Sports leagues are always racing to appeal to next-generation fans but Major League Soccer might have more at stake than any other league out there. In the Western sports world, that is, in Canada and America, soccer is still struggling to penetrate a market that is dominated by four big professional sports leagues: NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL. However, this does not imply that there is no progress being made. Soccer has begun to become increasingly popular and this is all thanks to the young people of this era. How? You may ask. Well, apparently, the line between MLS fans and video game lovers is getting blurrier by the day and the league is capitalizing on this by launching its own Esports organization.
Dubbed eMLS, the Esports league was forked out of the MLS’ existing partnership with Electronic Arts (EA) for the video game provider’s popular FIFA series which in all rights can be said to have always had a near cult following. MLS is really focused on establishing an even stronger connection with their fan base. Based on the nature of the MLS audience, there is a distinct proof that there is a connection between electronic gaming and the league. According to 2017 research data from Simmons Research, MLS fans are twice as likely to be video game enthusiasts as average sports fans.
MLS also, through a survey that it conducted in 2014, found that over 60 percent of its avid followers pointed to Electronic Arts’ FIFA series as the first thing that got them interested in soccer – this is much higher than the percentage of FIFA players who got interested in playing the video game from being part of an actual soccer team.
“We’re starting to shift how we think about fandom holistically to say, ‘Hey, gaming’s a major component of that.’ Not only in where they spend their time, but how they express themselves as fans,” said James Ruth, the senior director of properties and events at MLS. “We want to use competitive gaming and eMLS to get the MLS experience to more people. There’s a ton of people — especially in North America — who engage with FIFA, but they’re not necessarily engaging with MLS.”
eMLS’ First Tournament to Stream on Twitch This April
The MLS’ first Esports league tournament first-ever is scheduled for the upcoming PAX East where the MLS’ 19-player team will compete for a spot at the league’s global payoffs. These 19 players will be split into two separate conferences – ten in the Eastern Conference and the other nine in the Western Conference. Each and every competitor will be required to create their own 11-player squads for the start, with seven more on the bench and additional five on reserve. The only catch is that three of 19 MLS players will have to be on the field at all times, including two from the club that the competitor represents.
The eMLS Cup will kick off on Thursday, April 5th with the preliminary rounds, with the top eight players from each of the conference progressing to seed being allowed to progress to seeded knockout rounds on Saturday prior to the Sunday’s Cup Final. The venue for the weekend matches will be the PAX Arena Main Stage, but if you cannot make it to the venue, you can stream it on PaxArena’s Twitch channel. The final, on the other hand, will also be broadcasted on MLS channel and its website.