Major League Soccer unveiled part of its esports blueprint Friday, with 19 clubs looking to face off to decide the best "FIFA 18" video gamer in North America.
The teams, including Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, will pit their own pro gamers against each other to determine an eMLS champion who will then represent the North American league in the EA Sports FIFA 18 Global Series Playoffs leading to the FIFA eWorld Cup 2018 in August.
All the MLS teams save Atlanta United, D.C. United, Los Angeles FC and Real Salt Lake are taking part in the inaugural eMLS Cup at PAX East, a gaming show set for April 5-8 in Boston.
Each club will field a player from its region to represent it in eMLS competitive play. The three Canadians teams have yet to make an announcement about their pro gamers.
"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," Gary Stevenson, president and managing director of MLS business ventures, said in a statement.
EA has already had great success with its competitive "Madden NFL" series, with its gaming circuit boasting a purse of US$1.153 million.
The NBA has already started qualifying for gamers hoping to be part of the NBA 2K League when it tips off in May. Toronto, whose eteam will be known as the Raptors Uprising Gaming Club (GC), is one of 17 teams that have signed up for the virtual hoops league.
Each of the teams involved will draft gamers who survive the qualification process to compete as unique characters in 5-on-5 play against the other teams in a mix of regular-season games, tournaments and playoffs.
The NHL is expected to announce its esports plans soon. The Philadelphia Flyers have already partnered with WorldGaming for the Snider Hockey Cup, a North American championship whose finals are in March.
New York City was the first MLS team to sign an esports player in Chris Holly (for PlayStation 4). NYCFC has since signed a second player, Joey Calabro for Xbox One, and announced plans for its own "FIFA 18" tournament in February.
The EA Sports FIFA 18 Global Series Playoffs draws players from a variety of competitions including league partners like the eMLS Cup.
The top 128 players in the world will advance to two playoff events in June with 32 of those moving on to the FIFA eWorld Cup 2018 Grand Final in August.
Holly is already on his way, having qualified for the FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) Champions Cup on Jan. 26-28 in Barcelona, Spain, where the top eight finishers will advance to the June playoffs.
The hit FIFA video game franchise is developed at EA's Vancouver-area studio.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press