An Exclusive Interview With Siddh Chandarana- The Indian Ace On Mesut Özil’s Esports Team
Before a certain global pandemic brought a screeching halt to world order, Siddh Chandarana had the world at his feet, or should we say, the virtual one at his fingertips. As the second Indian to play for an international eSports team, turning out for Arsenal superstar Mesut Özil’s outfit M10, Siddh is undisputedly one of the hottest properties on the Indian FIFA scene right now.
While his plans to link up with the team at its base in Germany and a visit to the Emirates to watch his beloved Arsenal in action may have been put on hold for now, it gives the 19-year-old from Mumbai a chance to extend his dominance over the domestic FIFA landscape, and he has done just that. In between tearing it up in the country’s biggest FIFA league and racking up win after win online, Siddh takes the time to reflect on a whirlwind few years that see him sitting pretty as India’s premier FIFA talent.
What’re your earliest memories of FIFA?
I got my first taste of FIFA when I was 7 years old, with FIFA 06 and 07 on my first console, the PlayStation 2. Though at the time it was mostly a casual affair with friends, I still picked up the game relatively early.
When and how did you get into competitive eSports? What were your family’s thoughts?
I didn’t enter my first FIFA competition till I was about 12, given how busy I was at school. I started out by entering into tournaments hosted by the local gaming cafés, every couple of months. Whilst this was not my sole focus back then, it was around this time that I realized my passion for the game and used it to hone my skills. By the time I was 17, I started entering bigger competitions and shifting my focus to FIFA full-time.
Though this wasn’t the plan initially, my family has always been supportive when I told them I wanted to take this up professionally. My dad, being a massive football fan has always been understanding and has always followed my games. When I signed my first contract back in 2018, that’s when my family realized the potential of e-sports as a career and being able to count on their support has never been an issue.
Who do you look up to and think are the ones to beat in the world of competitive FIFA (Indian and otherwise)?
In the Indian scene, someone who I’ve come up against a number of times is Charanjot Singh. His record speaks for itself and we’ve locked horns in many finals, with a fairly even head-to-head. It’s always a challenge when I go up against him. Elsewhere, I look up to Agge Rosenmeier, a former eWorld Cup winner and one of the best players in the game around the time I was coming up. Seeing players like those encouraged me to take up the game in the first place.
You joined the M10 team back in October 2018. How would you describe the last 18 or so months since coming onboard?
I got a call telling me they were looking to get an Indian player on board. Things picked up from there and having looked at my CV and achievements, they decided that I was the right fit for the team.
The ride so far has been nothing short of amazing. From the moment I came onboard, I’ve had the chance to compete at the highest level. The exposure to the upper echelon of esport tournaments, like the ES Football Championship in Malaysia last year, is what has helped take my game from strength to strength, something in which the M10 team’s support can’t be overstated.
How has the current season been? Also, what events are you eyeing up going forward?
Unfortunately, with Indians ineligible to participate in the FIFA eWorld Cup, the focus for me currently is on domestic tournaments. We currently have the inaugural edition of the Pro League, which is India’s biggest FIFA tournament, that will conclude in the next couple of weeks.
Prior to that, I had the huge honour of captaining the 5-man Team India squad at the IsoNations cup. Although we were narrowly beaten at the Round of 16 stage, our perfect group stage record against the likes of Singapore, Spain and Portugal was a big takeaway looking ahead to other big international tournaments.
Back home in Mumbai, winning the city’s inaugural Esports Championship in March and the first edition of the supporters’ championship, where I was thrilled to represent the Arsenal Mumbai Supporters’ Club, have been among the highlights of the current season.
It wouldn’t be bold to assume that you are one of the flag bearers for eSports in India. What’re your thoughts on the current community and where it’s headed?
The Indian FIFA community’s growth has been very slow and gradual, though it is finally starting to pick up. Part of this was down to the fact that up until 2018, no Indian player was playing professionally for an eSports club. Around the same time that I signed with M10, Kartikeya Behl also joined Christian Fuchs’s team, ‘NoFuchsGiven’, which in hindsight, was the impetus our FIFA community needed.
Now, we have more than 10 players playing for international eSports teams, which has helped put us on the map. The next big goal is for India to become eligible for the eWorld Cup, which would be massive for the community.
Prominent figures such as Tekkz have voiced their frustrations with the current game (FIFA 20). What are your thoughts, and do you feel EA is doing enough for the community?
I completely agree with what some of the best FIFA players have come out and said about no one really enjoying the game. Every iteration over the years has had its own sets of problems, but in its current form, FIFA 20 is little more than a snoozefest with the focus entirely on defending.
The skill gap is lower than ever, and even relative newbies are able to exploit tactics such as ‘drop back’ while defending which makes them tough to break down and the overall feel of the game tedious. Although EA does consult pro gamers at the development stage prior to the launch, each patch introduced over the course of the season seems to make the game worse. You’d have to go back to FIFA 18 to find that balance between defence and attack, which produced many end-to-end games that were enjoyable to compete in.
With the focus of each version of FIFA making a paradigm shift, what changes do you have to make to ensure you stay on top?
It’s a matter of adapting your game and maximizing the use of in-game tactics to stay ahead of the competition. Like I said, FIFA 20 is a defence-heavy game, so this year the trend has been to go for single-striker formations and compact midfields to keep things tight at the back. Similarly, in FIFA 19, the attacks were overpowered, and strike pairs gave you the edge in high-scoring encounters.
Even within the same version, constant patches and updates can force you to rethink your approach. It’s important to stay on your toes to yield the best results.
eSports is gaining traction and popularity worldwide, especially with the current scenario we all find ourselves in. What advice would you give youngsters looking to take this up as more than a hobby?
For starters, the perception surrounding eSports needs to change, especially in India, where people need to realise its potential as a career and do away with the stereotype that video games are a waste of time. One can only succeed in this field with the right support system around them.
Like any other sport, you can suffer a string of poor results and bad form, so it’s important to take the bad times with the good and stay patient. After all, it took me 3 years to get to the point where I am currently. Coming from someone who once lost 7 finals in a row and almost quit, perseverance is key.
On a personal note, it’s important to maintain a healthy balance in terms of your lifestyle, as gaming for hours on end can be draining. It’s easy to make the mistake of ‘grinding’ the game as we say, so focusing on the quality over quantity mantra will serve you well in the long run.
You can catch Siddh live in action on his twitch stream