SINGAPORE - It's history in the making: Singapore has reached the football World Cup ... well, sort of.
The country's three-man eSports side, Team Flash, won the East Asian Champions Cup Spring 2018, the largest international tournament for the Fifa Online 3 game, qualifying them for the eWorld Cup in June.
Not only did they clinch Singapore's first international gold in a Fifa tournament, they also took home US$108,000 (S$142,000) out of the US$239,000 prize pool.
Competitors from South Korea, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore took part in the Asian leg.
After a 3-2 semi-final win over China, Team Flash faced the home team Thailand in the final, emerging victorious with a 3-0 win. Previously, Singapore's best place was third and a US$60,000 prize.
The team consisted of Amraan Gani Musa Bakar, 23, and 24-year-old Joseph Yeo - both part of the 2016 team - and China's Fifa Esports player of the year, Si Jun Li, 26.
Si joined Team Flash after a new rule this year permitted one foreign player in each three-person team.
The win comes as the local eSports scene kicks off, with the launch of Singapore's first eSports Academy last year and the announcement of the first Asean eSports tournament to be held here later this year.
ESports will be included in the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, and it may be in the 2024 summer Olympics in Paris.
"Wins like this prove that Singapore has talent and Singaporeans have what it takes to succeed on an international stage," said Mr Nicholas Khoo, co-founder of Singapore's Cybersports & Online Gaming Association.
"It is a validation of the possible viability of a pursuing a career in eSports."
Mr Khoo noted the potential huge returns from the sport, citing Singaporeans like Daryl Koh "iceiceice" Pei Xiang, who have won over US$1 million in prize money as part of a team representing China in competitions like The International Dota 2 Championships.
The eWorld Cup will give Team Flash the chance to get a slice of the US$300,000 prize pool and, of course, claim the world title.
But it will be a different version of the game used in the Asian round so the team will have to train even harder.
Team manager Terence Ting, 27, is "confident of their ability to adapt to a new game engine".
They trained for about two hours a day and then eight to 12 hours a day in the week leading up to the competition so with the challenging road ahead, "their schedule will be even more rigorous".