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Volume 21 No. 34
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NYCFC dives into esports with signings

New York City FC has signed its second esports player, which comes as MLS and its clubs begin to push into the competitive landscape of EA Sports’ “FIFA” franchise.

NYCFC in April became the first MLS club to sign a “FIFA” esports player, and the new signing is a reflection of the game’s increasingly large reach and popularity, NYCFC President Jon Patricof said.

“Even going back two years ago, we thought esports fit well with our strategy, helping us connect with our existing fans and potentially new ones,” Patricof said. “As more players, media attention and money enter the space, we think it’s important to find competitive players who are among the best in the world, and can help us with that strategy.”

The team’s two players, Chris Holly and new signing Joey Calabro, play on different platforms — PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, respectively — which Patricof said will further the team’s exposure in competitions. In August, Holly was runner-up in the PlayStation division at the first FIFA Interactive Club World Cup, a tournament made up of players who represent pro soccer clubs, while Calabro is one of the top-ranked Xbox players in the U.S. and recently competed in the FIFA Interactive World Cup Grand Final in London, where he was a quarterfinalist. The two players will wear NYCFC jerseys when they play the game, as well as have their in-game teams wear NYCFC jerseys. Patricof declined to comment on the financial arrangements of the signings.

Chris Holly (seated) is one of two gamers who will sport NYCFC colors in “FIFA” esports competition.
The signing comes after FIFA and EA Sports’ recent announcement that they would launch a global competition and framework for the game’s esports platform, which would culminate in an eWorld Cup.

MLS is encouraging its teams to sign their own players as well to take part in these competitions, according to multiple sources, as the league investigates more ways to be active in esports.

Multiple teams across MLS, including the New York Red Bulls, are working through player signings of their own that will be announced in the coming weeks, according to sources across the league.

As part of the competition, which is being called the FIFA 18 Global Series on the Road to the FIFA eWorld Cup 2018, EA and FIFA will partner with leagues around the world to host qualifying competitions, where players can represent their favorite or local teams. EA and FIFA did not comment on which leagues will be involved in the series. MLS, which first appeared in the 2000 edition of the “FIFA” game, signed a five-year extension with EA Sports last year.

While a number of European soccer clubs have made investments in esports organizations akin to what many U.S.-based teams and owners have done, many more have looked to sign individual players to compete in tournaments under their respective banners, such as Paris Saint-Germain, AS Roma and NYCFC sister club Manchester City. Compared with the NBA’s partnership with Take-Two Interactive, which will create a NBA 2K esports league with team franchises and buy-in fees, MLS esports efforts may mirror that European approach, sources said, which would allow clubs to get involved in gaming with less risk.

EA does not release individual game sales, but more than 7 million players participated in the preliminaries for the 2017 FIFA Interactive World Cup, and there were more than 2.3 million views of the finals on Twitch. The prize pool was $1.3 million.

MLS has grown more involved with the game as its popularity has increased. The league, alongside EA Sports, hosted a tournament at the 2016 All-Star Game in San Jose. In March, the league hosted a qualifying tournament for the game’s championship series where players used MLS clubs in-game.

The L.A. Galaxy, which is featured heavily in the “FIFA 18” game mode The Journey, also held a 64-player tournament celebrating the launch of the game with MLS and EA Sports. The team is expected to sign one of the players from that tournament soon.