How injury led Lisa Manley from footballer to professional gamer and the abuse

BBC Sport faces off against professional gamer Lisa Manley

“If I beat a man say five- or six-nil that’s when they get upset and start hating. Sending rage messages, like really bad messages,” says professional football gamer Lisa Manley.

“But I just try to use it to my advantage. I know I’m getting somewhere and I’m annoying people by doing it so it’s just the boost that drives me to play more.”

Growing up, Manley wanted to be a professional footballer but for now that dream is on hold while she recovers from a long-term knee injury.

However, she is still able to dish out footballing masterclasses, albeit using her hands.

The 21-year-old has signed a contract with a professional esports team – owned by Leicester City defender Christian Fuchs – and is one of the top female players in the UK.

“I enjoy it probably as much as real football. Sometimes I get annoyed at not being able to play the real thing, but gaming is a good substitute,” she tells BBC Sport.

She started playing football at the age of five and represented AFC Wimbledon and Fulham before her injury setback.

“When I got injured, I had a lot of free time, so I started playing computer games, including Fifa, a lot more. And as time went on, I just kept winning more and more games,” she says.

Spending long spells at home as a result of her injury, and with the additional coronavirus restrictions, has given her extra time to improve her skills as she navigates a new career path.

Austria international Fuchs launched his own team in 2018. Lisa popped up on the Premier League winner’s radar after establishing herself on the game streaming platform Twitch.

“He was looking for females to join his team because there aren’t many. I was obviously excited to do it. That’s my aim to try and get more females into gaming in general,” she says.

“At the time I didn’t actually think I was good enough, but I’ve got a lot better since then.

“He’s a really nice person, we speak mostly on email but he’s obviously a very busy man. I played him once and I beat him 2-0. I played as Paris St-Germain but looking back maybe I should have picked Leicester and put him in the starting 11,” she jokes.

With the help of titles such as Fortnite, Call of Duty and League of Legends, the esports industry has grown at a rapid rate and shows no signs of slowing.

The Fifa franchise is now in its 27th year and is one of the most popular with millions of gamers playing each other online every week.

Manley says she often performs well in the weekly rankings but can only recall a handful of times when she’s played another woman.

“I probably play for four hours a day on average. I know it takes time and effort to become quite big in terms of gaming, but it definitely is an opportunity where you can earn enough money to make a living,” she says.

The amount of practice hours needed to reach a competent skill level, plus the abuse women face…

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