With the UCFB Sports Entrepreneur Competition set to return for a fifth consecutive year, we thought we’d highlight some of the previous winners and see how their businesses are getting on. First up, 2018 winners Brandon Smith and Richard Buckley…

Brandon and Richard are two ambitious media students at UCFB. They’re also the recognisable voice to millions of FIFA players across the globe. Since winning an EA Sports commentary competition in 2017, the pair have been flying around the world to commentate to arenas full of avid FIFA fans, including at the FIFA eWorld Cup Grand Final in 2018. With the eSport only getting bigger and bigger, the self-proclaimed ‘Ant and Dec’ of the scene set their sights on being the voice of a generation during a chat with UCFB…

It’s been a whirlwind year for you both. How has it been for you?

Brandon Smith: The last year has been an interesting one. It’s been really crazy and insane since coming to UCFB and meeting Richard. From doing a pro league in my dorm room and getting maybe three viewers, sometimes you might get 10, 20. Obviously it was quite disheartening but at the same time you have to put yourself out there, network and work as hard as you possibly can. People say sometimes you get a little bit of luck that goes your way and this competition came out from EA Sports saying they were looking for the next commentary duo for FIFA. We were like: “let’s just go for it, there’s no risk”.

Richard Buckley: It’s been pretty hectic since it all took off. We’ve just been constantly traveling doing what we love and have been to some pretty special places, but I think the main thing for us is to just keep grounded and keep on working at what we’re doing. I think one thing that I’ve learnt from the past is there’s always someone trying to take your place whatever you’re doing, someone always trying to get in your position, so you’ve just got to keep on grinding away.

You’ve been jetting all around the world… what’s been the best experience so far?

BS: It’s a bit of a tough one, really. We’re obviously delighted to go to anywhere in the world, whether England or Sweden. But I think one of the ones for me was going to Qatar, that was quite special. It’s not a place I’d have expected to go to but via the power of FIFA we went there. Speaking to a different range of players as well, people from all around the world, it was incredible.

RB: We’ve been to America; to Los Angeles and San Francisco on different trips. I’d never been to America before, so for ourselves to say we’re going to America through FIFA was quite a surreal moment really.

What’s the plan for the next 12 months?

BS: I think we’ve kind of moved on leaps and bounds since last year and winning this competition. We’re now in the stage where we’re trying to build our profiles and build the duo that we have. We want to cover as many FIFA tournaments as possible. We’re just trying to continue to cover as many events as we can and hopefully, you could say, be the face of this new and upcoming eSport.

RB: Just to keep on doing what we’re doing and try and improve, and at every opportunity to take in as much as we can while we’re still young and we’ve still got the drive and the energy. We want to keep on top of it and do as much as we can without burning out.

How popular can eSports become? Can you see yourself commentating to a stadium full of people anytime soon?

BS: We were lucky enough to do something at the 2018 Carabao Cup final between Manchester City and Arsenal. We got the call from EA Sports to commentate a half-time game between two professional players, with a mixture of influencers and YouTubers in there as well. I think the future for this is definitely going to be when the Premier League come into it, and then you can start having half-time matches with fans or pro players. This is slowly turning people’s heads; people are thinking “what is all this”. It’s just getting bigger and bigger. If you look at France, in Germany, all around the world, there’s leagues now where every football club have got FIFA players. It’s becoming more and more of a thing and before we know it it’s going to be even bigger.

RB: It’s only going one way really. I think eSports in general is going upwards at quite a fast pace. We were recently at an event in Las Vegas at a sold-out venue; there were 650,000 people watching at the same time on Twitch, that’s more than a lot of shows get on mainstream television. That’s just one of the life experiences that has been going with eSports. It might be that the Olympics has eSports as a legitimate category soon that people can compete in, so if the Olympic Committee is taking it on board and are taking it seriously, I can only see it branching out and being on mainstream television in the next few years.

Do you have ambitions to commentate on real life football at all?

RB: I think there’s a quote that goes: ‘A goal without a plan is only a dream’, so you have to know what you want to achieve and you’ve got to plan everything out. I started on radio when I was 15 doing a local sports show in Barnsley for four hours on a Saturday afternoon taking calls from listeners after their team had played. I wanted to move down the radio path when I came to UCFB, but then I met Brandon and realised that eSports could potentially be something for us going forward. Right now I think the only progression really is to just keep on doing eSports. I see me and Brandon as the Ant and Dec of eSports, so we just want to keep on going forward while we’re here and to really try and make an impact on FIFA and eSports in general.

BS: I used to go to Brighton games as a kid and record myself in the media box doing work experience. I’ve always loved football, obviously still do, but if you said to me you can only do eSports for the rest of your life, I’d happily do that. At the same time obviously I wouldn’t mind dipping back in to real life football. It’s the same fundamentals, they take bits from football into FIFA and bits from FIFA into football, but right now I’m just enjoying the ride and if eSports is what’s meant to be, I’ll take it all day long.

Have you taken anything from your degree programme into eSports?

RB: I think one of the main things I’ve taken from UCFB was the commentary masterclass with Peter Smith, and having that sort of experience and mentoring from someone who has been at this level in football and in sports for such a long time. He’s said that he’s always constantly trying to improve himself. He drilled into us that there’s always someone trying to take your position so you have to stay on top of it and that was something that I learned a lot from him. When you’re practicing for commentary, practice every single player’s name because you’re going to have to say it properly. No matter how good you think you are you can always improve on something.

BS: Well first of all obviously meeting Richard was key! But I think just being surrounded by a mixture of people. UCFB is a little bit different from other institutions; it’s not as big so there’s not as many students, so there’s better interaction with your tutors.

Any advice to people who want to follow the eGaming pathway?

RB: I think whatever it is that you want to achieve you have to have a goal and you have to have a plan for it, but also you need to not think about what other people think about you. When I was doing radio in Barnsley I was still at school and people were saying ‘why?’ Almost making fun. Now they see that I’m going to Paris, I’m going to Los Angeles and I’m going to Qatar to commentate on FIFA, a game that I’ve played for years. If you have the drive to want to do something, don’t let other people’s words or negative feedback impact you. Take the feedback from the people in that field, the constructive criticism, and always try to improve yourself and you’ll get to where you want to go.

BS: I think you have to have a mixture of a number of things. Obviously, one, you’ve got to work hard. You need to have a little bit of luck maybe in there as well, sometimes it’s ‘right place, right time’. As hard as it can be you’ve got to try and find that niche, to try and find that gap where maybe there’s not as many people on it. I think Richard and I were quite lucky to find that and we’re in a position right now where we just wanted to keep driving FIFA forward into the eSports world. eSports is just booming at the moment.

This article originally appeared in UCFB’s Future Sport magazine. See below to read the 2019 edition.