FIFA and EA went through a public breakup in May 2022, worthy of the pettiness contained in a Taylor Swift song. Next year’s FIFA won’t be called FIFA anymore, being renamed EA Sports FC, but this hasn’t stopped EA from taking one step forward while taking two steps back.
As a longtime virtual football fan, the inclusion of women’s teams in the beautiful game was greatly appreciated when EA included their international teams in the 2016 edition of the long-standing franchise.
It’s about damn time. The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), the United State’s domestic professional league, was patched into a recent update to FIFA 23 in late March 2023. The update includes all 12 NWSL teams, four NWSL stadiums, and authentic kits (soccer jerseys for those out of the loop). The added teams can be played in Kick Off, Tournament Mode, Online Seasons (Head to Head & Co-Op), and Online Friendlies. Also included in this update is the UEFA Women’s Champions League (UWCL), which includes 4 of the best women’s teams in international club football – Real Madrid C.F., VFL Wolfsburg, Juventus, and Eintracht Frankfurt. It’s great to see the representation of women’s professional soccer on this scale.
Sounds great on paper, right? Unfortunately, the execution has been less than stellar.
Planned to be released on March 15th, the NWSL update was delayed until March 23rd when EA released a statement: “Due to an issue encountered during testing of our latest Title Update, we can confirm that the NWSL and UWCL will now be available in FIFA 23 by March 23.”
When the update went live, players and fans went to Twitter to share their disappointment. US National Team World Cup winner Sydney Leroux shared an in-game screenshot of former teammate Jess Fishlock mocking the accuracy of Fishlock’s digital depiction. Leroux continued to retweet several game comparisons to real-life athletes throughout the day and eventually posted, “I know you expect women to just be thankful and grateful that you’ve given us a little sliver of publicity, but please stop wasting our time.”
Caprice Dydasco of the Houston Dash posted an image of her in-game avatar and said, “I’m grateful EA Sports is finally including the NWSL, but this does not represent me.”
After the public backlash Meghann Burke, Executive Director of the NWSL Players Union (NWSLPA), gave this statement in an interview with CNN.
“We insist on immediate action from EA to rectify the offensive and inauthentic portrayals of players of color in FIFA 23, which were released yesterday. The NWSL Players Association, alongside our agent OneTeam Partners, has a dedicated gaming team actively working with EA to resolve this matter.”
While athletes had justifiable criticisms of the way their digital counterparts looked, others wanted to give EA the “red card” for how they rated the newly added players.
Sarah Gorden of Angel City FC posted in a tweet, “When @EASPORTSFIFA didn’t put me in the top 10 for speed I was mad but I was like eh we will show them. But when they gave me a 48 rating in speed I realized they have never and will never actually watch a NWSL game.”
There is still time to correct the course on this issue. The NWSL season started in San Diego, California, on March 26th, between the San Diego Wave and the Chicago Red Stars, where the Waves set a new NWSL home opener attendance record of 30,854 and won the match 3-2.
EA has the power to score the winning goal by representing the women’s game accurately and the way they deserve before “retiring” from FIFA and moving on to EA Sports FC. In the past, EA has given character models mid-season updates, and here’s to hoping the monolithic game company doesn’t take a dive on this one.