- The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup is currently underway and the tournament is on pace to reach nearly 1 billion viewers this summer.
- “FIFA 19,” the most popular soccer video game in the world, added 10 women’s national teams as part of its 2019 World Cup update, but the game doesn’t let players simulate the entire event.
- “FIFA 18” had a massive update for the Men’s World Cup with more teams, commentary, and downloadable content related to the event.
- The lack of parity between the World Cup mode in the two games echoes the problems women’s teams face when seeking equal pay and exposure.
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The FIFA Women’s World Cup has reached a new peak of worldwide popularity in 2019 — FIFA expects as many as 1 billion viewers will tune in to watch tournament matches through July 7.
But as the 2019 Women’s World Cup reaches millions of new fans, the world’s most popular soccer video game isn’t doing a great job of matching the excitement.
Read more: Women’s World Cup 2019: Everything you need to know about Team USA
“FIFA 19” launched in September 2018 with 12 women’s national teams, and Electronic Arts added 10 more with an update one week before the start of the Women’s World Cup. The game now has 22 of the 24 qualifying women’s national teams, excluding Italy and South Africa; the women on the Brazil and Chilean national teams have been replaced with generic players.
While the women’s teams appear in the game, however, it’s not the same experience as the real-life World Cup, and it’s not even close to what EA rolled out for the Men’s World Cup last year.
SEE ALSO: ‘NBA Live 19’ is the first pro sports game to allow men and women to play on the same team — but there’s still tons of room to grow
In “FIFA 19,” the entire 2019 Women’s World Cup experience is boiled down to a single match.
The update also added a special FIFA Women’s World Cup Final option for players to simulate the tournament’s championship match, but it won’t be possible to play through the entire event from group stages. Even if you try to make your own groups in the game’s generic tournament mode, you wont be able to select the 10 newly added teams — the extra women’s teams can only be selected in the exhibition-style “Kick-Off mode.”
The World Cup Final adds the official graphics and overlay of the 2019 World Cup, but the prestige only lasts for a single match. To make matters worse, the World Cup Final mode won’t be available for players who bought “FIFA 19” on the Nintendo Switch; they will only get the 10 extra teams.
Last year, “FIFA 18” received a massive update for the Men’s World Cup, and “FIFA 19” still has twice as many men’s teams as women’s teams.
While the Women’s World Cup update for “FIFA 19” was free, it pales in comparison to the massive update “FIFA 18” received for last year’s Men’s World Cup. “FIFA 18” got a free update, including the full rosters of all 32 qualifying men’s teams and a variety of World Cup specific content.
“FIFA 18” had a fully customizable World Cup mode that lets players create custom tournaments with national teams that didn’t even qualify for the men’s event, like USA and Italy. Electronic Arts even went so far as to include 12 different stadiums used during the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
EA has done a good job including female athletes in its games, but they’ve been treated like an afterthought for years.
“FIFA” started including women’s teams in 2016, but this recent update demonstrates that the series is still more invested in presenting the men’s game.
“FIFA” has had past issues gaining the rights to some teams — for example, the Croatian men’s team is not in “FIFA 19,” despite finishing second in the 2018 World Cup, and the popular Brazilian men’s team is also filled with many generic players. But “FIFA 19” still managed to include more than 50 men’s national teams.
EA faced a similar problem with the inclusion of WNBA players in “NBA Live 19.” WNBA teams could play against each other in exhibition mode, but only NBA teams could play a full, regular season.
EA’s lack of investment in the Women’s World Cup echoes other problems facing women’s soccer, like lack of exposure and unequal pay.
The lack of investment in the video game version of the World Cup mirrors ongoing, real-world concerns about a lack of media exposure and unequal pay for women’s soccer teams.
In March, all 28 members of US Women’s National Team, the defending World Cup champions, filed a joint lawsuit accusing the US Soccer Federation of gender discrimination and unequal pay. A group of players also accused the USSF of wage discrimination in 2016, leading to a collective bargaining agreement. The US women’s team reportedly generated more ticket revenue than the men’s team from 2016 to 2018, but women still earn a fraction of what the men do.
Regardless, EA’s underwhelming update for such a major cornerstone of women’s soccer seems like a missed opportunity at a time when the sport is peaking in popularity.