For many years, the “Big Four” dominated the world of North American sports. That’s the National Football League (NFL), National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL), and Major League Baseball (MLB).
While soccer enjoyed massive popularity across the globe, North American audiences largely remained resistant to soccer joining their party. For example, the ill-fated North American Soccer League (NASL) of the ’60s and ’70s was evidence aplenty that American audiences weren’t ready.
Then, in the 1990s, FIFA awarded the host nation status for the 1994 World Cup Finals to the United States. In return, the international soccer body demanded the US develop a professional league. In December 1993, American soccer authorities selected what was then called Major League Professional Soccer as their exclusive top soccer league. A year later, they formed Major League Soccer (MLS).
What is the MLS?
The MLS is a 23-team league, split into two conferences. Teams play through a lengthy season of matches in an attempt to qualify for the playoffs. Qualified teams then play a number of two-legged knockout matches in each conference. One team from each conference reaches the final. There, the two teams compete over a single-leg match for the MLS Cup.
In the next two years, the MLS’ ranks will grow to 25. Squads from Miami and Nashville will join the league. Here’s a quick breakdown of the 23 teams in the two conferences.
- Eastern Conference – Atlanta United FC, Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew SC, D.C. United, Montreal Impact, New England Revolution, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, Orlando City, Philadelphia Union, Toronto FC
- Western Conference – Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, LA Galaxy, Los Angeles FC, Minnesota United, Portland Timbers, Real Salt Lake, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders, Sporting Kansas City, Vancouver Whitecaps
How strong are the MLS’ ties to EA Sports’ FIFA franchise?
Now, what does the MLS have to do with esports, you may be wondering?
Well, the MLS has long been connected with the premier console football franchise, EA Sports’ FIFA series. When the MLS rebranded in 2014, the new crest was debuted in FIFA 2015. Furthermore, in the most recent iteration of the game, FIFA 2018, play-through story protagonist Alex Hunter earns a move to the LA Galaxy. As it turns out, the MLS worked with EA Sports to create that narrative.
Then, the most recent link between EA Sports and the MLS is the eMLS. This esports tournament takes place in April as part of the FIFA 18 Global Series.
What is the eMLS?
Nineteen MLS teams have confirmed they will hold open tournaments in their local areas to recruit one or two players to represent their club in the eMLS.
Speaking to Polygon, MLS Senior Director of Properties and Events James Ruth stated the organization’s interest in the eMLS was “really based on the connection with the fan base.”
That connection has links directly back to the FIFA franchise, as data from Simmons Research showed back in 2014. It discovered around 66 percent of MLS fans first had their interest in the MLS piqued by playing FIFA and then became fans of teams after playing the game.
Boston will host the eMLS from April 5-8 this spring. Of the 23 MLS teams, only four have not yet committed to sending representatives – Real Salt Lake, D.C. United, Atlanta United FC, and Los Angeles FC.
In the eMLS event, the rules will be the same as the other FIFA 18 Global Series tournaments. The top eight players from each conference will contest the knockout rounds on Saturday, April 7. Each of the conference championship matches and the grand final will take place the next day.
The eMLS does have some rules to spice competition up. In standard competition for the FIFA Global Series, players will play their FIFA Ultimate Team selection for their games with few restrictions on the players they can select and play.
However, all teams in the eMLS matches must have at least three players from the MLS on the pitch at all times. Two must hail from the club they are representing in the MLS.
The overall winner of the tournament and the runner-up will earn places in the FIFA eWorld Cup, which will take place after this summer’s real World Cup in Russia in August.
The two players from the eMLS will then compete against a further 30 players, qualifiers from a number of different tournaments over the coming months all over the globe, to try and become the FIFA eWorld Cup Champion.
Could another league follow the MLS example?
For fans, the appeal of representing a club by becoming its official FIFA representative would be huge. Some teams from around the world, West Ham United, for example, have already employed their own esports rep.
Other teams and leagues could easily follow this suit as the esports industry grows in value and importance.
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