Union look to win eMLS Cup next month as venture in eSports begins

“Turn that thing off and go outside!” “How can you still be playing that same game for so long?” “Guys, turn off the tv. You’re going to go blind.”

These are just a few of the many phrases my brother and I would hear daily throughout summers during our school years.

Year after year, my parents and my friends’ parents struggled to understand ‘the fun’ of video games.

But for us “hip” young folk, video games are a normal aspect of life. Many of us enjoy playing video games with friends — and to make new friends as well. And many of my friendships were strengthened through video game battles.

And, while there may be a negative public perception about the gaming community, one group does see the untapped value and camaraderie that video games can provide — the Union marketing department.

Last week, Union hosted an open tournament to find a FIFA 18 competitor to represent Philadelphia in the eMLS Cup in April.

FIFA 18 was the game of choice on PS4.

Planning the Union’s open tournament

The open FIFA tournament was announced in early February, but the planning began as far back as fall of 2017. The Union’s Vice President of Marketing Doug Vosik and Marketing Coordinator Alyssa Gentile began drawing up plans for an adventure into the gaming community. They knew gaming was the new space to move into, but lacked a sufficient understanding to move forward.

“Before the eMLS Cup came to fruition, we knew that we wanted to get into gaming,” said Gentile. “The platform we started planning back in the fall… It was sort of a duel effort from both of us.”

The initial planning undertaken by Gentile, Vosik, and other Union marketing staff members paved pathways toward an open tournament once MLS unveiled a league-wide initiative to have an eMLS Cup. 19 MLS clubs have signed on to participate since the announcement was set forth. The Union are one of them.

Process behind finding the gamer

Considering the vast amount of teams league-wide competing in the eMLS cup next month, there were bound to be a variety of ways teams would find their talent. Some clubs like Colorado or Chicago investigated Top 100 rankings for FIFA ’18 and signed pro-gamers. Others held open tournaments to find more local talent to represent their organizations. The Union opted for an open tournament in hopes of finding a local player to fit with the team’s homegrown theme for 2018 and the future.

Gentile and her marketing staff decided on a format involving two regional tournaments to decide a bracket of 32 gamers to compete in a final tournament the following week.

It can’t be too difficult to set up some tables, monitors, and consoles for a few gamers, right?


“It really did hit me how much logistically goes into these events to make them run professionally,” said Gentile. “There’s a lot of things that people don’t think about. Sometimes people think it’s just setting up consoles and TVs and you have people play. But really, it’s more about actually fostering a community.”

Enter N3rd Street Gamers from Northern Liberties

“We partnered with N3rd Street Gamers and spent a lot of time bringing this whole thing from the bottom up,” said Gentile. N3rd Street Gamers managed and ran all three events: two regionals and the final.

N3rd Street Gamers logo.

N3rd Street Gamers (pronounced “Nerd Street Gamers”) is a self-described amateur and semi-pro eSports network located on 3rd Street in Northern Liberties which hosts eSport events, LAN (Local Area Network) parties, retro game parties and more. They were instrumental in helping the Union run the eSports open from start to finish.

“We had a great partner in N3rd Street Gamers that we brought on to run everything from the set up to the actual management on the event… they were great,” said Gentile.

On Sunday, February 25, the first two regional events went down with no hiccups, setting a group of 32 gamers to compete in the final tournament.

Some competitors, like myself, were in for a bit more than they anticipated. I hopped on the sticks — and was quickly shown the exit door after just two matches.

Setting up the final tournament

Following the Union’s fantastic 2-0 win over New England, the real work for Gentile and N3rd Street Gamers commenced.

Gentile and a few other staff members did not leave Talen Energy Stadium until well after midnight on Sunday morning.

Chris Pallac, eSports and operations manager at N3rd Street Gamers, and his crew worked from around 8:30 p.m. Saturday night until 3:30 a.m. Sunday morning. For Gentile and the Union staff, the quick turnaround proved to be a challenge.

Gameday event director Jake Berkowitz stuck around Saturday night postgame and again Sunday morning to lend a helping hand. Gentile was sure to thank him during our phone conversation.

Gamers were glued to monitors.

In collaboration with the Union and N3rd Street Gamers, SpinBros provided ‘shoutcasters’ which are basically commentators for the video games being played. And they did a hell of a job broadcasting the tournament on Twitch.

The club was set up and ready for gamers to compete by 11:30 a.m. Sunday morning.

True gamers showcased their skills

The competition compiled Sunday morning in Chester featured a healthy mix of players young and old.

The final four featured three well known FIFA players: Doolsta, OvO_6ix, and Mejia S x. They are all known locally, nationally, and internationally. Doolsta moved to the States a little over a year ago as the number one ranked FIFA player in Ireland. OvO_6ix is frequently listed in the region’s Top 100 (61st in February). And Mejia S x recently won a FIFA tournament in New York City sponsored by Real Madrid. They aren’t your average Joe, playing FIFA to relax after a long day of work or school.

But the lesser-known players enjoyed their moment in the sun, too. One such player, Davon, suffered a devastating 6-1 loss to Ahmed Sahidi. As a student at the College of New Jersey, Davon fell in love with FIFA after a roommate asked if he had ever played. “I loved playing soccer and always wanted to play FIFA, so I said why not, and I loved FIFA ever since,” explained Davon. (Sahidi, too, would later lose.)

