Sporting Kansas City midfielder Wan Kuzain Wan Kamal has carved out a following of sorts in the eSports world, especially with the the 2020 MLS season suspended.
Now, his skills will be put to the test Sunday night when facing Minnesota United goalkeeper Tyler Miller in the eMLS Tournament Special. While FIFA 20 will be the game of choice when their matchup is broadcast on FS1 and FOX Deportes, Kuzain's roots lie elsewhere. He used to be an avid Pro Evolution Soccer player, back when it was known as Winning Eleven.
“One day my brother just brought it back home,” Kuzain recalled in a conference call Tuesday. “This was for the original Xbox. I could have been 7, 8 years old and I just spent so many hours playing that game. It wasn't even playing online, it was just playing career mode. I can remember playing that game nonstop 24/7, and then from there on out as I got older I just kept playing FIFA.”
Slowly but surely, Kuzain realized he was pretty talented with a controller in his hands. Real-life soccer skills don’t always translate to the screen, but they did for him. He’s also exploring streaming his FIFA 20 play on Twitch, a platform that top video game players often turn to.
“A lot of players, not just in MLS, but in the NBA you've seen Devin Booker, you've seen Ochocinco do it on Twitch as well,” Kuzain said. “Players like that, and sports athletes like that stream on Twitch to give another way for fans to look at your life.”
Kuzain, a Homegrown midfielder who's now in his third season with Sporting, also told a story about playing Chad “Ochocino” Johnson in FIFA several years back. The former NFL wide receiver was in town for his daughter’s track event, and Kuzain invited him over for a few games.
As seriously as Kuzain takes FIFA 20, his aspirations in MLS and beyond are profound. The 21-year-old was called into the U-23 Malaysian national team this past winter, but couldn’t feature in a tournament due to paperwork issues. He was born to Malaysian parents in Illinois, and hopes to break into the senior squad one day.
“Definitely not a one-time thing,” Kuzan said of the call-up. “You never know with national team call-ups, it's on how you're playing, how your form is. Whenever they reach out, it's something definitely to look into.”
Kuzain recognized that international opportunities will emerge from strong club performances. His MLS stat line reads as six appearances and one goal, though he hasn't made a first-team appearance since 2018. Instead, Kuzain has featured in 61 games for Sporting KC II, the club’s reserve team.
As crowded as Sporting's midfield can be, he remains focused on the task at hand. And in the interim, he'll hope for some more FIFA 20 wins.
“Obviously right now it's hard, but you just have to be ready for when the moment happens,” Kuzain said. “Then it's a lot on you and what you do, so to keep putting in the extra work, keep trying to obtain the goals, keep trying to break into rosters, keep trying to get minutes. That what's really important to me right now."