EA SPORTS officially dropped their latest installment of FIFA today. The FIFA franchise is one of the most popular video games on the planet, and I believe it is the best selling sports video game. Like many of you who are reading this, I have spent countless hours over the years playing FIFA. When I was playing professional soccer in Holland, my roommate was a teammate from Brazil. He didn’t speak English and I didn’t speak Portuguese very well, but we passed time and became friends playing FIFA. I’ve played the game with teammates, old friends, new friends, cats I didn’t know, etc. I’ve played it first thing in the morning with coffee and late into the night with beers. It’s been a part of my life for a very long time and I imagine it will be going forward.
We have a conversation around here all the time about helping build the sport in the United States. About the mechanisms that help fuel the growth of soccer. Having touching points along the way that introduce new fans to soccer in non-traditional ways. FIFA might just be the greatest example of this. I think FIFA might have created more new soccer fans than just about any initiative that has taken place within the sport domestically in the last twenty years. And there has been some great work done by some great people, but FIFA might have moved the needle as much as anything else when it comes to generating new fans.
Here is an example of what I mean by this. And this is just one example. This exact same scenario has played out with countless people that I know. And it always goes something like this.
Sometime around 2008 or so, a friend of mine named Justin got his first taste of FIFA. And Justin was not a fan of soccer. He grew up in the midwest, was and still is a massive Green Bay Packers fan, and had zero interest in soccer his entire life. Then one day he ends up playing a game of FIFA with another buddy of ours. Justin gets his first taste of soccer in a new way. He doesn’t have to sit and watch a game that he doesn’t understand for 90 minutes. Instead he’s a part of the game. He might not really know what is going on, but he gets to play a short match and his interest in the sport is piqued.
Justin knows I’m a soccer dude. So when I see him later that week he tells me he has been playing FIFA all week and that he is getting into it. I’m stoked about this because it is one new person taking an interest in the sport. Or at least in the video game.
Another week or so passes and I see Justin again. This time he tells me he has picked a team (I think it was Chelsea) and that he is in full “I want to build a rad team” mode. So he asks me about a couple players on his team. Asks about formations, a little bit about tactics. He is now actively involved in the game.
Next time I see him, he has started waking up early to watch Premier League games because he wants to watch Chelsea. His team in the video game has now transitioned into a real life interest and he wants to know all he can about them. He’s starting to tell me about his players. Which players he is starting. Who is getting left on the bench. He’s curious about who to pick up in the “virtual transfer market” and he is now understanding the sport like he never has before. He realizes how difficult it is to score in a soccer game. He gets the offside rule. He knows the difference between a 4-4-2 and a 3-5-2. He’s locked in now.
What started for him as a way to pass time with a homie and play a video game has become something much bigger. He was becoming a fan of the sport.
And this has happened countless times with people I know. So I can only imagine how many times a similar scenario has played out across the country.
FIFA is like a gateway to the sport. It’s a lot easier for a non soccer fan to sit down and play a FIFA match for five minutes than it is for them to sit down and watch a 90 minute game that they don’t understand. FIFA is easy to digest. It’s fun. It’s engaging and interactive. It teaches people about the sport while delivering one hell of a good time. If people find themselves liking FIFA, the logical next step is to watch a real game.
I don’t think anyone would have realistically imagined the sport of soccer being where it is in America 20 years ago. Hopeful that we would see the sport grow? Yes. But realistic that it would be where it is now? I’m not so sure.
FIFA has helped drive that growth. I’m not trying to say we can credit EA SPORTS and the FIFA video game with all that has happened here, but we would be naive if we didn’t give the game it’s proper due for helping the sport grow.
And as technology becomes an increasingly more important aspect to the game, EA SPORTS is delivering an unbelievable product that is at the forefront of technology within the sport. Just look at that trailer above. It’s ridiculous. I was lucky enough to play FIFA 15 a couple of months ago. Before it was even a finished product. And the scope and scale of what they have done with this game is amazing.
I feel like professional coaches could use the game to better understand their opponents and prepare for matches. It’s that good and realistic.
Shouts to the folks who have worked on the FIFA franchise over the years. You guys have certainly helped shape the American soccer landscape and you deserve a lot of credit for helping move the needle forward. I can’t even imagine what you guys have planned going forward.
And one last thing I would like to point out about FIFA. The music is always on point. Soccer + music are probably the two things I enjoy the most. And they are brought together in an amazing way in the FIFA franchise. I’ve always been impressed with the musical supervision on this game.
And with that, I need to get out and go get myself FIFA 15.