It started last season when rookie Clint Capela, a soccer-playing basketball player from Geneva, Switzerland, introduced the world of video game soccer to the Houston Rockets. Capela played EA Sports' "FIFA" on PlayStation, and the rest of his older teammates were hooked.
Before nearly every road game, in the hotel room, maybe in the locker room, there was somebody playing "FIFA." Last season, veteran Trevor Ariza got hooked and in almost ritual-like fashion would play another rookie, Nick Johnson before every game. This season with Johnson gone, Ariza has been taking on fellow veteran Jason Terry.
Prior to a road game at Denver earlier this month, Ariza and Terry sat in the corner of the locker room with a PlayStation and went at it in "FIFA 16." Ariza won, upsetting Terry, who vowed revenge.
After games, Terry packs the PlayStation, its controllers and games into a small suitcase and carries it out of the locker room. Capela and Ariza remain the biggest players on the team, and the two talked to ESPN about playing ... well, soccer.
ESPN: When did you start playing "FIFA"?
Ariza: Playing "FIFA" when I first got here, I really didn’t play too many video games. When I got here everybody was really into the "FIFA" and I started to get into the game. I liked soccer before. I actually come to love it even more by playing the game 'cause I understand it more.
Before most games the Rockets play FIFA 16 on PlayStation. Here are some shots of the unit at Jason Terry's feet. pic.twitter.com/2HJIzKeS4m— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) November 16, 2015
Ariza: Everybody pretty much plays I think, Clint, James plays, Pat (Beverley) plays, (Corey Brewer) doesn’t play too much. I think Ty (Lawson) is starting to pick it up a little. The core group of dudes plays a lot.
Capela: We would play on the plane and I was beating everybody. It’s my country. In Europe, we watch soccer, so the game is easy for me. The only one who is really hard to play against is James, 'cause last year he told me he played online, too, and I was like, 'OK, let’s play.' I was winning more than him but he beat me a couple of times. He’s the only one that I have to get focused on.
ESPN: Teams in the English Premier League are used, right?
Ariza: I play with a lot of teams. The team that I like the best is (Paris Saint-Germain), my favorite player on that team is Angel Di Maria.
Capela: I mix it up. I used to play with Bayern Munich and James plays with Real Madrid. Sometimes I play Manchester United, Manchester City Paris, Real Madrid and Barcelona.
ESPN: Who is the best player?
Ariza: Clint for sure.
ESPN: Are you next?
Ariza: No, man, I’ve been getting my head cracked in by Jet (Terry). Jet been kicking my butt lately. But he can play with only one team.
Ariza: He’s a one-trick pony. He plays with one player and one team. So I guess I should feel like I’m nothing because he can play with one player.
Ariza: Exactly. He plays with Messi.
ESPN: Difference between last year and this year’s game?
Capela: Way different; more realistic this year. Sometimes when you want to do a pass back, on the last one it was easy, this one when you try a pass back or make a bad pass they steal it more so this year. On the last FIFA, I was able to score from the middle (of the field). James was scoring and he’d say, ‘Yeah, I’m better than you.’ Then I was kicking from the middle (and) I was scoring, and that can’t happen in real (life). In this one, you can’t do that. It’s way more realistic.
Ariza: It’s a whole lot harder to do a lot of things. You have to be able to work the joystick a lot better and you have to be precise with everything you do, it’s definitely a lot harder.
ESPN: Harder to play online?
Capela: It’s harder to play online. There was a time I was getting better when I play the computer at the highest level. That’s when I really, really get better.
Capela: PlayStation 4. James plays Xbox; for me it’s the same thing. Sometimes they find excuses (when they lose). ‘We didn’t play on Xbox,' but it’s the same result.
ESPN: Playing before games relaxes you guys?
Ariza: For me, it gets my mind off the task at hand, it gives me a little bit of time to exhale. I get to the arena really early to get my work done and I have a lot of time on my hands. I don’t want to take all of that time just locked in to what we have to do. You can overstudy or overfocus; I don’t like that. I like to be loose and I like for my mind to be free when I’m out on the court.