The outcome of the current football season is still up in the air. Will Liverpool win the title? Will Villa stay up? Will the season resume to see Newcastle continue to windmill their way to FA Cup success? Hey, stranger things have happened. While we wait for play to resume, Leyton Orient have been making sure we don’t get too bored. After tentatively putting out an appeal for a FIFA tournament – the Ultimate Quaranteam – it quickly ballooned into a 128 team tournament stretching across the globe, including a four time world champion e-footballer in Bruce Grannec, Premier League pro Todd Cantwell and Leyton Orient’s own goalie Sam Sargeant.

“We discussed content ideas simply for fan engagement – we looked at different countries going head to head in games of Connect4,” Dan Walker, one of the organisers of the tournament for Leyton Orient told me, recalling the Twitter match-ups between the likes of Hull City and Bayern Leverkusen, “That was good content but it would quickly die. FIFA is huge, and gaming is a great escape for many right now. It just made sense.”

The game might be huge, but Walker was still surprised at the response from the footballing world. “We aimed for 64 [clubs] and very quickly achieved that, so we soon went for 128. In terms of expectations I think we’ve massively overachieved. With respect, we know we’re a League Two club. So putting that tweet out was far more of a risk than if, say, Liverpool put it out! We’re delighted!”

Speaking of Newcastle winning a trophy, while the FA Cup may be a pipe dream, there’s a real chance for them in this. Bruce Grannec, that four time world champion? He’s already been knocked out by Newcastle’s own PlanetToast, care of an Andy Carroll winner. All of PlanetToast’s goals have come from Carroll, and he described what it was like to have a local hero doing the job for him. “Big Andy has scored all four goals for me so far. I made sure to run over to the camera for the celebration when he scored [in the last minute] and the entire chat on my livestream was going mental. I’ve always been a big Andy Carroll fan, hopefully he can recreate this scoring form when Premier League football comes back.”

Lofty ambitions perhaps, but PlanetToast’s plans to win the Quaranteam are seemed much more likely. He kept clean sheets in his first three games; even more impressive considering he’s not playing on his usual system. “This tournament is on the PS4 when I play on Xbox, it’s a factor that not many people have taken into consideration but I’m not used to the PS4 controller at all.” After beating Gillingham and Grannec’s FC Nates though FC Sion and Cobra proved too much for him, with the e-pro knocking PlanetToast out 2-1. Yoshinori Muto provided NUFC’s goal for that one.

One of the best things about the tournament is the weird and wonderful ties they’ve thrown up. “Walsall v Roma has to be the best one, what a fixture that is! Walsall then went on to win. Incredible scenes!” Walker said. All clubs are set to a default 85 player rating for added balance.

Another one of the huge glamour ties was Ajax v Mansfield, with a last minute winner seeing Mansfield knock out last year’s Champions League semi-finalists. AC RedLac is representing the Stags, and as another player representing his local team, he spoke about the passion of the Mansfield fans. “Mansfield fans are coming in the stream and supporting me, which makes it even more special than just playing as my local team. I wanna take the fans as far as I can, because they’re definitely enjoying it!”

What awaited AC RedLac after his beloved Mansfield knocked out European giants Ajax? A home tie to… Rotherham. “It’s less glamorous but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a tough game,” AC RedLac said, but after conceding only one shot on target in both games against Ajax, he was confident he could do it on a rainy night in Rotherham as well as he can at the Johan Cruijff ArenA. A 2-1 victory proved him correct, with a tie against Premier League Wolves and their official eSports up next. Wolves wound up the eventual tournament champions, knocking out Mansfield and everyone else in their path.

It all ran smoothly, save for some early drop outs who were quickly replaced. By Walker’s own admission though, that’s more by luck than judgement. “Trying to get in touch with 127 other football teams and get them all on the same page was quite difficult! As a club, e-sports is something we have never explored, so using Twitch was a new experience.” With so many streamers involved, Walker and Leyton Orient have given a bit more agency to the players. “After every round is fully completed, there’s then a 48 hour window when the two clubs have to contact each other and arrange a time both players can agree on,” PlanetToast explained, “Then I set up the stream five or ten minutes before and kick off and Newcastle have been kind enough to tweet it out too so loads of fans are coming to watch.”

Norwich’s Todd Cantwell is the biggest name in the tournament, but Walker is confident he’ll be joined by a whole host of stars next time around, saying an all pro footballers tournament “will happen 100%.” Mason Mount has already spoken about his interest, and Walker expects more will come aboard, “It’s such a simple and engaging idea. The reach these people have across social media will encourage people to get involved.”

It could be a while before the Premier League is back in action, but until then, we’ll always have FIFA.

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