Mike LaBelle column: What to expect from eMLS Cup 2021
FIFA Esports is a growing competitive space that’s still in its early stages of development. But, we have seen enough in eMLS Cup qualifiers to say this year’s competition might be the most exciting to date.
Take a look around and all of the big franchised leagues these days have a major division for their pro players to compete in. Call of Duty has the CDL, Overwatch has the Overwatch League, and for FIFA the pinnacle of the season is making it to the FIFA eWorld Cup at the end of the year.
It is here that our players fight to be named the best in the world, and it all takes place in August following the conclusion of the Global Series. There are some captivating domestic competitions on the road to that event, though, and one of those is North America’s eMLS Cup.
The NA scene has been competing for this major honor since 2018, back when it all began with the inaugural season. For those who don’t know, most of the best professionals in our region are signed to eMLS franchises. Each is directly affiliated with a specific Major League Soccer organization, and eMLS competitors are valued members and assets of the overall organization.
After battling it out for qualification in eMLS League Series One & Two, the top 12 players go toe-to-toe, for not just a beautiful gold trophy and the honor of lifting it, but also the top three placements will earn direct seats to the EA SPORTS FIFA 21 NA Global Series Playoffs. A pathway to the eWorld Cup, and a chance to take home a large slice of that $40,000 prize pool. Not a bad weekend right?
Just to give you some insight into what it means to play in eMLS, it’s been a life-changing experience for me as I’ve proudly represented the New York Red Bulls. I’ve been treated incredibly well by the entire organization, and I’ve always felt at home with RBNY. For me, the New York Red Bulls are the pinnacle of eMLS and a lot of that is down to the work of Jayne Bussman-Wise, their senior director of content and communications. She’s a major leader & innovator in the esports space, partnering gaming and traditional sports at New York Red Bulls.
Many competitors in this year’s eMLS Cup will also feel the same connection with their teams, and we’ve actually seen a few inherit rivalries based on MLS clubs’ history on the actual pitch. Almost all of those taking part are content creators in the space, too, meaning fans are starting to get to know them on a more personal level. eMLS grows each year in terms of viewership, prize pools, and the competition level between clubs.
Excitement guaranteed in eMLS Cup
There’s a lot at stake and based on this year’s game, there’s never been a better time to start watching.
This year, we’re witnessing a lot more goals than in previous seasons. There’s less focus about controlling games and retaining the ball – winning the possession stats, as it were – so end-to-end soccer is really commonplace.
This can make for some thrilling moments, like we saw in eMLS League Series Two as XbLeU scored a last-minute winner with Cristiano Ronaldo, in a 6-5 win against BenR.
Some of the skill moves added have also been super effective in breaking down defenses, mainly the Bridge Dribble, Skill Move Cancelations, and the Player Lock System as an off-the-ball passing technique.
While it all sounds a bit technical, it does create small skill gaps amongst the top competitors in the league.
There are multiple narratives going into eMLS Cup, too. Those who tuned in last time will remember New York Red Bulls pro George Adamou took the trophy home last year in a NY derby finale, so it’s going to be interesting to watch along on his quest to defend his title.
That won’t be an easy task, either. There’s more money on the line – a prize pool of $40,000 – stiffer competition, and everything is online again which does present its obstacles.
As a matter of fact, all eyes will be on The Empire State. Based on the bracket, we could also be heading towards a rematch of the NYC Derby match between George Adamou and New York City’s Didychrislito. Both players are in top form this season and if that continues at eMLS Cup this rivalry could be on the books.
Two previous champions lock horns in the very first round of games, too, as Kid M3mito and Doolsta were drawn against each other. If there was ever a time to prove yourself, eMLS Cup 2021 is the time to go on a run. Little re-introduction or reminder to the community that both of these competitors still have that champion’s pedigree.
Ones to watch
We’re all expecting non-stop, fast-paced action from each fixture in eMLS Cup this year. Some players are bound to shine brighter than others on the big stage, though. Of the 12 competitors taking part, there are four that demand our attention this year, for sure.
Defending champion George Adamou comes into eMLS Cup as a strong favorite.
He’s followed up last year’s triumph with strong performances right through the season, and is no stranger to the big stage. It will not be easy out there, though stepping up to a challenge is exactly what Adamou does best.
Despite being one of the most decorated players in NA, you could argue that Didychrislito has never enjoyed a run of form like this in his career.
Didy has performed at eMLS League Series One and Two, and New York City fans will be hoping the former world champion can secure a boxset of victories with an eMLS Cup.
Representing FC Cincinnati, Fiddle has always been domestically strong. One thing fans would say about him is that they’ve come to expect at least one event win from him each year in the NA scene, and that’s an accurate analysis.
He won the League Series One and Two last year, not to mention our Summer Cup Series. While he might not be on the most consistent vein of form, he’s odds-on to make a mark on this tourney.
Last but not least is XbLeU, who has finished top of the table in both regular seasons.
He might be a new signing for Austin FC and is yet to reach a final in bracket play, though he’s been the most consistent regular-season player in eMLS. Still a name to watch out for because the talent is present, but it’s just a matter of bringing together the mentality in those crucial moments.
eMLS Cup takes place between March 20-21.
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