Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 September 2019

UAE gamers 'ditch PES for Fifa' as local club included for first time

The latest edition of the long-running franchise will feature Al Ain, giving world ‘a taste of Arab football’

Al Ain fans are celebrating their side's inclusion in the Fifa 20 franchise. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Al Ain fans are celebrating their side's inclusion in the Fifa 20 franchise. Chris Whiteoak / The National

An Emirati football club has been included in the world’s most popular sports computer game for the first time.

Millions of football fans will have the chance to take control of Al Ain FC when the latest edition of the popular Fifa series is released worldwide next month.

The move sparked excitement among fans of the Garden City side, known as The Boss, which is historically one of the country’s most successful.

“It’s a big surprise for us – for a long time we have been waiting for this moment,” said Safee Adel, an Al Ain supporter who owns a PlayStation.

He attended his first Al Ain match in 1994, the year after the first game in the long-running series, Fifa International Soccer, was released on consoles such as the Sega Mega Drive.

“I can see on my [social media] timeline that everyone is going to buy this game,” he said.

Football-supporting gamers have held a long-running debate about whether Fifa or competitor Pro Evolution Soccer is superior.

While many defend their preferred game almost as passionately as they support their teams, Mr Adel, 33, said Fifa’s announcement was enough to make him switch allegiance.

“Honestly, I prefer PES,” he said. “But starting from now I’ll change to Fifa.”

Within minutes of the announcement, local businesses sought to capitalise on the news. The Al Ain branch of Chapati Street, an Indian fast food business, set up a competition to win copies of the game in return for sharing a message on social media.

Mohammed Nabil, 37, said he only occasionally played his PlayStation but would devote more time to it now his favourite club was included.

“I guess now I will spend more time on it playing with the Al Ain team,” he said. “I am proud to know that they will be included, it will add a lot of value to the club and UAE football. Fans are talking about this on a lot of the WhatsApp groups – there is a lot of discussion about this.”

Al Ain were included despite a disappointing domestic season in 2018-19, which they began as defending champions but finished fourth.

It is more likely that the club’s exploits in the Club World Cup, in which they defeated Argentinian giants River Plate before losing to Real Madrid in the tournament final, attracted the interest of bosses at EA Sports, the game developer.

epa07233851 Players of Al Ain FC celebrate a goal during the FIFA Club World Cup 2018 match between ES Tunis and Al Ain FC in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates, 15 December 2018. EPA/MAHMOUD KHALED
Al Ain players celebrate a goal during the Fifa Club World Cup 2018 match between ES Tunis in Al Ain in December 2018. EPA

Al Ain was also among the most requested teams from football fans in the region, it was claimed, while a partnership between the UAE’s National Media Council and EA Sports, aimed at developing the computer games market in the region, was another factor.

The inclusion of a full Emirati club team comes only one year after a UAE footballer was included in the Fifa series for the first time. Omar Abdulrahman, a former Al Ain player, was included in last year’s game following his move to Al Hilal in Saudi Arabia. He has since moved back to the UAE Pro League, which begins in September, after signing for Al Jazira.

"The addition of Al Ain FC in the upcoming EA sports Fifa 20 is a recognition of the hard work of our players and our management and, more importantly, our incredible fans in the UAE and beyond,” said Hamad Al Ameri, Managing Director of Al Ain Sports and Cultural Club.

“Al Ain FC has the history, talent and record to make it one of the best clubs in Asia, and we look forward to showing football fans from around the world a taste our capabilities and the true potential of Arab football.”

Updated: August 19, 2019 12:25 PM

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