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FC 24 will make household names of women’s soccer players – Exclusive Interview

We spoke with the EA Sports FC 24 team about women’s soccer coming to Ultimate Team
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Until I was skinned by him playing Ultimate Team, I hadn’t heard of Saeed Al-Owairan. Now, he’s the bane of my existence. The Saudi soccer hero played his entire career for Al Shabab and retired in 2001, but once his overpowered card became part of FIFA 23 meta, he became a household name globally. This is the impact a power player can have in a leading soccer game, and with female players coming to EA FC 24’s Ultimate Team mode for the first time, it’s clear it could be big for the women’s game.

In an exclusive interview, I speak to three of the EA Sports FC 24 team about women’s soccer coming to Ultimate Team, including Senior Vice President of brand, Andrea Hopelain.

Hopelain believes it’s a big step forward for women’s soccer to have more visibility in the virtual world, putting them in front of millions of gamers. “You know, when 150 million players around the world are now interacting with women’s football players, they have the ability to learn who they are, to know who they are…not just the superstars like Sam Kerr, but the next generation of players like Trinity Rodman and Sophia Smith,” she says.

Sam Kerr in FC 24

EA Sports FC 24 will let a huge playerbase learn more about women's soccer players.

“We have the ability to put them on a stage for that 150 million players around the world…and so we see ourselves as a big driver of representation and pushing the [real] game forward,” she adds.

Adding women to Ultimate Team results in the largest single expansion of the player database since the game mode debuted, with six leagues and 1600 players, plus Ultimate Team Heroes and Icons, joining the 19,000 already available. Some of these players are bound to be must-haves in competitive teams, and will exploit the game engine and become part of the ‘meta’. EA Sports know that notoriety in-game boosts profiles - it’s something that male stars have already noted.

“It’s a phenomenon that male icons have already [experienced], we’ve even heard stories of players who are like ‘how am I so popular and famous now?’ Oh, it’s because of the game and it’s because so many people are using me now.’” says Garreth Reeder, senior producer, FC 24.

“I think when players from Ultimate Team go online, and they learn about some of these [female] players, they’re going to be really excited,” Jean Teather, producer, FC 24, adds.

The reaction to this big forward step in representation has not been universally positive. Under every FC 24 tweet from EA, and across Reddit, players have slammed the decision as ‘unrealistic’ and one that ruins the game.

Regardless, getting women into Ultimate Team was a priority, and one that EA Sports executives and developers prioritized, claims Hopelain. “Ultimate Team is the most popular mode inside of our past FIFA but in the future of FC 24. We believe that the stickiness of that mode is still a place where players want to spend a lot of their time, and so it’s important for us to have full representation for players.”

The uplift of female presence in the outgoing FIFA 23, according to Hopelain, was popular with the playerbase, “we’ve seen really strong engagement from players and particularly from the diversity of our fans to see themselves represented in the game.”

Bringing this together needs to be balanced, and in my hands-on with the early build, the female players actually felt closer to the men than in the last title.

Sam Kerr celebration in FC 24

Having full representation in a key mode like UT, was a priority for the developers.

Hopelain’s reaction to criticism online saying it is unrealistic to have football with mixed teams? “We don’t believe that to be true,” she says. Throughout the cycle, Ultimate Team dishes out some particularly unrealistic - but fun to use - players. Players playing with Usain Bolt-esque pace, and goalkeepers being reassigned as strikers (unbelievable ones, at that). Deceased Icons of the game, including Pelé and Johann Cruyff, are some of the rarest and best cards in the game, which is also not reflective of the current game.

“We still believe that football is the world’s game, and that everyone has a right to play and that everyone can play. And so our job is to keep lifting that up.”

As well as current players from five leagues, skill rated against their league (rather than against their male peers), UT Heroes have already been showcased by EA Sports. These past legends of the women’s game include former Arsenal defender Alex Scott, who will appears as both a player and a broadcaster in FC 24.

Live player campaign cards will come too, although Reader couldn’t confirm exactly how FC will split the cards, he says there won’t be separate campaigns for men’s and women’s play, which will cover the popular Team of the Week and One’s to Watch promotions at launch. “We’re going to keep the scale of our campaigns and content the same relatively, but then make sure we’ve got that mix for everyone so that each campaign, each piece of content, we have women’s representation.”

All in all, this is about freedom of choice. FC players will be able to build a dream team that consists of favorite players from across the game. Clubs shared between men’s and women’s teams will build chemistry in FC 24 Ultimate Team. This presents the mouthwatering prospect of combining, for example, Barcelona’s Keira Walsh with Robert Lewandoski.

Marta in FC 24

Orlando Pride forward and Brazil top goalscorer Marta in FC 24.

Speaking at an EA Sports event in April, Chelsea Women’s manager Emma Hayes, one of the biggest names in Barclays WSL, thought it was all about the next generation. “Why should we restrict who you know our children piece together? We’re normalizing football for girls at home much in the same way that it has been for boys,” she says in our interview.

And for Jean Teather, it’s personal. She surprised me when we sat together with her personal connection to the beautiful game. She’s an ex-footballer turned game dev, and was beaming when sharing her insights on women’s football.

“I’ve played with quite a few competitive players and some players that I hope we’ll see as Icons. I am so excited to get on the phone and say ‘did you see you’re in the game!’ right that, for me, is amazing,” she grins.

EA Sports are entering a new era with FC, and FC 24 will be a big moment for a number of reasons. They want to blur the lines between virtual and real soccer, and the impact it could have on the women’s soccer world could be its biggest to date. When the early FIFA games launched, men’s leagues like the Premier League, La Liga and Bundesliga were already a massive part of popular culture. Their female equivalents - Women’s Super League, Liga F and Frauen-Bundesliga - are younger, and still have so much room for growth. Women’s soccer coming to Ultimate Team will not only make household names of some of women’s soccer’s stars, but could fire the leagues themselves into 150 million households, and the front and center of attention.

We don’t have long to see this unfold either, with FC 24 launching on September 29, 2023, on Playstation, Xbox, PC and Nintendo Switch.