LONDON -- Donovan "TekKz" Hunt doesn't strike you as the best in the world. The 17-year-old walks through the Gfinity Arena in Fulham, London, with his head down, covered by both a hood that doesn't ever seem to leave the top of his head and a cap. Both are black, which makes the bright red of the Liverpool F.C. jersey he wears stand out even more.
When you do catch a glimpse of his face, his youthful features are guaranteed to make you feel old. He's young and he looks it, perhaps giving off the appearance of inexperience compared to others, but he is the most feared competitor in the ePremier League.
"I think I'm the favourite here by far," he said last Wednesday, correcting a question that referred to him as just one of the favourites for the first ever Premier League title in esports, contested via EA Sport's FIFA Ultimate Team on Xbox One and PS4.
Reading that quote, it might seem like arrogance from TekKz, but the way he says it makes it sound anything but. It's almost as if he is tired of pointing out that he is considered the best Xbox One FIFA player in the world, with more than double the Global Series points than the next best player, reigning world champion Mosaad "Msdossary" Aldossary. He makes winning stacked events look easy, and with the ePremier League only offering the best players in the UK, not the world, as competition he knows this is another event he should be winning.
But really the only pressure on him to win this event comes from himself. His massive Global Series points total means he could take the rest of the season off and still qualify for the eWorld Cup later this year, and the lack of prize money means there is no financial incentive to win the competition. Instead Hunt is playing for one thing: to bring Liverpool F.C., his beloved football club, a first Premier League trophy in his lifetime.
"When I knew that the Premier League was coming there was only one team I wanted to represent and that was at Liverpool," says TekKz. "I wouldn't let myself go to an easier tournament and represent a lower team compared to Liverpool because I would be annoyed with myself, so I went to Liverpool and I managed to win the qualifier. It's massive for me and I just want to make my family proud by representing them."
TekKz is a lifelong Liverpool fan, partly thanks to his dad's influence. When TekKz won the Liverpool qualifier -- all 20 Premier League clubs had tournaments to find an Xbox One and PS4 participant in the finals -- he did so having just stepped off a plane from Atlanta after winning the ELEAGUE FUT Champions Cup, resulting in some serious jet lag. His father quickly messaged him asking him to get tickets for upcoming Liverpool FC matches now he was a part of the club. Joining any other team would have been sacrilege, and bringing them a Premier League title would be a dream come true.
On Thursday, TekKz made an inauspicious start to the ePremier League finals, losing his opening match to Manchester City -- ironic given the real-life battle for the Premier League title that is ongoing this season.
But that loss to Connor "iBattle Cat" Keys didn't faze TekKz. Even before the tournament began he mentioned that he could very well lose this match, as it was against one of the hardest opponents in his group, and iBattle Cat would have the advantage of playing in the first round of games, while TekKz was going in cold having been the one player in his five-team group that sat out the first stage of the round robin format.
But TekKz predicted that even if he did lose to Man City, he would quickly bounce back and make it through the group stage. Unsurprisingly, he was correct.
"Tournaments are getting harder and harder as everyone is learning the game even more," says TekKz. "As everyone else is improving, I have to think how to improve, and I'm learning how to cope better in different situations. Say there's ten minutes left and I'm down by quite a few goals, now I know I'm gonna come back. I've just improved as a player myself. When people catch up to me I always try to learn something to keep ahead of them."
The Liverpool-Man City encounter was the only match TekKz lost, in one of the strongest performances seen in the world of FIFA. A lot of his games were close, but somehow he always found a way to come back, often in the very late stages of a match having spent the early portion figuring out how his opponent plays and then changing his style to counter them.
In the Xbox One final he faced off against Diogo "SCP Diogo" Mendes, who was representing Fulham. A shocking start saw Fulham lead 2-0 early on in the first leg, but by the 90th minute in the second leg the score was back even at 3-3. Extra time kicked off and the match continued to be the most entertaining of the entire event, with chances at both ends. But then, into stoppage time in the second half of extra time, TekKz managed to pull a goal out of seemingly nowhere, which sent him exploding out of his seat, throwing his headset to the ground and leaping in celebration, as he knew this was the goal that would crown him Xbox One champion, and send him to the grand final.
While the Xbox final was great to watch, the grand final against Manchester United's Kyle "KyleLeese_" Leese was underwhelming. TekKz eased to a 6-2 win over the two legs, even winning 4-1 on the PS4, which Leese had earlier been crowned champion on. Taking down Liverpool's bitter rivals United in the final did make the victory even sweeter. Lifting a trophy certainly wasn't a new experience, but this time, unlike most of his other tournament wins, there wasn't a large cheque to go with it.
The lack of prize money was arguably the most controversial aspect of the ePremier League. Almost every other major event in the FIFA calendar has thousands of dollars up for grabs, and even smaller events usually have some kind of cash prize. When you look at the kind of money that is involved with other aspects of the Premier League, a $20,000 prize pool seems like a drop in the ocean and something that could have easily been put together.
"It's ridiculous that there's no prize money for the ePremier League tournament," said TekKz pre-tournament. "New players have qualified here who are learning. They are coming to a tournament and they need to tell their parents and so they come to the tournaments and the parents are like, 'oh, [there's] no money.' I guess that's a disappointing aspect.
"For me, I don't really mind prize money, I just want to win trophies and at the tournaments I'll win money along with that. If I can keep winning at the other tournaments and then come here, win a trophy, it's fine by me. But it would be ideal to have prize money."
Asked about the lack of a prize pool, Will Brass, head of sales and marketing at the Premier League, said: "It was something that we considered, but ultimately we were aware the big appeal of this event was to compete in official Premier League competition, win, hopefully, quite a cool trophy, but maybe most importantly to represent some of the biggest and most loved clubs in the world.
"And that appeal has been shown by the number of people who have participated, we've got some of the best players in the world playing in this competition. So that level of engagement seems to have maybe endorsed the decision such as it was and we're glad to see how many people are participating as a result."
But when all was said and done, TekKz was stood in front of the cameras - the event was screened in full by Sky Sports in the UK, as well as on Twitch and Facebook -- with a huge smile on his face, holding the ePremier League trophy. He may not have won any money, and the Global Series points don't really mean that much anymore to him, but he did manage to bring a Premier League trophy to Liverpool F.C., and he hopes that his success might be the catalyst for the main Liverpool squad this season.
"Obviously, this year at Liverpool, our actual football team has a great chance to win the league," said TekKz. "We just need Man City to drop points one time and for us to win the rest of our games.
"To win the league is not as easy as it sounds, but if Liverpool do win the league, and I win here, I'm taking all the credit for breaking the Premier League trophy drought."