Sebastien Ibeagha still woke up at 8 am and prepared breakfast for herself. He gets training, except holidays. Then he turned to one of the last pleasures of life unaffected by social distance to fill his empty schedule: He shook his Xbox.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and the suspension of sports that followed afterwards, FC City of New York Defender is one of many pro athletes who are now faced with a large surplus of leisure time. He and several teammates turned to “Call of Duty” to fill in the blanks.
For some people on the team, the game (they play the title “Modern Warfare” specifically) has become a very rough replacement for the intensity of pro sports. The club played with Mexican giants Tigres on March 11 in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarter-final, falling 1-0 in a tense match and one of the club’s biggest matches. Now, some NYCFC players maintain that stimulation by shouting at their TV.
“I think it makes me quite angry that it kind of simulates things happening on the ground,” Ibeagha told The Post by telephone.
Ibeagha and his most frequent partner in the team – reserve goalkeeper Brad Stuver – played “Call of Duty” for hours, now spending their days lamenting “camping” (players hiding in the game) instead of missed calls in the field .
“Being a professional athlete, we cannot play the game that we like [right now], but our whole life is about that competitive feeling. … And when we can’t go to training every day and have it, sometimes men have trouble filling that gap, “Stuver said.
Other NYCFC players maintain their sanity through a different path.
After sleeping, 17-year-old Joe Scally prefers playing “FIFA” with his brother or team mate (and fellow teenager) James Sands.
Veteran defender Anton Tinnerholm completely ignored the game.
“I am too old to play‘ FIFA, ‘”the 29-year-old said in a recent conference call.
Not everyone is built to be a gamer – or even the same type of gamer.
Although Ibeagha and Stuver were very focused on the results of their “Call of Duty” exploits, their teammate Keaton Parks had a more lax approach to the game when he joined.
“I’m there to hang out, you know,” the midfielder told his teammate Chagrin in a Google Hangouts video chat. “I wasn’t there to get dubs.”
“Look, that’s the problem there,” Ibeagha replied.
Parks, who admitted that he was the worst of the three in the game, played it only for one or two hours at a time and mostly used it as a vehicle to interact with friends. His approach may be ridiculed by his competitive teammates, but it actually illustrates the ability of the game in the midst of a suspension of the MLS game.
NYCFC has done their part in keeping team members in touch. There is an active WhatsApp group for players, coaches, and support staff, and the team has organized several fitness classes through Zoom. But still, the guidelines for staying home have robbed athletes of almost all direct interactions, so the emergency dressing room in “Call of Duty” has taken on an increasingly important meaning for Ibeagha, Stuver and Parks.
The game’s jokes allow it not to change, but every “turn off your console” or original conversation through their headsets has now become the backbone of a true trio of friendship.
“That allows us to confide in that way, to the people you usually see every day,” Ibeagha said.
NYCFC gamers will still stay away from their screens and spend their time with other things, besides exercising. Stuver reads and prepares food, and Scally will sometimes be dragged out by his father to play basketball.
However, it’s easy to see why playing games – with social byproducts and rigidity – can create a unique addiction for athletes.
“Even if it’s not the same,” Stuver said, “that’s something.”