He may be one of the most recognisable FIFA players in the UK, but Hashtag Ryan Pessoa never dreamt of being an esports star.
In fact, he qualified for his first event without even knowing.
“I got into esports in a different way to others – I kind of fell into it. I never really knew about it beforehand,” the Hashtag United star told Dream Team at a Gfinity Elite Series press conference.
“I was in a group with two of the favourites to win the whole thing last year and managed to beat them and then got through to the final and beat the other one.”
That’s how it started.
The club was founded by YouTube star Spencer Owen, who kicked off their esports team in 2016.
You’d think, then, that Ryan spends nearly all day playing EA Sports’ beloved football game. But you’d be wrong.
Amazingly, the 20-year-old paints a picture of a far more balanced life than many would assume is the case for a professional gamer.
“You can fit everything around FIFA,” he explains.
“I go to university and I still do everything. I play football, athletics, swimming, gym – everything. It’s just about having time management.
“Even in the run-up to competitions, I was still attending university lectures and seminars but I would prioritise FIFA as this is something I want to do as a career now.”
As esports becomes a more viable career, more and more teenagers and moving away from traditional education to focus on gaming.
Thankfully, although there was some apprehension at first, Ryan’s family are now fully behind his dream.
“I remember when I qualified for my first competition in Germany, they sent me tickets and my mum was like, ‘You’re not going, this could be a scam.’ We never knew anything about it.”
“Now with more information and more things like the Elite Series happening, I guess they’ve become more accepting of it and understand. There’s a lot of things that can benefit from me doing this.”
Esports is enormous in Eastern Europe – with thousands packing out stadiums to watch the very best talent from around the world.
Just last week, gaming enthusiasts descended on the quiet industrial town of Katowice, Poland, to watch the IEM: CSGO finals.
The winning team, Fnactic, walked away with $500,000 – just one of many life-changing sums of money up for grabs at these events.
In the UK, esports is still in its infancy in comparison – but Ryan believes football clubs could be the best way of pushing it into the mainstream.
“Getting more of the actual football teams involved in esports will help bring it more into the public eye,” he says.
“Having a team like Manchester United getting an esports team and promoting it around their football games will help the sport become more well known – not just by gamers but by football fans.”
So how long does Ryan plan to be a FIFA gamer for? After all, EA Sports changes the game every year – meaning players need to adapt quickly to survive.
“It’s hard to say,” he replies. “Maybe this year I’m fantastic at FIFA but maybe next something changes and my game isn’t good enough. You never really know.
“I enjoy learning something new and adapting to something I’m not familiar with.
“For me that’s the fun part of it – I need to remember that it’s not just me starting again, but everybody else too.”