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What makes a FIFA star?

Niklas Luginsland: eSports pro despite brittle bone disease

Niklas Luginsland is an eSports professional at German soccer club VfB Stuttgart. He attended a VfB game for the first time when he was five years old. Now 26, he has been a member of the club for almost 15 years. With his professional contract, he is fulfilling a big dream: he is a professional athlete - despite his brittle bone disease. Together with Mario Viska, Austria's most successful and best-known FIFA player, he provides exciting insights into his career.

The two FIFA pros Mario Viska and Niklas Luginsland

"VfB Stuttgart is my absolute heart and favorite club. And always has been."

Success stories like Niklas' and Mario's show more and more clearly what great potential eSports has. Regardless of whether a person has to struggle with physical limitations or not, he or she is welcome and can make it to the top. The beauty of it is that people get to know each other who probably wouldn't have found each other otherwise. And that gives hope. Especially when you see that a duo as likeable as the two champions is formed in the process.

Right from the start of the conversation, it's clear how much passion and drive the two eSports greats have for the subject. When both speak, the audience listens with rapt attention. This is not only due to the self-confident appearance of the two professionals, but also to the many interesting and motivating anecdotes from their own biographies.

"VfB Stuttgart is my absolute heart club and favorite club. And always has been. I've been a member since 2004, and of course it was eSports in particular that made it possible for me to become a part of this family and this great club," says Niklas.

Niklas Luginsland bei einer Runde FIFA
Niklas Luginsland bei einer Runde FIFA beim ISPO Digitize Summit

A true champion breaks through all obstacles

Niklas has loved soccer ever since he can remember. But because he suffers from brittle bone disease, it was clear to him that the classic path to a professional career would unfortunately never be open to him. In the first five years of his life, he suffered more than 40 bone fractures. Although the last fracture occurred several years ago, the likeable eSportsman will always be dependent on a wheelchair.

Despite the lack of opportunities in classic sports, Niklas did not give up his dream. He wanted to become a professional player for VfB Stuttgart. Absolutely. And so he developed an alternative strategy and got into eSports. With a lot of training, fighting spirit and dedication, he made it and is now part of the VfB Stuttgart squad.

"Of course, you have to train every day. You have to constantly develop as a player and that includes, for example, analyzing your own game. Where are the mistakes and what can I do better next time? But to really have a functioning construct you also have to be physically fit. In my case, that means a lot of physical therapy first and foremost, and I definitely keep myself physically fit, but of course things like the family environment and mental attitudes also have to be right," he says. "At a certain level, it's similar to professional soccer. Nuances make all the difference, and the winner is often the one who is on point in the match and is mentally stronger."

Niklas makes it clear that anyone who wants to be successful in eSports doesn't necessarily have it any easier than professionals in classic sports. But for him, eSports has a very central advantage:

"In terms of my physical limitations, there are of course no barriers in eSports. In eSports, I can pick up the controller just like anyone else and simply get started. And I can achieve success in the same way."

A professional with heart

Niklas doesn't want to rest on his laurels, however, but also wants to show other people that you can make it all the way to the top despite physical limitations. His commitment takes place on several fronts, both on and offline. For example, he gives his social media community tips for their own athletic careers and answers questions and comments from his followers. In addition, he also talks to institutions that support people with disabilities. He is also in lively exchange with other eSportsmen and companies in order to give the topic of inclusion a better platform.

"If I can encourage other people to fight for their dreams through my example, then I've already achieved a lot."

Mario Viska as a source of inspiration

Niklas is on stage together with Mario Viska. Mario is probably the most successful and best-known FIFA player in Austria and nine years older than Niklas. When Mario talks about how important it is to have a role model, especially in the beginning, he also asks Niklas who had been a role model at the beginning of his career. Niklas answered mischievously with a laugh on his face: "Mario. This answer is not really surprising, because apart from the obvious physical differences, the two have a lot in common.

"Soccer is my passion and I always wanted to be a professional."

For Mario Viska, it was also clear from a young age that he would one day make his living as a professional soccer player. In order to be able to achieve his big goal, he worked hard from his earliest childhood and was already playing in the soccer club at the age of five. For a while, it actually looked like his path would lead directly to the Bundesliga, as he managed to become a player for the Austrian professional club Admira in his youth. But as it sometimes happens in life, fate had other plans and Mario had to realize as a teenager that the conventional path to becoming a professional would unfortunately not work out.

Im Duell: Mario Viska und Niklas Luginsland
Die beiden Profis Mario Viska und Niklas Luginsland lieferten sich beim ISPO Digitize Summit ein spannendes FIFA-Match

Never give up

Despite this setback, however, he didn't let it dissuade him from his dream and continued to fight for soccer, this time on the digital path as a FIFA player. And his diligence paid off: After years of training and playing, he realized in 2004 that he could make his dream of becoming a professional soccer player come true after all.

One success follows the next

His successes speak for themselves: German Champion in the team competition six times in a row since 2006 (a new record that has not been broken to date), Austrian Champion five times, third place in the European Championship three times and fourth place in the World Championship once. In short, Mario is an undisputed part of the global eSports elite.

FIFA-Profis Mario Viska und Niklas Luginsland
Die beiden FIFA-Profis Mario Viska und Niklas Luginsland schlendern über das Gelände des ISPO Digitize Summit

Coaching for Good

Mario also proves that a true champion doesn't just think about himself. This year he fulfilled the dream of every FIFA player and made it possible for a lucky young talent to receive coaching from a true professional. The personal meeting was auctioned off by user Tim546 during a charity campaign by VIPrize, which raised a total of 600 euros for the international children's charity Right To Play. The money is used to give children in the Middle East, Africa and Asia better opportunities in life with the help of sport and play. This is how Mario is working for their future.

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