Davon’s consumer journey from actual soccer player, then fan, to now a FIFA gamer is the journey Gentile and Union marketing staff have encountered over and over again when following through on their eSports initiative. And the connection between FIFA fan and soccer fan is clear throughout MLS.

Grand final matchup

Philadelphia Union set out to find a FIFA gamer with local homegrown roots to represent them nationally at the eMLS Cup, but ended up with two international players in the final. Doolsta, born in Paoli, PA, moved to Ireland at 10 months old. OvO_6ix is Senegalese.

OvO_6ix stares at the ground.

As with most experienced players, Real Madrid was the team of choice for both. The final would be determined in a best of three matchup. OvO won the first game 4-3 in extra time after Doolsta seemed to have the upper hand for most of the match. The next two matches saw Doolsta as the winner, 5-2 and 3-1, leaving the Paoli native as the Union’s representative in next month’s eMLS Cup.

Get to know Doolsta (A.K.A. Cormac Dooley)

Cormac Dooley is just 17 years old.

But he plays FIFA like a seasoned veteran.

Dooley attends West Chester East High School and plays center midfield for their varsity soccer team. The West Chester native will fit well with the Union’s recent emphasis on homegrown signings.

Doolsta interviewed post-match.

Dooley’s friends get some credit for his victory, as they saw the Union’s eSports open post on Twitter and let Dooley know. And, just like that, he showed up and won.

What’s next?

The eMLS Cup will take place April 5 – 6 in Boston, Massachusetts. Dooley was awarded with Union merchandise, a trip for two to Clearwater, Florida for the 2019 preseason, and PR during the trip to Boston for the eMLS Cup.

Chris Pallac knows the eSports community well, and he shared his thoughts on the importance of this initiative. “Providing an experience for players like this is rare, so when an MLS team has a vision like this, in my eyes is the coolest thing an organization can do,” said Pallac. “You are engaging your audience, giving them a chance to be part of the Union family, and providing a platform for them to show their talent.”

Who knows? Maybe the future of the Union’s eSports initiative could look something like this.


  1. I wish I could understand why ESports and RealSports need to be linked in these ways. Why can’t they just be nice compliments to one another? It’s weird to me, like television breaking the fourth wall. What’s next, the US Army favoring Battlefield and the Marine Corps linking up with Call of Duty?
    edit: I say this as a pretty heavy gamer.

    • el Pachyderm says:

      I had something to say about this but then The Truth spoke and I quietly and happily declined.

    • Pete Mazzaccaro says:

      It’s 100 percent a marketing ploy. There are probably millions of kids (and older, too) who play FIFA but don’t watch or care about MLS. This has to be first and foremost a push to “get the brand in front of” this audience.

      I enjoy a good game of FIFA (my newest copy is from 2011/12 and my team of choice is the Rangers with Edu, Bedoya, Bocanegra and Naismith) but don’t understand why anyone would watch someone else play the game.

      • Matt McClain says:

        Why people like watching FIFA and other video game battles: It’s the exact same reason you and others like to watch competitive live sports. We like competitive atmosphere.

    • Matt McClain says:

      To The Truth , el Pachyderm, and Pete Mazzaccarro:
      If you take some time to read through the Polygon’s articles on eSports and the MLS you will have a better understanding of the strong connection between soccer players/fans, and FIFA gamers. The link it in the article.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        Of this I have no doubt. There are officially ‘gaming’ scholarships and ‘gaming’ is a professional activity now. And my children love to watch YouTube videos of other kids playing video games and is all just….

        Not in my wheelhouse is all.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        I will say this, I do see on Instagram occasionally a clip from someone playing and the Laws of Byte Nature that allow Paul Pogba’s (or any other but PP seemed best choice) leg to bend in totally unnatural ways always makes me smile.

      • There is a reason soccer is exploding in popularity in the 18-34 age bracket in the US. I’d be willing to bet that the FIFA franchise is as big as any other factor in this regard. It turns a ton of people onto the sport.

      • el Pachyderm says:

        good point Ingtar.

    • Matt McClain says:

      There is also a clear connection between the way fans of live sports and fans of gaming cheer on their teams. The same competitive spirit exists in both live sports and eSports. So it’s definitely no marketing ploy. But I’ll let time tell that story.

      • Pete Mazzaccaro says:

        Matt, I applaud your coverage here. No need to get defensive. It’s interesting, but like El Pachy, it’s not in my wheelhouse. I watch sport to see remarkable feats of physical skill and tactical acumen. I think esports can deliver the latter, but not the former. In general, again, I’m not against it. f people enjoy it, that’s great for them. Look, I watch MLS and more people watch DOTA 2 tournaments, so what do I know?

  2. I don’t know much about competitive gaming, and I have little interest in it. That said, for people who do enjoy it, I hope this is a cool thing for them.
    How bad would it be, though, if the Union won the eMLS Cup but kept their normal mediocrity on the field? Can you imagine the snark from this fanbase? It almost seems like a lose-lose proposition for the team.

    • Matt McClain says:

      Your skepticism is coming off rather clear. But to try and explain why people like watching FIFA and other video game battles: It’s the exact same reason you and others like to watch competitive live sports. They’re both the same.

  3. Union should invest in a Rocket League team. That game is a better soccer game than FIFA.

    • Yo I’ve never played it but I like seeing clips. Is it worth my time? Sell me in 20 words or less (and “better than FIFA” doesn’t count).

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