FIFA’s eSports Future Is Via Pro Soccer Teams

FIFA 17 Regional Finals (Photo: EA Sports)
The Next Level 207

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TNL Take: This past year, EA Sports made serious strides with their first real full season of FIFA eSports under their Competitive Gaming Division by announcing $1.3M in prize pools (including travel/expenses).

The FIFA 17 Regionals from Paris became the 1st ever eSports program shown on ESPN’s flagship channel garnering 110,000 viewers — considering it was tape delayed and shown at 6PM on Super Bowl Sunday.

TNL Infographic 040: 2017 eSports TV Ratings (Infographic: The Next Level)

At EA Play last week — EA’s coming out party the weekend prior to the start of E3 — EA Sports announced some pretty big changes for FIFA 18 with the last 2 being the most crucial:

  • A partnership between EA and FIFA launching in Fall of this year for a year long competitive infrastructure
  • Real teams sponsoring athletes via official tournaments
  • An All-Star tournament featuring athletes signed to teams
FIFA 18’s Grand New Plans (Photo: EA Sports)

This shouldn’t be surprising based on EA’s previous moves in the space:

AUGUST 2016: PSV EINDHOVEN

PSV Players Playing FIFA (Photo: PSV Eindhoven)

Eredivisie team PSV Eindhoven became the first Dutch team to become involved with eSports however bypassing the “normal” route of sponsoring an athlete directly, PSV held an EA Sports FIFA 17 tournament to determine their player.

Further, at the time I mentioned this could be a hint of things to come:

The Next Level YYY (Photo: The Next Level)

JANUARY 2017: DUTCH E-DIVISIE LEAGUE

Dutch FIFA eSports League (Photo: Eredivisie)

The E-Divisie is a partnership between Dutch football league Eredivisie, Endemol Shine Netherlands and EA Sports. The games will be broadcast on Twitch, YouTube and TV via Fox Sports.

Each of the club athletes competed in 17 rounds of games of FIFA 17 Ultimate Team which determined the E-Divisie Champion, but also which club would represent Netherlands at the European level and a chance to move onto a World Championships.

Again at this time I mentioned a potential future with EA Sports driving the selection process:

The Next Level YYY (Photo: The Next Level)

This is a no brainer for EA Sports but 2 large questions remain.

/01 WHICH CLUBS WILL BE INVOLVED?

EA Sports did not mention which clubs would be participating at launch and did not respond when reached out for comment. I’d venture that it will be primarily European teams and if I had to bet on 1 club being involved: Bayern Munich.

/02 IS THIS THE BEST ROUTE FOR CLUBS?

From EA’s perspective, it makes absolute business sense to grab as much control over the eSports infrastructure as you can, especially when pro teams are still so very uneducated about the space.

But does it make the most sense for the pro teams?

Here’s the reason: Follow any FIFA athlete on Twitter and you will see constant gripes about the lagging, the buggy nature of the game or disconnecting before a loss — to be fair, it’s common across many eSports titles.

As the game changes every year, the previous year’s “best” player may not be the current years top rated player, which means a relative unknown could win and become a clubs official player.

Sticking with the Bayern Munich example, would the club rather find a FIFA athlete via this process with 24 Twitter followers or find someone that is both a top player, produces content and has a large social following across a variety of media?

Time will tell which soccer clubs will be most successful but you can definitely be assured of this:

EA NFL Madden is next.


ICYMI, here’s TNL eSports Guest Podcast 005 with Paris St-Germain Head of eSports, Bora “Yellowstar” Kim.


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