ORLANDO -- It was a hometown kind of night at the ACE Cafe in downtown Orlando. And it might be the start of something special.
At the eMLS All-Star Challenge, featuring eMLS gamers paired with stars like Diego Forlan and Landon Donovan, it was Orlando City's team that reigned supreme. OCSC eMLS player FIFA Abe (Abraham Valbuena) teamed up with amateur gamer AnthFifa (Anthony Medina), who won a 64-player amateur FIFA 19 competition earlier in the day, and prevailed in penalties over FC Cincinnati -- playing as the USMNT because FC Cincy aren't yet in the game.
Valbuena and Medina, who only met for the first time at the event, made for an impressive pairing from the start. Valbuena pointed out how playing alongside Medina, who like Valbuena is of Venezuelan descent, felt like he was playing alongside his brother, also named Anthony. Medina said the two had an immediate understanding when it came to game tactics, helping to fuel the hometown win.
The Vinotinto duo, wearing the hometown purple colors, finished the night high-fiving the crowd from the stage after winning the penalty-kick shootout.
"It feels amazing, man," FIFA Abe said minutes after the game-clinching penalty hit the back of the net. "This whole event is just insane. I'm just so excited to be a part of this, to be a part of Orlando. I love this city with all my heart."
The day just might launch a career in eSports for AnthFifa.
"I mean, it was just a start right now," AnthFifa said. "I enjoyed this event. Who knows? It's just beginning. It's crazy. I said to Abe we're going to make it, we need to win this."
"I believed him, 100 percent," FIFA Abe added. "We got along right away, we have that Venezuelan chemistry."
Along the way, the hometown duo took down a pair of greats. Philadelphia Union's doolsta, Cormac Dooley, who won two MLS League Series titles as well as eMLS Cup this year, and Donovan (photo below), among the greatest men's American soccer players of all-time.
"I've got to say, as someone who grew up playing way more than my mom wanted me to, it was pretty amazing," Donovan said. "Your first inclination is to think 'these guys aren't athletes.' But they practice as hard as we do, they train as hard as we do. I was up there for five minutes and I was tense, my muscles were hurting."
Donovan, who let out a frustrated yell upon elimination in the semifinal round just like he may have on the field during his playing career, fancies himself with the sticks. But when he was rubbing elbows with eMLS's best, he gained a different perspective.
"It's impressive to see up close what they're able to do," Donovan said. "I always thought I was a pretty good video game player, but these guys are on a different level."
It wasn't to be for Donovan and doolsta, as Orlando eliminated them 2-0 in a hard-fought semifinal. It wasn't as easy for Orlando in the final, a 1-1 affair that was settled after penalties. As part of the victory, Wells Fargo will make a $5,000 donation to a charity designated by Orlando City.
"It was so nice to play with Abe, he's such a great player," AnthFifa said. "We make good chemistry, we understand each other. We did this for the city!"