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Could eMLS ever surpass MLS in terms of interest?

Never say never...

MLS: eMLS All-Star Challenge Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Video Game week here at SB Nation, and with eMLS now in its third season, a question comes to mind: Could eMLS ever surpass MLS, in terms of fanbase and interest? Let’s walk through the cases for yes and no.

No: MLS will remain supreme

I think the easiest way to conceive of this is without MLS, eMLS loses its hook, right? Playing the mega-popular FIFA franchise isn’t as potent without real life players who offer ratings and fodder for the video game, basically.

In this moment, in 2020, it frankly seems inconceivable a virtual league would surpass the real life league in terms of interest. Even with eSports of all kinds becoming more popular, and with FIFA’s popularity, it’s one thing to play the video game, it’s another to become a fan of an MLS team through eMLS for many. Life would have to change substantially in order for eMLS to really surge in popularity, it seems.

Which brings us to...

Yes: eMLS can make a push on MLS

It’s easy to say “Nothing will ever change,” “Things will always be like this,” etc., but if any of us have learned a damn thing during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s that we cannot take any component of life for granted.

Frankly, the shutdown has helped eMLS tremendously, because while the official league has not proceeded while MLS has been shuttered due to the pandemic, the visibility has never been higher for eMLS. Games have been televised on a national network, teams have set up ample streams over the past three months to help pass the time for everyone, create content, bring attention to the clubs and in some cases, raise money for coronavirus relief. I don’t think too many eMLS players are household names yet, but for the program being in its third season, and with real life MLS shut down for the time being, eMLS has helped to step into the breach and continue providing visibility for soccer and MLS, even in a virtual world.

Another factor to consider is the generational interest in eSports. I think generally, my generation (I’m in my 30s) probably isn’t really into watching eSports or more simply, other people play video games. I’d say in general, I am not really into it, I don’t see the appeal. However, with no actual soccer games happening, I’ve watched a couple dozen FIFA matches over the past few months, likely a couple dozen more than I’d otherwise have watched. Furthermore, my child, in elementary school, absolutely loves watching “Let’s Play” videos, of other people playing video games. Twitch is an absolute phenomenon, so the idea of people watching other people play video games isn’t so weird! It’s not weird at all, in fact.

So between unforeseen events transforming our world (hopefully not some kind of permanent or long-term shutdown of MLS) and generations of video game watchers growing up, I think there could be a shift to make a platform like eMLS more popular. Remember, eMLS is just three years in, and MLS is just 25 years in. It’s both foolish to predict the future with any real authority, and too early to make sweeping assessments anyway.

And if you’re like me and not someone who plays or watches FIFA regularly, I will say, you get used to watching the differences in play after an adjustment period. Perhaps in the future, we’ll be following the eMLS playoffs nearly as close as we follow the MLS playoffs.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.