Singapore has reached the football World Cup... well, sort of.
Singapore's three-man eSports Team, Team Flash, made history when they came in first in the recently concluded East Asian Champions Cup Spring 2018, the largest international tournament for Fifa Online 3, qualifying them for the Fifa 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$141,600) out of the US$239,000 prize pool.
Their competitors were from South Korea, China, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand.
After a 3-2 semi-final win over China, Team Flash emerged victorious in the final against Thailand with a 3-0 win. Previously, Singapore's best finish was third place and a US$60,000 prize.
The team comprised Amraan Gani Musa Bakar, 23, and Joseph Yeo, 24 - both part of the 2016 team - as well as China's Fifa Esports player of the year, Si Jun Li, 26. Li joined Team Flash after a new rule this year permitted one foreign player in each three-person team.
This win shines a spotlight on the future of eSports, now not just an emerging sector, but also one well on its way to becoming an Olympic sport. The International Olympic Committee has recently recognised eSports as a viable Olympic sport.
Wins like this prove that Singapore has talent and Singaporeans have what it takes to succeed on an international stage. It is a validation of the possible viability of pursuing a career in eSports.
MR NICHOLAS KHOO, co-founder of Singapore's Cybersports and Online Gaming Association.
Major sporting events have jumped on the eSports bandwagon. It will be included in the 2022 Asian Games in Hangzhou, China, and is currently under consideration as an addition to the 2024 Summer Games in Paris.
In Singapore, the first eSports Academy was launched last year, with courses ranging from strategy classes by professional trainers to practice sessions by high-level gamers.
The first Asean eSports tournament will be held here later this year.
Mr Terence Ting, 27, manager of the winning team, said what the eSports scene needed was "not funds, but recognition". "There are already a lot of investors in the field," he said, adding that more government support would help combat "the stereotypical image of the couch potato e-gamer", which negatively affects Singaporeans' view of eSports as a feasible career.
Mr Nicholas Khoo, 39, co-founder of Singapore's Cybersports and Online Gaming Association, said of Team Flash's victory: "Wins like this prove... Singaporeans have what it takes to succeed on an international stage."
He noted the potential huge returns from the sport, citing several Singaporean winners such as Daryl Koh "iceiceice" Pei Xiang, who previously won over US$1 million in The International Dota 2 Championships as part of a team representing China in 2015.
However, even Singapore team captain Yeo was hesitant when asked if he would compete at the 2022 Asian Games.
"There is a negative perception in Singapore when it comes to playing games as a profession. After all, how long can you play? By 2022, I will be past my prime," he said. "It is only right for me to find a regular job."