Ahead of the curve, Mario Götze is a man that has embraced the future, diving headlong into the rabbit hole that is the digital world. We caught up with him at Eintracht Frankfurt's Sports Performance Centre to find out more about his journey into Web3, NFTs and football’s digital future.

The digital world can be a daunting place, full of talk of NFTs, Web3, Crypto and more that makes it feel almost inaccessible to the uninitiated. But dig just a little into it and what you’ll find is the future. Taking his time and picking his moment, much like any great footballer does on the pitch, Götze observed the burgeoning trend of NFTs (non-fungible tokens), opting to sit back and learn more while the world went crazy for a brief instance over apes, among other things.

What he discovered was that this was a space full of possibilities, of creativity limited only by imagination, and what he saw was the future. Feeling the time was right, and inspired by his young son’s grasp of technology and how it was already influencing his life, Götze made the leap, purchasing his first CloneX (a digital 3D version of himself) from RTFKT in March 2022, and he hasn’t looked back since.

Now, supported by Nike’s venture into the space with .SWOOSH, who purchased RTFKT in 2021, Götze is at the forefront of the curve in a footballing sense, taking up a position in the vanguard of this new movement. Therefore there could be few better people in the footballing world to talk to about this topic, so we made the trip to Germany to speak to the Eintracht Frankfurt player to find out more about his journey into the future.

How has your life and interests evolved off the pitch in recent years?

I think my interests away from the pitch all come out of a general curiosity that I have. When I started playing football, the first five, six years were very focused on football, but then my interests started to expand out. I am very curious about new stuff, and I’m especially interested in emerging technologies and how I can use new platforms as an athlete to build something off the pitch. Out of this curiosity I came across things like Web3, crypto and digital collectibles – all these kinds of things. I’ve also been doing angel investments for a few years now, and tech companies are very appealing.

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Have you always been inquisitive like that, even growing up, looking at other stuff?

In general, yes. It’s partly due to my father who was a university professor, so I’ve grown up with these two pillars of sports and academia – they have always been the two key drivers for me, so I think that it's rooted in that.

That’s amazing. What did your father lecture?

It's a bit complicated to be honest... it was a mix of math and the early days of IT.

That’s quite amazing to go full circle then and become passionate about the digital space.

Yeah, yeah.

How would you describe the world of Web3 and digital collectibles to someone who is new to the space?

It's about progressing our lives into more digital environments and communities – and creating something out of these communities. I think it's good for anyone to be curious, to try to understand the space and to speak to a lot of people. In general, I think the world of digital ownership offers so much opportunity in the long run. It’s about understanding the value of a digital identity to younger generations who are already very deep into digital worlds and owning digital things. That’s the bridge that can be hard for some people to cross – the idea that something digital that you can't touch having real value. I think we are progressing, because you have that demand from the younger generation, and because the world’s getting more globally connected.

Your Twitter bio reads, “believing in digital identities and communities”. What makes you believe in the power of these to reshape our digital future?

I think we all agree, our digital identities have become more important over the last few years already. The more time we spend in online communities, the more important our digital identities are going to be. To me, communities are not a Web3 phenomenon – we all belong to different communities. My teammates and our fans are a community. But thanks to technology it is easier to spend time with like-minded people, in games, or on Discord, and I think spatial computing will make virtual identities and communities even more important. For example, I’m keen to see what people will build with the Apple Vision Pro.

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Do any of your team-mates share in your curiosity of the space?

I would say the curiosity and the interest is there from other footballers, but it's not a common topic. A year ago, everybody was speaking to me about RTFKT, who started with virtual sneakers and virtual clothing and are still one of the most innovative NFT projects today, but I don't know if they were really hands on in these projects, so it would be difficult to say.

What about people who remain skeptical about the space?

That’s understandable – new things take a while to succeed and the hype in recent years has been too big. Yes, we are in a downturn now. But I am not worried about that. New things take a while to succeed. I never jumped on the hype train or tried to make some quick money. A lot of people reached out to me for partnerships and NFT drops but I said no to all of them. It’s not that I’m not interested, but it felt like I needed to observe and learn more about the technology first. Since then, I’ve met a lot of people in Web3, and I’ve also invested in a few promising startups.

You recently extended your partnership with Nike. What have been your first impressions of Nike’s entry into Web3 and digital collectibles?

Firstly, I think Nike is the best brand out there next to Apple. I think they have been very smart and did not jump in when the hype was at its peak. Yes, they bought RTFKT in 2021 to learn from their team of creators before establishing their own strategy. They took a very smart approach with .SWOOSH and the Our Force 1 – their first virtual sneaker. They probably realised that nobody in their audience wants to deal with wallets, crypto and all the risks involved – so they ironed out all the hassle that can come with purchasing digital items. I think this is how brands must do it: build it in an easy, secure, and seamless way. It should be fun to do, and I am looking forward to what Nike is going to build with .SWOOSH in the future.

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How important will Nike’s role be in pushing mainstream adoption of digital collectibles?

They have the power to change the culture. They have the audience that are in games and know virtual goods. A lot of companies look at Nike and want to see what their approach is and if they are successful with their initiatives. I feel that many brands feel more comfortable now to push their own initiatives. Nike are very smart, and they are very well prepared for the future, so they’ll play a big role.

When did you first make the step into owning digital items?

Everything started when I bought my first CloneX from RTFKT in March 2022 – CloneX is a collection of 20,000 different 3D characters. For me, it’s always important to know the people behind what you’re buying. I was able to build a bridge from Nike to the RTFKT team and get to know more about what they’re trying to create. I made my Twitter (X) PFP my CloneX and I did some fun stuff with the RTFKT community – for example, they played around with my 3D files and put him in the Frankfurt jersey when I moved to the club.

Could we soon see digital collectibles in sports gaming – for example, future EA Sports titles like EAFC?

There have been strong signs that EA Sports is interested in integrating this technology into their games – for example, their new partnership with Nike Virtual Studios. I expect they will slowly but surely start integrating (and testing) Nike virtual gear in EAFC. We will see what sticks and what gamers like to do with them. I think this will be huge. It will help players individualise their characters, and maybe there will be a marketplace one day where gamers can trade their virtual gear.

How significant could Nike’s partnership with EA SPORTS be for shaping the future?

Very smart people are on both sides of the table, and two amazing brands have joined forces here. And I am sure they have a good plan to integrate virtual gear into both of their ecosystem’s step by step. I think both brands have understood the potential value they can create together. I am very curious about how they will educate their audience and what the integration will look like. I am a strong believer of change, not only in life but also in sport. Exciting times are ahead.

Sure, we all fear change, but it's exploration and experimentation that broadens horizons. Change is inevitable and it’s to be embraced, and Mario Götze, along with Nike, have already started to do so. Time to catch up.

In the real world, Mario Gotze currently wears the Nike Phantom GX, which you can pick up at prodirectsport.com/soccer