‘King FIFA’ scouts for the best e-athletes of the Netherlands
Everyone plays video games sometimes, but few people manage to make a living out of it. Former student Koen Weijland (28) is the exception that confirms the rule. The former FIFA world champion is now national coach of E_Oranje, reports on championships for RTL 7 and scouts for new gaming talent together with Ruud Gullit. ‘I was very lucky.’
Nerves, heart palpitations and a lot of frustration. A good game is just like top sports. Or so it felt for Koen Weijland. By training hard, he managed to become the world’s best FIFA player in 2010, 2011 and 2015. In 2016 he was even offered a contract by football club Ajax, thus becoming the first professional e-athlete in the Netherlands. This led to his nickname: ‘King FIFA’.
By the time Weijland signed the contract, he had already completed his Bachelor’s in Business Communication. Something he’s apparently still proud of, since his Twitter bio includes the line: Radboud University Alumnus. ‘Oh, is that still on there?’ says Weijland with a smile. ‘I didn’t know. It does show how happy I was to get my Bachelor’s. It felt like a real victory.’
The combination of professional gaming and university study turned out to be more of a challenge than he thought. ‘In secondary school I found it easy to combine homework and gaming. But if you have to miss examination weeks because of a tournament in China, it gets a little bit more complicated.’ As a result, he didn’t manage to complete his first year in Communication and Information Studies in Groningen. Following a negative study advice, he enrolled at Radboud University.
In Nijmegen, Weijland once again tried to combine his studies with e-sports. ‘But I wasn’t attending tournaments anymore. Studying had become more important and I didn’t want to let everything depend on resit weeks.’ In his second year, he made a radical decision. He decided to abandon his career as a top athlete and devote himself fully to his studies so he could complete his study programme in three years.
His interest in FIFA slowly declined. ‘I also got a girlfriend,’ says Weijland. ‘And I found her more interesting than gaming.’ Plus, he still had to complete 80 study credits in his third year. ‘It was very hard work, and I’m really happy that I managed to do it.’ Weijland had long given up on a career in e-sports. After his studies he was planning to do a communications internship in Munich. Or at least that was his intention until production company Endemol came knocking at his door.
Endemol wanted Weijland to launch a YouTube channel where he would be gaming with famous footballers. An offer the former e-athlete couldn’t refuse. ‘I’d never really wanted to be a big gamer. My dream had always been to work in the media, and this was my chance to do so.’
‘I’d never really wanted to be a big gamer’
By 2021 his dream has come true. He analyses Europa League games for RTL1, and together with Ruud Gullit he presents the Videoland programme The Next E-Talent, in which he and the former footballer scout upcoming gaming talent.
Although he’s no longer a professional gamer, he does earn a good salary thanks to his gaming past. ‘I was very lucky. It’s really hard these days to break through as an e-athlete. These young guys are so incredibly good. They can literally learn any trick from players on YouTube and streaming platforms like Twitch. If I had to start right now, I’d never make it.’
And yet Weijland wants to help young talented players if he can. He no longer does this via Endemol, but via his own personal YouTube channel, with more than 250,000 subscribers. In the videos, young talented players can show off their skills. If they’re good enough, they may be selected for E_Oranje: the Dutch e-sports team. With the national coach right by their side. Since October 2020, Weijland is to E_Oranje what Frank de Boer is to the Dutch national football team. ‘UEFA had planned for some time to do more with e-sports and last year they started organising official tournaments. The Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB) didn’t want to lag behind. They already knew me, so I was the first person they asked.’
As national coach, he selects the best e-athletes in the Netherlands, those who will ultimately represent the Netherlands at tournaments. ‘I’m an old hand at this business. I know how this world works and what it’s like to play in a tournament. I’m glad I don’t have to coach every day. I spend approximately one day a week coaching the national team. It’s fine, but luckily my life no longer revolves around e-sports alone. There’s so much more to life.