MLS, Fox Sports Teaming Up For New Esports Series

    • New effort from MLS and Fox Sports will see professional soccer players and professional FIFA players team up.
    • MLS's eMLS esports initiative is now in its third season.

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MLS will bring its eMLS esports initiative to linear television to not only engage fans during the league’s hiatus but also to further support coronavirus-related relief efforts.

The five-episode series will be known as the eMLS Tournament Special, and air on FS1 on Sundays. It will see MLS players team up with the eMLS player from their club, facing off with other clubs from across the league. MLS Works, the league’s social responsibility platform, and FOX Sports will make donations on behalf of each matchup’s winner to Feeding America, as well as Food Banks Canada.

Participating players include LA Galaxy’s Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Orlando City’s Nani, and D.C. United’s Paul Arriola, among others. Each MLS player will face off in a one-on-one, while the two eMLS participants will then face each other, with the winners of each match facing off to close out the broadcast.

eMLS was in its third season this year, which is played in EA Sports’ FIFA video game. Nearly all of MLS’s clubs have individual participants in the esports effort, which sees competitors face off in tournaments and other events. There is also a larger competitive esports ecosystem around FIFA that eMLS players also participate in.

While eMLS players have continued to compete in friendly matches and other competitions while MLS is on hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, eMLS also had to postpone its top completion, the eMLS Cup, which was set to be played at the now-canceled South by Southwest.

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MLS Senior Vice President of Media Seth Bacon said that as the league has had to put its season on pause, it is “critically important to stay connected to fans and provide engaging content to our fanbase at a time they need it the most.”

This new esports tournament is part of MLS’s MLS Unites initiative, a league-wide platform aiming to educate communities, entertain fans, and celebrate local heroes who are stepping up during the pandemic. That includes a variety of different content efforts like classic matches, player chats, and at-home workouts.

Bacon said the league had been figuring how ways to bring fans more MLS-related content and was trying to figure out what it could do with eMLS. At the same time, Fox Sports was also brainstorming that idea, and pitched the league on an esports competition that would feature MLS players. The two sides came up with this idea, which Bacon said would allow for the league to “showcase the stars from both MLS and eMLS.”

MLS will look to create a bevy of content around the two-hour television shows, including highlights, recaps, and analysis. The broadcast will not only feature live play-by-play but will also have virtual sideline reporters discussing what the players are saying in their respective living rooms.

eMLS events have done relatively well in previous Twitch broadcasts – the league has said that its League Series One event in January accumulated more than 1.1 million views on Twitch. Bacon said this new series could attract a large viewing audience as well on linear television, blending traditional MLS fans with esports fans with viewers keen on watching any sports competition.

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However, Bacon stated, the league only has one measurement in mind when it comes to launching this new series: “The most important thing is how can we provide compelling content to people when they’re struggling across the board, and people are dealing with stressors they have never contemplated in their lives,” he said.

“We want to do our part to take their minds off that for two hours for five straight weeks, that’s our measurement of success,” Bacon said.