FRISCO, Texas - When asked what things he did well during last week’s eMLS Series One tournament in Philadelphia, Ihab “i9ibbs” Abualneel gave an honest take on his performance.
“I can’t even say that I did anything well,” Abualneel said. “I started out strong but ended up losing my head.”
25 of the country’s finer FIFA players met in the City of Brotherly Love, competing for a $7,500 cash prize. Abualneel finished in 23rd place, while FC Cincinnati's "Fiddle" took home the crown. Although Abualneel would have liked to perform at a higher level, there is plenty of room for improvement, especially on the mental side of things.
“My friend does yoga and he is big on breathing and meditating,” Abualneel said. “He is actually making a plan for me before [Series Two].”
After the event was over, Abualneel says he spoke with the friend who taught him how to play FIFA, receiving some heartfelt advice.
“He told me that whenever I am confident and have my head right, I am one of the best players in North America. I have proven that before,” he said. “I have played Fiddle before and beaten him. [This] was definitely a wakeup call that I need to be more prepared.”
Series One was Abualneel’s first eMLS tournament. A life-long FC Dallas fan, Abualneel says the opportunity to represent the club is a dream come true, but that his mindset must focus in on what is to come.
“I have to remember that FC Dallas put its faith in me,” he said. “It is very surreal, but the honeymoon period for me is over and I think FC Dallas wants it to be over as well because they want me to go win and I want to win just as badly.”
Something unique to competing in gaming tournaments like this one, playing alongside his opponents was also new.
“The experience was definitely eye-opening,” Abualneel said. “Usually, I am just in my room with complete silence … I’ve played against everybody online before and it is just completely different when you are playing right next to them.”
One of those players was former NFL running back Jay Ajayi. While Abualneel did not get to compete against him, meeting him only added to the experience.
The trip to Philadelphia was Abualneel's first. Although he was born in Newark, New Jersey, Abualneel and his family moved to Dallas when he was a young kid.
“It was really cool to explore the city,” he said. “There is a lot of history in that city and it was crazy just to see some of the things that I did.”
With history dating back to the colonial times, Philadelphia’s influence over the country goes back quite a while. But perhaps even more satisfying, it is home to the majestic cheesesteak sandwich. This is another staple Abualneel had the pleasure to sample while in the city.
“We got to go to [Geno’s Steaks] and that place was insane,” he said. “I understand exactly why they’re famous out there because they are very good. I told my wife I wanted to pack five with me on the way home, but she told me not to.”
Abualneel will have until Feb. 15 to prepare for the next tournament, as he heads out to the Pacific Northwest to compete in Portland for eMLS Series Two.