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EA FC 24: The Women Behind the Women’s Game

Fresh from the launch of EA FC 24, we speak to some of the women behind the women’s game.
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Women’s soccer is on an undeniable rise, striving for recognition and equity versus the multi-billion dollar men’s game. Some people don’t even like the term ‘women’s soccer’. It’s just soccer, but played by women. Just another step on the road of equality in sport, is the addition of women into EA Sports FC 24’s Ultimate Team - by far the most popular mode in the perennial soccer sim. As the game grows on the pitch, so too does it grow in the virtual world.

In the first two weeks since the launch of FC 24, 44% of online games played in Ultimate Team had at least one female player in the starting eleven. Not bad, considering the slew of misogynistic takes that peppered every comment section about the new title.

Fresh from the launch, we speak to some of the women behind the women’s game. Players, legends, and developers at EA Sports. We learn of their passion for the game, their pride in the newfound visibility, and their predictions for the future.

Alex Scott - FUT Hero and Broadcaster

Retired from soccer, Arsenal and England dynamo Alex Scott is now earning a living as a commentator and presenter for the BBC. She’s bright and bubbly on TV, but she’s also really knowledgeable about soccer.

Her punditry was already in FIFA 23, and new dynamic menus in FC 24 see her avatar in her ‘work uniform,’ interviewing the player of the match. However, in FC 24, she also pulls back on her boots, as one of just three UT Heroes in the game. And yes, she can interview herself.

The first of the England Lionesses to be selected as a Hero, and just one of three overall, Scott recognizes the honor it is.

“It kind of blows my mind because I don’t think [it’s like] anything that I’ve ever done. I know there’s been plenty of firsts in my career… but it actually doesn’t sink in until other people tell me the enormity of it and what that means,” she says.

Scott believes that mixing teams up in Ultimate Team will be good for the game, and great for normalizing women’s soccer for kids.

“Because you’re taking it worldwide, you’re normalizing it to have a player, like a Lucy Bronze playing alongside [men] and showing what she’s got. And the young kids in the playground where I used to fight to be in the team with the boys, it’s just all normalizing it and making a normal conversation.

So it’s a huge thing, and it’s a very good thing.”

And whilst competitively, mixed soccer isn’t a ‘realistic’ thing, Scott says she’s shared a pitch with some of the biggest names in men’s soccer anyway.

“I’ve actually played in a game with Ronaldinho as well, and Maradona - I can’t believe I’m just name-dropping now for fun! He was my captain in a FIFA legend game that I played, so they’re special moments,” she grins.

Competitive or not, Alex Scott has already played with FUT Icons, and suddenly, mixed teams feel a little more normal after all.

Kelly Smith - FUT Icon

The USWNT has Mia Hamm, and England has Kelly Smith. Arsenal WFC was the original dominant force in women’s soccer, and Smith led from the front. She’s one of five Icons introduced into Ultimate Team, and joins a stable that includes Johan Cruyff, Ronaldo, and Pelé.

“Never in a million years would I ever imagined myself being in a video game that millions of people will be playing across the world,” she says on her inclusion in FC 24.

Smith pays tribute to the pioneers of women’s soccer who came before her time, whilst women’s soccer was emerging in the public eye.

“There’s a generation of players that come before me that didn’t get the recognition that they deserved. Fortunately enough, I came into the game at a good time. When the game was starting to develop,” she says.

England women's soccer team player Leah Williamson in EA FC 24.

England women's soccer team player Leah Williamson in EA FC 24.

For Smith, being a FUT Icon is also about opening the game’s past up to the younger generation of soccer fans, including her own children.

“This is a big thing for me personally, and for my kids too, because they can see me and what career I had, and they can tell their friends about it, and their friends can be one of me in the game, so it’s absolutely brilliant,” she says.

“Women’s football isn’t new. I’ve played it for 20 years at the highest level. So these young boys and girls now can see that there are legends and icons that have played the game before and have a connection. [This can] bring a community to women’s football and understand the history of the women’s game, which is what we’ve needed.”

Nicole Baxter - Assistant Producer, FC 24 and former Gotham FC player

Introducing women to the Ultimate Team fold needed an expert to guide. Enter Nicole Baxter, who recently retired from NWSL club Gotham FC to become EA’s finger on the pulse of the women’s game as it happens.

“I’m like, wildly obsessed with women’s sports, I’m advocating for women’s sports [at EA Sports] like I did it as a player,” she says.

Baxter exudes passion for women’s soccer, and whilst she describes her role at EA Sports as “entry level”, she clearly holds an integral piece of insight into the pro game for the developer. And her entire soccer career could be credited to an early passion for the sport brought about by the game.

“I became a fan of men’s soccer through playing the video game. When I was younger, I’d never watched the Premier League. I don’t even think we had access to watch it.

But I never watched soccer, never watched the Premier League, but I started playing FIFA with my older brother. And I became obsessed with Chelsea!” she grins.

“Now there’s going to be so many people who are introduced to women’s soccer in that exact same way.”

If Baxter stayed in professional soccer for a few more months, she could’ve been part of FC 24, and some of her best friends still play.

“I was on Gotham [FC] when we did the head and body scans. So, the data and licensing team have all of my information. They went in, and they looked at what my rating would have been, I was pretty low, like a 75, but honestly, I’ll take it!” she says.

“Of course, I have all my friends saying ‘what the heck, why is my rating so low’ [to me], and I’m like, ‘I’m sorry I didn’t do it!’” she adds. A true friend.

Her role in advising the live campaigns on which women should appear is a key one in the smooth introduction of women to the FUT ecosystem. It starts, Nicole explains, by only having a couple of women’s cards per event.

