Kartikeya Behl had quite an unconventional start at FIFA. He started out as a casual player, later won the Asian Football Gaming Championship and now he is signed by Austrian football legend Christian Fuchs’ esports team NoFuchsGiven. We had a chance to talk to him about his journey.
How did you start out with FIFA?
Kartikeya Behl: I started gaming with FIFA; started out with FIFA 8. That’s way back in 2009.
How did you get into the professional scene?
I was a casual player until 2016. Then I heard that Gaming Monk was organising a few tournaments. So I gave it a go but I did not perform well. But I knew that it was something that I could pull off so I started to practice for it. I ended up winning a few tournaments in 2017. Then there was this Championship and I heard that the winner would get to represent India at an international tournament that was AFGC (Asian Football Gaming Championship). So qualified from India and I went there and I won the Championship.
So you became the first Indian player to win an international FIFA tournament. You had earlier said that it was all casual earlier and you had not performed well at the Gaming Monk tournament. What was your rank exactly?
When I started to play, I was getting knocked out in group stages. Like in first round or second round itself. I used to get knocked out very early on. Back then around 300 people used to participate and I used to get knocked out in the first round itself.
How did you improve your game to reach the point that you are at right now?
After I started off, I got introduced to a lot of pro players. That was the same time that I started working with Gaming Monk. Since I wasn’t winning I thought I might as well maybe organise these tournaments. I started out as an intern and helped them organise the tournaments. I used to plan and run all the FIFA tournaments in Delhi. And eventually it got to Mumbai and Bangalore. So I was traveling a lot and I was meeting a lot of pro players. I used to see them play and I started to practice with them. Someone suggested that I should try giving FIFA a hand in the professional circuit. So, when I got back home I started practicing online and started to play with all the best players in the world. Eventually I got to that level and it’s been upwards ever since.
What did you do specifically to improve your gameplay?
I would say there is no shortcut. All it was was some hard grinding. I used to play for like 6 to 7 hours. I used to watch a lot of pro players. But you can’t drain yourself for 6 to 7 hours playing the game without any goal. So I used to set some basic goals to concentrate on while playing the game. Like defending, for example. I used to make it an aim that I shouldn’t be conceding more than three or four goals in a day. So eventually I started to improve my defense.
FIFA has a ton of controls. Different controls for different shots and different controls for different skills. Is it necessary to learn all those controls?
To be honest, no. You just need to know the basics. FIFA isn’t a tough game to play but it’s a tough game to master. I have seen world champions not using a single skill and end up winning the whole tournament. It’s basically like you should know what to do and when to do. All that fancy stuff does come into play but it purely depends on your play style. I personally for that matter mix up my styles. Sometimes I play a very skillful game where I use all those skills. Then there’ll be one of those games where i’m not doing a single ball roll. You just have to adapt to what your opponent has to offer.
So you were selected by Christian Fuchs’ Team. How did that happen?
Ever since I won AFGC I’ve been looking for a lot of teams. I was messaging all these International teams but I used to get responses like they weren’t looking for someone from India because they were not sure about the market. So it took a lot of effort, it took a lot of messages and a lot of contacts. I almost got signed by a different team. But then again, it did not really work out because they were not sure about the Indian market. Then again I ended up going to AFGC this year and I secured a top 12 position. After that I thought that maybe it wasn’t just a one time wonder. I thought maybe I can make this happen again and I just needed a platform. So I got in touch with Christian Fuchs’ esports team and I asked them if they were interested to sign someone from India. So they asked me for my esports portfolio. And then we had a few talks about the terms and now I am in the team.
Will you be playing from here or will you be going to England?
I have been getting this question a lot. As of now I don’t think I am going to relocate to England. Hopefully one day if things are going well.
You left your job to play FIFA. How were you confident that it would work out?
You have to take that risk. I was struggling for like 3 years. There was no support and I was travelling for the tournaments out of my own pocket. It was mostly to test whether I can win a tournament. It took in effort but if you keep at it you will eventually make it. India has a lot of potential and it is still untapped when it comes to esports.
When did you decide to leave your job?
I decided to leave my job last month when I got in touch with NoFuchsGiven and got on to the team and spoke to my boss about it and they were very supportive. I thought if I have to give it a try now would be a good time because I am 21 now and after 25 or 26 years your hand eye coordination begins falter. Even right now I am not sure if I will make it big or if I will be a good addition to the team but I am giving it a try.
Do you think it is hard for professional esports athletes in India to get into the international leagues?
It is. If one fine day you decide to be an esports Pro, there’s going to be a lot of struggle. From the grassroot level, you have to improve your game. There are a lot of social barricades too. Even today when I go to family gathering and tell them that I am a professional esports athlete I get a blank stare. But my parents have become very supportive.
Do you have any tips for people who are trying to make it as an esports athlete in India?
My basic tip would be to just dive into it. You have to work hard. There is no other way out. You have to make priorities, you have to set goals. Just put yourself out there. Even if you are not winning the tournaments just go to them and play. In my first year of playing FIFA I never won anything. So just go out there and keep at it.