FIFA 17 came out earlier this week and if you haven’t played it yet, we suggest you make the time. The EA Sports FIFA series is more than just another video game. It’s a cultural phenomenon and has played a huge role in building and shaping soccer fans in the United States throughout its history.
The first FIFA video game was released way back in 1993 and was the first soccer video game that was able to obtain the actual FIFA license to use real players, clubs, and stadiums. Since then, the franchise has gone on to sell more than 100 million copies worldwide and is the best-selling sports video game in the world. It’s a testament to the FIFA brand just how popular the game has become over the years. Last year’s edition was the #8 selling video game in the United States during 2015. Not too shabby for a game that’s released with just over three months left in the calendar year.
There’s a lot to like about how EA Sports is marketing the FIFA franchise. The game itself has become bigger than just a game and is a genuine cultural phenomenon both in the United States and abroad. The best part is they’ve managed to rally multiple groups of people including: professional athletes – both soccer and across other sports – celebrities, soccer fans, and video gamers in general.
The FIFA Series Helps Shape American Soccer Fandom
In the United States, the FIFA series has had a direct and positive impact on increasing soccer’s popularity as outlined by the infographic below. These are quite impressive numbers for a video game. If you’re having people immerse themselves for hundreds of hours learning the intricacies of formation and tactics, while analyzing players, clubs, and positions, they’re going to naturally start paying closer attention to the real life game. The Guardian wrote a great article this week on how “the FIFA series has helped sell soccer to the U.S.” The article notes how it was the perfect “dorm” game with college students congregating around their video game console of choice to play matches against their friends. FIFA games are quick and enable multiple people to play at once or rotate in during competitions.
This quote from The Guardian article really stood out to us, especially from a marketing perspective. Every team and brand wants to reach that elusive “millennial” target audience and FIFA helps build new fans every year. The game gets people hooked and then they devote themselves to following their new favorite team closely. It’s even gotten younger kids hooked while they’re playing youth soccer and helped deepen their relationship to the game.
“Playing Fifa in college really accelerated my soccer fandom,” says Dillon Asher from Los Angeles. “Whether it was organizing a Fifa World Cup with eight of my closest friends, or trying to squeeze a game in before we went out, it’s safe to say a game of Fifa was always on the table.” The 22-year-old can also says he was not a soccer fan before he played Fifa. In fact, he doesn’t think he could have named one professional player. “Now, I am a soccer addict. I saw my first and only soccer game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena a couple years ago and Manchester United won 7-0 against LA Galaxy.”
The Launch Activities
This year’s edition of the annual game takes users on a new journey with a new game mode called, well, The Journey. In a mix of role-playing game meets soccer, you take control of the up-and-coming star Alex Hunter who finds himself tackling the Premier League at a young age. How you progress is up to you. More familiar game modes including Ultimate Team, Career, and Online are of course present for both the solo and social side of gaming. It’s a new approach to bring in new fans and we’re excited to see how the reception is to The Journey.
Probably one of the most-talked about parts of every FIFA release is the player ratings. The stats are a mix of stats and subjective ratings and play a major role in how players build their squads. A quick Google News search of ‘FIFA 17 player ratings” brings up no less than 118,000 articles. The ratings drive conversation and media coverage by teams, social/digital outlets, traditional media, and especially players. We can’t speak for all professional soccer players, but we’re pretty certain there’s plenty of disagreement with FIFA’s player ratings and the subject of much clubhouse conversation.
With the game launching globally this week, there was no shortage of events and happenings. The UK launch happened at the London Stadium – the 2012 Olympic venue and new home of West Ham United. The US party in New York gave those in attendance the chance to put themselves on the cover. In attendance were multiple MLS players, soccer media, and fans who got the chance to play the game.
To coincide with the release, Major League Soccer had some fun with bringing the training games of FIFA to real life using their players. Anyone who has played previous incarnations of the game know how unique, fun, and challenging, these training games can be. We really love these videos as they’re a fun way to connect FIFA players with real MLS players. You get to see their personalities shine through and have some fun with training challenges that they don’t get to do during their typcial week of preparation.
Perhaps one of the biggest examples of how FIFA has permeated pop culture is the video series that Copa90 launched last December: “FIFA and Chill.” In it, Copa90 personalities Poet and Vuj get comfortable in their finest robes and hang out with a variety of Premier League players, rappers, and other media personalities, all the while playing a few rounds of FIFA and chatting away. The almost two dozen episodes have garnered nearly 4.5 million cumulative views. They’re fun and showcase a different side of the players that fans typically don’t get to witness. Copa90 have an absolute hit on their hands and dropped the latest edition with Arsenal starlet Alex Iwobi at the FIFA 17 launch event.
The rise of eSports over the last year has been crazy. Premier League clubs have signed eSports players to official deals to represent the club in official tournaments. Live streamers on Twitch and YouTube have garnered hundreds of thousands of views per video with Spencer FC being one of the most notable personalities. He’s currently playing through The Journey and sat down with young Manchester United star Marcus Rashford, who many people are comparing to Alex Hunter, the star of The Journey.
We love how FIFA transcends cultures and brings people together all over the globe, just like the beautiful game itself. We can’t want to further dive into the game and see how players, teams, media companies, and brands use it over the next year to market themselves.