The times they are a changin’.
New York City FC recently announced the signing of Christopher Holly as their in-house professional eSports player, a first for Major League Soccer.
Holly is an experienced FIFA player on PS4 and was ranked first in the world in December 2016 with a record of 197-3, according to NYCFC’s announcement of the signing. He will represent NYCFC at FIFA tournaments across the country and world.
Though NYCFC is the first in MLS to announce an eSports signing, the concept is hardly new. VFL Wolfsburg, a team in the German Bundesliga, became the first professional football club to sign an eSports player in February 2016. In May 2016, West Ham announced the signing of the 2016 FIFA Interactive World Cup runner up, becoming the first UK club to make such a signing. Since then, Paris Saint-Germain, Ajax, Sporting Portugal, West Ham, Manchester City (whose ownership group also owns NYCFC), and others have followed suit. Most of these clubs stick to FIFA, but clubs like FC Schalke have also branched out into other eSports ventures, signing a League of Legends team. The NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers purchased two eSports teams in 2016.
The addition of eSports players to club rosters may seem way out of left field but it makes a lot of sense. eSports are immensely popular with millennials, and offering a player such as Holly for gamers to challenge and watch attracts new (read: young) fans that clubs may not be reaching by other means. Watching a 90 minute soccer match may seem like an eternity at times, but that is nothing compared to how much time people spend watching video game livestreams. Twitch is a video platform that allows users to livestream various activities to their followers. 241 billion (with a “b”) minutes of gaming content had been streamed on Twitch as of February 2017. There are 100 million monthly Twitch users, and these users average an hour and forty five minutes of use per day. PER DAY. The average Twitch user watches gaming for longer than the length of a soccer game each day. Youtube Gaming, a channel dedicated to gaming, has over 77 million subscribers. Each month on average, 144 billion minutes of gaming videos are watched.
I know that is a lot of numbers, and there are more that I could add (for example: eSports revenue is expected to jump from $493 million in 2016 to $1.4 billion in 2020), but this is a space that clubs want to be in. Not all of the hours spent on Twitch and YouTube are devoted to soccer, but there are a lot of players like Holly on FIFA that can be reached by teams. In my own experience, playing FIFA has been a way for me to follow the game closer. Trying out different teams and leagues, I am “introduced” to players that I can never catch on TV. I have friends whose interest in soccer started playing FIFA. They picked up the controller, got frustrated after losing a few games and started researching which players and teams fit their playing style by following the game more closely. This isn’t a unique experience, a poll by ESPN.com’s Richard Luker in 2014 found that a third of FIFA’s players followed the professional game more closely as a result of the video game and that half of players surveyed were more interested in the real game as a result of the video game. The rise of soccer’s popularity in the US has coincided with the rise of FIFA’s popularity in the US and across the globe.
I won’t say Minnesota United is struggling to bring on casual fans but I do know how hard it is to get people that don’t understand the game to come out for a match. In my opinion, the best way to create a soccer fan is to bring someone to a game, but the second best way is probably to throw a copy of FIFA in their Xbox and play a couple (or a hundred) games. The Star Tribune’s MNUFC beat writer asked Loon supporters what the best way to learn the game is, and she received almost as many “play FIFA lol” responses as “take ‘em to a match” replies. Bringing on a gamer to represent the team, challenge fans and players, and explain rules could be a step in reaching new fans in the Twin Cities and across the state. Despite MNUFC still not being a playable team in the video game, they should consider signing an eSports player.
Dr. Bill, if you’re reading this: I will save you some time looking for that eSports player. I AM THAT PLAYER. My resume is below:
- I have played hours and hours of FIFA. Don’t tell my mom but I probably played FIFA a little too much in college.
- I have never lost a game where I have scored more goals than the other player.
- I am not afraid to play anyone - I may not beat everyone, but I am not afraid to try to beat anyone.
- Not afraid of a little pressure - I have played for pretty high stakes: the bottom bunk of the bed with my roommate in college. Unable to fairly decide who gets the bottom/top bunk of the bed, we decided to put our skills to the test. We threw out the home/away 2 leg strategy, it was unfair that a few accidental goals could change an entire year of sleep. We settled on the next best thing: a best-of-seven series of best-of-seven series(es?). The games came down to the wire, and at the end of it all we played 47 of the 49 possible games. I won, but elected to let my roommate take the bottom bunk because a surgery he had limited his mobility a bit.
- I’m a nice guy - Did I mention that I let my roommate take the bottom bunk even though I kinda wanted it? Being nice is not really necessary for FIFA, but it’s important for work environments and meet-and-greets.
- I can provide my own Xbox - Despite my better efforts to fry my Xbox simulating who MNUFC should have selected in the Expansion Draft, my console is still alive and kicking.
- I need money to buy more FUT coins - If you are not familiar with FUT (Fifa Ultimate Team) our friends at FUTNation have a beginner’s guide. If you don’t have time for that, just know that it is a game mode where you collect player cards and create teams to play other players online for coins. I spent all of my coins trying to collect all of the available MNUFC players and have not been able to win (or buy) more.
- My gamertag is a pun - My gamertag is birschbox which sounds a lot a like my last name squished together with Xbox.
- I won’t give up - I have been toiling in between the 6th and 8th divisions in the other FIFA online mode, Seasons. Starting in the 10th division I was quickly promoted (woo! #ProRelForFIFA17!) to the 6th division and then promptly crushed for a few seasons back to the 8th division. I continue to try to advance further, though it might be futile.
- I play a pass and cross happy style - MNUFC runs a 4-2-3-1 and that works for me since I basically just dribble up the side of the field with my backs and swing in crosses. I also like doing those fancy trick passes in the back to pad my possession stats. I don’t recommend the real MNUFC do it, but it kinda looks cool on the game.
- I am terribly honest - I probably shouldn’t have told you how much I struggled in that Seasons mode and how I pretty much only have one attacking style, and now it is becoming very obvious that I am not super good, but I think I am the only one that has applied so far so sign me!
- Did I mention I can bring my own Xbox?
Share your FIFA resumes, and why you should be signed as MNUFC’s eSports star below. Challenge me on FIFA if you want!