Meet The 22-Year-Old Who Has Won £57,000 After Choosing To Play FIFA Professionally Over University
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Imagine playing FIFA for a job and getting paid well to do it. It sounds like an absolute dream for most of us, but it's the actual reality of 22-year-old Tom Leese, a full-time professional FIFA player who represents England, Watford and Hashtag United.
Tom's first foray into FIFA was FIFA 2005 when he was seven and some ten years later he was playing professionally for the FUTWiz Academy.
Destroying his mates on a regular basis, he quickly discovered he was a lot better than your average Joe and soon began to make waves in the FIFA esports scene.
"I'd been playing my mates and giving each other a bit of banter when you're in school," Tom told SPORTbible.
"I sort of realised I was probably better than most of them and kept winning.
"It got to the point where I was banned from any tournaments we had when we were at each other's houses. I had to watch in the end!
"I played my brother before I started competing and he was always better than me as well. He came out of school and got a 'normal' job shall we say, so he stopped playing FIFA.
"I think that's part of where I got the competition from - always having an older brother. It gives you that edge and always makes you want to win.
"He was actually very good at FIFA but never took it up."
For a period he had to strike a balance between his A-Levels exams in his second year of sixth form alongside his ventures competing with a controller in hand outside school.
It wasn't quite the easy sell for his parents but they supported him nonetheless.
"I went to a tournament and won some prize money there. I made an agreement with my mum that if I can do my A-Levels to the highest level and take school seriously for the rest of the year, I can try and make the climb into full-time FIFA when I finish.
"It was just making sure I had some grades and education behind me if it goes wrong. They were pretty supportive, a bit confused - I had to explain the whole concept of what was going on as it's very new to everyone.
"I didn't expect my parents to fully understand but they supported me all the way and said, 'if you're going to try something like this, it's best to do it when you're young'.
"I'm glad they let me do it because it's been a good decision."
That first tournament win four years ago saw Tom pocket a whopping £20,000 in prize money and although he was confident he would win, he says it was "a bit of a madness" when the virtual final whistle was blown.
Winning these life-changing amounts has allowed him to look after his family in ways he never thought he would be able to.
As bad as 2020 has been worldwide, I'll always remember it personally for being a bit of a mazza.
Thanks to anyone who's watched any streams or videos, it's helped big time throughout these lockdowns & hopefully 2021 the world can go back to some normality
Happy New Year pic.twitter.com/aG2aLx2CZz
- Tom Leese (@HashtagTom_) December 31, 2020
"I definitely didn't expect when I came into FIFA to be in such a privileged position at such a young age.
"The prize money can definitely help my mum out whenever she needs it because it's repaying the faith she put into me.
"At 18, it wasn't easy for her to just let me play FIFA for a living - especially as I've always been a fairly smart student and I was looking to go to university.
"I always look to help anyone out if I can, if my mum ever needs anything or my family, I'm definitely always there to do that.
"It's something I'm very proud of being able to do at such a young age."
In August, Tom experienced the biggest victory of his career when he won the ePremier League representing Watford and scooped the £20,000 prize.
You could see how much it meant to him in the way he reacted. This was a moment that had been a long time coming.
This is what it means to be #ePL champion!
Congratulations, @HashtagTom_ :punch: pic.twitter.com/q8mnC2fpAS
- Premier League (@premierleague) August 28, 2020
YES YES YES YES YESSSSSS
EPREMIER LEAGUE CHAMPION AND £20,000 COME ON!!!!
- Tom Leese (@HashtagTom_) August 28, 2020
"We're going to enjoy our night!"
Hear from the man of the moment, @HashtagTom_... #ePL pic.twitter.com/g4LkDsv145
- Premier League (@premierleague) August 28, 2020
"I had a lot of moments in FIFA 20 where I finished second in tournaments about three or four times and missed out narrowly.
"I did start to think 'Maybe I'm a bottle job' and not cut out to win it.
"To finally have that breakthrough moment and know you're a champion at something and the best at that time, I think it breeds confidence going forward.
"Every tournament I play in now I feel I know what it's like to win a trophy."
His feeling afterwards was one of ecstasy and relief. We've all experienced the sweaty palms in a tense game but with serious cash on the line, the pressure is on a whole different level.
Although he's never been a rage-quitter who throws controllers, Tom has sought advice from mental coaches in learning how to deal with it.
"I would be lying if I said I've not felt pressure. I think every tournament you need a bit of pressure on you just to get you in that state of mind and ready to play but it's the way of dealing with it.
"I trained myself to not think about the prize money as much because the second you start thinking, 'Oh if I win this I get £20,000' - your brain just isn't focused on winning a game of FIFA anymore.
"It definitely comes with experience. I feel confident and I feel pressure but I don't stress about the prize money as much anymore."
Currently living with his teammate during lockdown, Tom reckons he plays FIFA for four hours a day on average.
He also spends time doing content creation such as Twitch streaming or YouTube, but a big part of his preparation is practicing and perfecting his craft.
Some stream that was to wrap up an unreal week. Pleasure as always :heart: pic.twitter.com/8yC2g3XuxC
- Tom Leese (@HashtagTom_) February 1, 2021
"I watch a lot of other pros because there's always someone doing something different to what you've seen before. I spend an hour or two watching other pro players, particularly the top ones - your 'Tekkz' and your people like that.
"Studying their game and seeing if there's anything you can implement. I practice against pros, hit them up for friendlies and trying to add new things to my game - sussing out what tactics work for you because the way FIFA is not everyone plays the exact same tactic.
"A different tactic suits a different person. I like to be aggressive in the way I defend and get the ball high up, whereas some people like to defend lower."
At the time he popped in for a natter on Zoom, Tom's record stood at 640 wins, 50 losses and 10 draws.
While not too shabby at all, it's not quite on par with the recent feats of 14-year-old Danish sensation Anders Verjang.
Still not old enough to play professionally,he's now 510-0 on Weekend League and Tom knows all about him.
"He's absolutely flying. I've played him in previous FIFAs as well before this year and I said straight away he's something special.
"He'll continue to explode and he'll be one of the dominant forces in the FIFA scene because he's just so good at the game. I can't explain it!
"Everything he does, every decision he makes his right. He knows when to shoot and when not to shoot, his player switching in defence is practically faultless.
"For many years to come he'll be a top name."
Tom's record against professional footballers is 1-1, thanks to a shock defeat to Chelsea's Callum Hudson-Odoi in 2019.
"When I got called up for England with 'Tekkz', we did something with [Raheem] Sterling, Trent [Alexander-Arnold] and [Callum] Hudson-Odoi.
"My filming was to play against Hudson-Odoi. He sort of tricked me and said, 'I don't play much FIFA, I'm not really into it'.
"Trent and Sterling were telling us that they play a lot. Hudson-Odoi had me thinking he wasn't that good and then I was Sheffield Wednesday and he was Juventus.
"He ended up beating me 2-1 and it's now on England's YouTube forever!
"I've also played Declan Rice in a two on one, me and my teammate both holding the controller, and we managed to scrape a 1-0 win."
According to esports earnings, Tom has collected around £57,000 from playing FIFA in 13 major tournaments.
Though he doesn't see himself doing it forever, his goals in this unique and rapidly evolving game called esports are simple.
"I think my aim professionally, which I don't think will last too long and I'll get another ten years of it because the science suggests your reaction time gets slower - is to win everything.
"I don't think I'll be happy until I've won absolutely everything in the scene. After that, just to be in a position that I can look after my family."
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