wide: "I had to choose between the game or my family and friends. I chose the latter"

Former FC Schalke 04 player Dennis Winkler talks about his retirement and the eFootball.Pro League

Dennis ‘wide’ Winkler (Germany, 1989) has been one of the most well-known German Pro Evolution Soccer players in recent years. He was part of the Schalke 04’s squad for the first season of the eFootball.Pro League, but in February 2019 he announced he would quit from competitive PES without having played any matches of the competition. However, in August 2018, he won the eFootball.Pro Invitational, and was very successful during his career as a professional player, including a second place in the European championship in 2008 and a third position one year later.

eFootball.Pro interviews him after his last season as a professional player.

eFootball.Pro: We saw you in the eFootball.Pro League presentation in November but you couldn’t play any matches and then, a few months later, you announced you would quit. Would you have liked to play in the league?

wide: "First of all I would like to congratulate you for this great competition, what you guys have put together is unbelievable! And yeah, of course. It is a pity that I could not participate because I would have liked to play along. The atmosphere in the studio, e.g. during the presentation, was something special. But it just wouldn't have been fair to my teammates if I had travelled to one of the match days, so I stepped aside."

What made you leave your professional career as a PES player?

"In the end, there were two reasons. On the one hand I personally could no longer identify with the game as strongly as I used to in the past. On the other hand there were just private reasons. For example my job responsibilities, but also the work on my doctoral thesis, which takes a lot of time. So I had the choice to invest the little time I have into an activity I lost my passion for, or spend it with my family and friends. Of course, I chose the latter."

Was it a decision you had been thinking about for a long time?

"The decision actually came earlier than expected, especially because I just signed a contract as a professional player with FC Schalke 04 last June. But I have always said to myself that if I am not fully motivated and passionate about what I do, I will end my career immediately. And the circumstances last season were perfect to make it a quick decision and say “good bye”."

wide: "I had the choice to invest the little time I have into the game or spend it with my family and friends. Of course, I chose the latter."

How do you feel now, that you’ve been away from the PES competitive scene for a few months? Do you miss the competitions?

"At the moment I honestly have too little time to think about PES and the whole environment. But when big events like the eFootball.Pro final or the PES League World Finals are coming up, I switch on the livestream occasionally. I'd be lying if I said I don’t miss the competitions, they have always left beautiful memories and have been a part of my life for a long time."

What did it mean for you to be signed by FC Schalke 04?

"I just want to thank FC Schalke 04 for giving me the opportunity. I don't think that was a matter of course for a nearly esports pensioner, probably my brother actually thinks the same (laughs). It was another incredible experience towards the end of my career, especially the professionalism with which the club approaches esports. But the professional environment also brings with it certain expectations that I could not and also did not want to fulfil in the end."

How do you view the fact that professional football clubs get involved in esports?

"It's a very good sign that professional clubs are interested in esports at all and I think the trend continues to be for more clubs to play a part. What I lack, however, is that the clubs are still too little involved into it. Especially the professional clubs have knowledge and structures, which you could bring in more to professionalise certain competitions like the PES League. eFootball.Pro is a good example of how it can work."

wide: "Without my brother Matthias I would not have experienced all this. He always supported me wherever he could, sometimes even to his own disadvantage."

After the first season and from a distance, what is your opinion on the appearance of the eFootball.Pro League in the PES competitions’ scene?

"The idea of bundling professional organisations in a league is a great one and that should be the way to go. The professionalism with which this competition is approached is truly impressive and I hope it will be maintained. However, I believe that this should not be limited to football clubs. There are many great esports organisations like mousesports or SK Gaming whose participation would be good for the popularity of the league. A good example is the League of Legends European Championship, where FC Schalke 04 is also one of the participants."

What are the most memorable moments in your long career as a professional PES player?

"I could now say "winning this title..." or "this specific game...". Trophies are just tin that get dusty in the cupboard sometime, but the really memorable moments were the journeys and stories I experienced with my brother and my friends and meeting all the wonderful people from all over the world. We all came from different countries and cultures, but we had the same passion in our hearts. Experiencing this and being a part of it was really a gift for life. I could easily write a book about all this, maybe I will even do it one day when I’ve got the time."

How has it been to compete all these years together with your brother Matthias?

"Without my brother I would not have experienced all this, therefore the biggest thanks go to him alone. He showed me the game as a little boy, because of him I could go to all tournaments. And of course he always supported me wherever he could, sometimes even to his own disadvantage. So it was never a competition between the two of us, on the contrary, sometimes we even waived the great success.

But I must also mention my good friend Mike Linden. If this trio hadn't existed, we would have never become the best players in the world."

Lastly, do you think that we will ever see you competing in PES again?

"Never say never, but at the moment I don't think I will play PES on a professional level again. But I won't turn my back on the game completely. Of course, I'll play with the boys from time to time or do some online games. And if at any time my help or opinion as an expert is needed, I will always be available."