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MLS launching esports league for FIFA 18 World Cup

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19 clubs enter the eMLS

Major League Soccer is partnering with EA Sports to create an esports organization for FIFA 18’s worldwide gaming competition, the sports league announced today.

Known as eMLS, the league will resemble esports organizations like the NBA 2K League in that its competitors will represent real-life sports teams. At the start, 19 of the 23 MLS clubs will participate in eMLS: Chicago Fire, Colorado Rapids, Columbus Crew SC, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, LA Galaxy, Minnesota United FC, Montreal Impact, New England Revolution, New York City FC, New York Red Bulls, Orlando City SC, Philadelphia Union, Portland Timbers, San Jose Earthquakes, Seattle Sounders FC, Sporting Kansas City, Toronto FC and Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

Competition to make eMLS will be fierce, as each of the aforementioned clubs will field an esports squad of just one professional gamer to represent it in the FIFA 18 league. The organizers of eMLS are leaving that process up to the individual clubs; each one will figure out its own method of selecting a FIFA 18 pro “from its region.” With only one esports athlete per eMLS club, rather than a roster of multiple players, it’s unclear whether the league has a standard contingency plan in case a club’s sole representative is unable to compete for some reason. Asked for details, an MLS spokesperson told Polygon that “some teams may choose to have multiple players represent them,” although clubs can send only one player to eMLS events.

FIFA 18 eMLS - MLS club logos
The 19 real-life MLS clubs that are participating in the inaugural eMLS season ...
FIFA 18 eMLS - club logos
... and the logos of their eMLS counterparts. Can you identify them from the colors alone?

There’s no word on whether eMLS pros are being set up as full-time jobs, like spots in the NBA 2K League or Overwatch League. The owners of the squads in those esports organizations are often billionaires or corporations, and they provide their athletes with salaries, benefits and housing. An eMLS rep was unable to comment on this aspect of the league by press time.

MLS, the top level of professional soccer in the U.S. and Canada, joins Australia’s A-League as real-world leagues that have pledged to create esports counterparts for the road to the FIFA eWorld Cup. (EA perhaps should’ve gone with a different name — when you Google it, the search engine assumes you’ve misspelled “FIFA World Cup,” probably since the real-life World Cup returns this June in Russia.)

The FIFA eWorld Cup is the conclusion of the FIFA 18 Global Series tournament, an expansion of the long-running annual esports competitions in EA’s FIFA franchise. The eMLS field will fight it out in the league’s own headlining event, the eMLS Cup, which is scheduled to take place during PAX East 2018 in April. The eMLS Cup winner will earn a guaranteed playoff spot in the Global Series. Details on the league’s format aren’t available yet; MLS said it will provide further information on how to qualify and compete later.

MLS is only describing eMLS as an esports league for FIFA 18 at this time, and EA has yet to officially announce the 2018 entry in the video game franchise. It seems hard to believe that a professional sports league would spin up an esports organization just for one year, not as a long-term pursuit, and a spokesperson told Polygon that MLS is working to establish eMLS in a way that can support future iterations of EA’s games.

“This step forward into competitive gaming is a key component in our partnership with EA Sports to promote deeper engagement and connections between MLS supporters and the millions of FIFA players around the world,” said Gary Stevenson, president and managing director of MLS Business Ventures, in a news release.

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