One of the biggest pivots and changes we've made is to focus on entertainment," Brent Koning, group director and FIFA commissioner for EA Sports, told Goal.
"The Stay and Play Cup showed to us that people want not just to see the best FIFA players in the world, but also the best footballers in the world, their favourite influencers, celebrities.
"So we've announced two new events: the Twitch Rivals Preseason Invitational and the YouTube Gaming Creators Cup. These take place prior to the launch of the FIFA 21 Global Series.
"These will show FIFA as a pure form of entertainment, so you're going to see some of the best football players smashing up against some of the best FIFA players and it's going to be really exciting."
Difficulties staging live events caused by the coronavirus pandemic have also seen EA Sports move its competitive gaming to regional events, with tournaments now being held virtually and broadcast on television or streamed online.
That includes the FIFA 21 Global Series which allows contestants to compete across 30-plus tournaments to become the FIFA eWorld Cup Champion.
The Global Series will comprise of regional events on all continents and is due to start in November, if all goes to plan.
"Everything has changed in the world, and at EA, we're trying to adapt to that uncertainty," Koning said.
"Going from a event-based model from a cloud-based remote production model is top of the list for us. EA has been a pioneer trying to get that cloud-based solution figured out so we can have a very similar quality broadcast experience that we would have had on the live event circuit.
"In order to do that, we've had to change to a regional-based circuit model. This allows us to have a little more integrity and fairness for players."
The regional-based competitions hope to ensure that every player has the same opportunity to succeed and Koning insists that the local servers will be as good as possible to ensure that the competitions can run smoothly.
"Making sure everything is as good as it can be is our imperative," he explained.
"Product checks, plenty of testing and getting people onto a level playing field is what we're trying to do. It takes time and resources and the company is committed to figuring out those things.
"We've gone to this region-based event circuit to ensure that people have a better chance of having a really good experience. Those local servers will help tremendously in that."
The FIFA 21 Global Series will also feature tournaments which will tie in with some real-life competitions, including the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Ligue 1, MLS as well as the Champions League and Copa Libertadores.
Koning believes that this combination of competitive FIFA and entertainment involving footballers and celebrities is the perfect step forward for football esports and will be sure to entertain and engage fans of the real-life game and the virtual game.
"We're certainly still focused on competition, but FIFA is woven into the fabric of football," Koning continued.
"So we want to instil this connection between your sports fandom and your esports fandom. By having these two types of events, it allows us to tap into new audiences.
"If we can make it more inviting for people to see some of the best players in the world on FIFA, we're going to do that. We saw it work with the Stay and Play Cup with over 4 million people tuning in."
Registration for the FIFA 21 Global Series begins on October 9 when FIFA 21 is released worldwide.