“I am terrible at all other games,” Tom Leese told us at a swanky event in London. “I used to play Call of Duty back in the Modern Warfare 2 and World of War days, but I was no good. I tried Fortnite when it was booming and I was terrible at that. I also tried NBA 2K, terrible at that. For some reason, FIFA’s the only game I’m good at!”
Saying that Tom Leese is good at FIFA is like saying Lionel Messi is good at football. While he might not be bagging many Warzone wins, Victory Royales or slam dunks, the young football gaming star is on top of the world when it comes to FIFA esports – and he’s helping change the game.
The 22-year-old has recently made esports history, moving from YouTube sensations Hashtag United to a new home at EXCEL in a ‘first of its kind’ transfer. There have been many transfers between FIFA esports teams to this point, but this one stands apart due to the reported fee involved. It is rumoured that securing Leese’s signature cost the ambitious EXCEL team a six-figure fee.
Tom’s transfer fee, therefore, is larger than many seen in professional football itself and has attracted attention from all corners. The move was even reported by premier football news outlet, Sky Sports.
With this move, EXCEL have upped the stakes in FIFA esports. It’s a landmark move for the industry, but also one for Tom personally. “It’s a big move for me,” he says. “I was massively ingrained in what was happening at Hashtag but I’ve really enjoyed things so far.”
Hashtag United have one of the biggest online football platforms in the world. The Isthmian League North football club was born and raised on YouTube, growing from a team playing exhibition matches into a very well-supported semi-professional outfit. The brand extends further too, with a well-backed women’s team and a successful esports team both parts of their growing reach.
Hashtag’s combined outlets boast more than a quarter of a million Twitter followers, more than half a million subscribers on YouTube and have big name recognition and influence in the footballing world. They are not an easy team to leave.
EXCEL, however, are planning to extend their own empire. With the signings of Tom and his new teammate, 2017 FIFA eSports World Cup winner Spencer ‘Gorilla’ Ealing, as well as the addition of Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli to the mix as an ambassador, EXCEL are looking to start big and continue strong as they dip back into the world of FIFA esports.
It was this ambition from EXCEL, and the team’s track record of success in games like League of Legends and Fortnite, that convinced Tom that a move was the best option for him.
“Knowing that they want to go to the top of esports in FIFA, like they have in other games, that excited me. It seemed like their priority was to make me the best person I can be, commercially and in content-creation, and also as a player.”
EXCEL’s strategy is a holistic one. They want to turn Tom and Spencer into the most commercial products they can, and that starts by them winning FIFA tournaments. To support their players as they try to do this, they’ve created an impressive HQ for them to train in and stream from, recruited former FIFA esports pro Nathan “Zelonius” Horton to manage their players and, importantly, hired a performance analyst to help push the lads to their max.
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“Being good at FIFA isn’t enough,” Tom says. “Mentality is massive, being in the right headspace, because you have to be composed when the time comes. You can’t really prepare for playing in big finals, for £20k, £50k, even £100k. It just comes down to your mental state and how composed you are.”
“It’s strange for me because I’ve always been chasing,” he admits. “I’ve always looked at Tekkz or Dossary or Gorilla and wanted to get to their level, but now I’m happy that I’m at that level. It’s where I knew I should’ve been, though it’s taken me a while to get there.”
Leese proved his credentials last year, outlasting some of the best players in the country to win the ePremier League trophy for Watford. He also pulls on the Three Lions shirt to represent England as part of the eLions – but Leese only wants more success.
“My only goal is to win as many trophies as I can, every single tournament. I don’t prioritise them, I just want a clean haul of trophies. I want to be that guy, when people talk about FIFA esports, they talk about Tom.”
People are already talking about Tom. He has gone from losing to his big brother on FIFA, to being too good to play against his mates, to becoming an esports history-maker. As long as he doesn’t swap to CoD or Fortnite, he’ll only make more history in his new surroundings.
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