This Saturday, LAFC hosts the Philadelphia Union in the 2022 MLS Cup. Both teams are vying for their first Philip F. Anschutz Trophy and the stakes could not be higher as these are the two top teams in the league. I personally have no idea who to root for, even though one team has Andre Blake and the other does not.
I have been following this league since approximately 2013 and have become more invested with each passing season. As I have gotten older, competed in a few seasons of club soccer and played a handful of video games on my Xbox 360, I have noticed that there is only one video game series where you can play with MLS superstars from David Beckham to David Villa — the same series that gives you the opportunity to play with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
That needs to change.
Before I go any further, let me be clear that I do not have anything against the FIFA video game series or FIFA in general. If anything, I do not even play the games that often despite owning at least six different editions dating as far back as 2002.
I first want to provide some context about the league. MLS began play in 1996 with 10 teams, all but one of which still exist today. Since 2005, the league has expanded to cities from Seattle, Washington to Austin, Texas. Along the way, the league has grown in popularity as more fans attend games in soccer-specific stadiums each year and more homegrown players have been developed that make the United States men’s national team exciting to watch.
The popularity of video games — especially that of esports — has grown exponentially during the same time period. Whether it is the rise of the NBA 2K series, the dominance of the Madden NFL series or the popularity of Rocket League and Call of Duty, more people are choosing to play video games rather than play sports. Esports are trending upward as much as pickleball and their big events are attracting more viewers than the Super Bowl. Combine both trends with eMLS, MLS’ esports league established in 2018, and you get the need for an exclusive game.
Player ratings are just as important as they help young gamers figure out who the top players are. The highest rated players from MLS in FIFA 23 are LAFC defender Giorgio Chiellini and Toronto FC winger Lorenzo Insigne, who both have an 84 overall rating. Nashville SC’s Hany Mukhtar, who recently won the Landon Donovan MVP Award after scoring 23 goals, shares the exact same overall rating of 77 with Blake, the league’s three-time Goalkeeper of the Year.
Although MLS stars are not the best in the world nor is the league the best in the business, ratings like these for the top players in sports like basketball and American football would lead to disastrous consequences. If MLS players had their own video game series (still produced by EA), then their overall ratings would be in the 90s, which is much more satisfactory than the ones Madden NFL puts out in late July.
The most significant drawback would be MLS’ association with FIFA via the CONCACAF. Because MLS has teams in Canada and the U.S., FIFA considers the league as the top-flight association in both countries. If MLS were to make their own video game independent of the FIFA series, I predict that FIFA would lose a significant portion of their gaming revenue as more fans in North America would buy the MLS-exclusive game rather than the worldwide FIFA one.
The other notable drawback is that until stars like Harry Kane, Neymar, Luis Suárez or Kylian Mbappé sign with an MLS club (if that ever happens), gamers cannot play with them. This is partially because of licensing, but it has more to do with focusing on one league in particular. As much as gamers in the U.S. and Canada would like to play with the best in MLS, they would rather play with the top athletes in the world that represent the richest clubs such as FC Barcelona or Chelsea.
The best compromise is to have the FIFA series go the route of the NHL video game series and name them after the top-flight leagues like the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and Bundesliga. Even if MLS does not get their name on the title, they can at least be included within the game and give the people the option to play with the top MLS players.
Despite these drawbacks, MLS could also stand apart from the crowd by adding historic and national teams into the mix — An idea I pulled from the NBA 2K series. Players could have the opportunity to play with former stars such as Beckham and Wayne Rooney if past MLS Cup-winning teams (i.e., the 2008 Columbus Crew) and regular-season juggernauts (i.e., the 2021 New England Revolution) were included.
I am also talking more than just the U.S. and Canadian national teams. I would include the Mexican, Brazilian, French and English national teams to name a few. MLS players who already play for these national teams would automatically be assigned to the club while the top-flight players (depending on licensing) become anonymous players with high ratings.
Especially with the growth of the league over the past decade as well as the U.S. being one of three countries to host the 2026 World Cup, the time is right for MLS to have its own video game series. It may seem like a crazy idea now given the popularity of the FIFA series, but if it works out, then the MLS video game series would be discussed on the same par as the NBA 2K and Madden NFL series.