“There’s only five women’s leagues in Ultimate Team right now, it’s a much smaller pool of players to choose from. So we’ve chosen to slowly integrate the women into Ultimate Team just so that we do It the right way,” she says.

Murmurs circulated about making women overpowered in FUT so players had to use them, but Nicole pushes back on this, and explains a little more about how campaigns work in-game.

“We have power guidelines for every campaign, every new player that we make and there’s no different guidelines for women. We have the minimum, the maximum [on ratings]. These are the numbers we want to try to hit,’ she explains.

“We’re not trying to make women’s players better so that people get excited to play with them. They’re like any other players in the game,” she adds.

Her aspiration? To build the profile of her peers.

“I just think that like they are going to gain so many new fans, fans of them, fans of the women’s game, and it could just open the door to so many different opportunities for them like they become a little bit more recognizable, people start to play with them in the game, and they think oh wow, that girl’s really good. I want to watch her team in real life.”

Erin Cuthbert - Chelsea midfielder

“I grew up playing Ultimate Team. I love playing the game… knowing that I can have the excitement of opening packs and maybe getting a women’s player, one of my friends or someone that I know, is pretty cool!”

The start of the WSL season has been productive for Erin Cuthbert. The Chelsea and Scotland midfielder has just passed 200 appearances for the club where she’s collected six league titles with, at just 25 years old.

Cuthbert thinks it’s “brilliant” that FC is raising the profile of women’s soccer players, who will experience this uplift as she plays out her career. Her colleague, Sam Kerr, was the first global female cover star for the EA Sports title last year, and the representation keeps improving.

Sam Kerr celebration in EA Sports FC 24

Sam Kerr celebration in EA Sports FC 24.

“It’s difficult to put a ceiling on the game given the trajectory that I’ve already seen. I’ve been at the club for seven years at Chelsea, and I think the women’s game has grown exponentially, so it really is limitless, and I think with the inclusion [in] EA FC, it’s just going to elevate the women’s game to a new level,” she says.

That new level will hopefully translate into fans in stadiums across the globe. It’s something that Cuthbert is evidently pleased with when we speak.

“I think we’ve got a lot to be grateful for, but it’s great that big, big brands are pushing us and giving us the recognition we deserve,” she noted.

Jean Teather - Producer, FC 24 and former semi-pro soccer player

“I first came to the Bay Area to play semi-pro soccer, whilst launching my career in tech through an internship; a terrific mix of work and sport. Not too long after, women’s pro soccer emerged, and I was invited to play in the inaugural season. While enticing, I decided to stick with the career I was building for myself. Surely a wise choice for the time but if I were in high school now, my mind would be set on playing professionally, and I would be beating my friends on the daily in FC.”

Jean Teather is a producer on Ultimate Team, one of many women who work on the game. The ex semi-pro soccer player, who notes former stars as friends, and once played against England coach Sarina Wiegman, is loving her work right now.

“Everyone really is both doing their job and loving their job. I think most people I work with love what they do. And they’re, I think, in some cases more engaged with the game [now],” she says.

Teather is playing the game, and getting to know the new generation of women’s stars. She happily reels off her own ultimate women’s soccer team, a mix of current and former players. USA Icon Mia Hamm, notably, is one of the rarest and most expensive players in FC 24.

“Lea Schuller, Mia Hamm and Klara Buhl, up front, Putellas, Kim Little, Trinity Rodman in midfield. In defense, Rolfo, Eriksson, Mapi Leo, Sofia Huerta, and Bella Bixby in goal,” she says.

“Ultimately, the terrific thing about FC is it’s a real-world sport, and we get to come in and play it in a virtual world. And we’ll see we’ll continue to see how that plays out and evolves.

“These are real people, real players, you know, who have put in effort throughout their life to become a professional player, and they should be respected. And they should be recognized for how they’re playing on the field and will be recognized for how they project themselves off the field just like any footballer in the real world, right?

So it’s an opportunity for those players too, as they become known, to be known.”

Andrea Hopelain, VP Brand at EA Sports

“I’ve always believed that we need more diverse voices, more seats at the table to represent what we do and the world around us. And when you have a brand and a portfolio of games that reach more than 300 million fans around the world, you need the broadest set of voices to be representative.”

Andrea Hopelain is a female exec working at the top of EA Sports. She speaks a lot about equity and choice, which is what EA aims to deliver, and do justice for the professionals that they bring to life in game.

French women's soccer player Selma Bacha in EA Sports FC 24

French women's soccer player Selma Bacha in EA Sports FC 24

“We’re not comparing women’s athletes to men’s athletes. We’re comparing women to women, just as we’ve always done, men to men. And so that is how our entire rating system has been designed - equitably,” she says.

Player ratings, which have ranked women ‘on par’ with men since their introduction to the game in 2015, have re-emerged as a hot topic now that there are women’s players ranked as highly as global megastars in the men’s game.

Hopelain wants players to embrace the choice to use - or not use - female cards in Ultimate Team, like they would with certain leagues or male players. Female players being underpowered would prevent that choice if they wanted to take the game online competitively.

“[With ratings] all based on the group of athletes that they compete against in the real world, and so that really allows a huge amount of choice for players. As you and I know, the best thing about Ultimate Team is the choice is your ability to build your own squad and to mix and match between athletes, Heroes, Icons, so now you get to add women into that mix,” she says.

“We need to show that sport is for everyone, and so anybody who engages with our experiences should feel represented.”

FC 24 is still missing women in key places, such as Career Mode, for players who want to start their journey as a women’s soccer player and build a legacy, or manage their favorite team. But adding women to Ultimate Team is a welcome step in the right direction, and one which is championed by women across the sport.

The work these women behind the game have done should be celebrated. What impact will it have in the real world, on the pitch? Let’s see how this season plays out, and how many new household names we’ve got.