With the MLS season on hold, Atlanta United defender Franco Escobar will be teaming up with the club’s official e-league player Paulo Neto in an online Fifa tournament alongside 15 other MLS clubs.
Here’s how it works: Neto and Escobar wont play games together at the same time. Instead, matches will be two legs, with MLS players playing against each other in the first leg while each club’s eMLS pros competing against each other in the second leg. The team with the best aggregate score will move on.
The tournament starts this Sunday at 7 p.m. ET on FS1 and will repeat in that time slot on a weekly basis. Atlanta’s first matches (against Orlando City, no less) will be the last to be aired from the first round on May 10.
Earlier this season Dirty South Soccer’s Kyle Soto caught up with Neto to talk about becoming Atlanta’s new e-league player. Here’s what he had to say. The transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.
DSS: When competing in eMLS, do you use Atlanta United or do you use a team you construct yourself?
NETO: I construct the team myself. We have five players from MLS teams, so I have two from Atlanta — Josef Martinez and Tito Villalba (editor’s note: yikes!). Everyone [in MLS eleague] must have 5 MLS players on the field at all times, and the others we can choose.
DSS: Who else do you use from MLS?
NETO: I use the goalkeeper [Andre] Blake, defender [Aaron] Long, and Schweinsteiger in midfield.
DSS: What’s your all time favorite Fifa through the years?
NETO: Oh my God, this is a tough one, but I think I really like this current version of Fifa right now. So I think I’d say this one.
DSS: How many games of Fifa do you play every day if you had to guess?
NETO: Honestly, I don’t have time to play every day. But normally I play like three or 4 hours. Probably around 10 games just about every day.
DSS: So what did you know about Atlanta United before I signed with the club?
NETO: Before I signed with the club, I knew they were one of the new teams in the league and they’d already won the championship. And that Josef Martinez is the best player on the team.
DSS: Goinng into a game, how do you model your tactics? Do you do othe same thing every time or do you mix it up depending on your opponent?
NETO: I think I mix it up. I start out the same pretty much every game, but when I see my opponent’s team, I’ll make a few changes, because every game is a little different.
DSS: Are you hoping to make a career out of e-sports?
NETO: Yeah, I’m trying now. Now is probably my best moment in the e-sports scene, so it’s really good to continue that with Atlanta.
DSS: In your opinion, what are the biggest improvements that could be made to the game?
NETO: I think the kickoffs. You take the kickoff and your team is not aligned correctly based on the tactical setup you use. Sometimes you can concede a goal just because of that.
DSS: Do you play and watch soccer outside of Fifa?
NETO: Yeah of course! I watch a lot, but to play, I’m very bad [laughs].
DSS: When did you start playing Fifa competitively?
NETO: I started last year in the FUT Champions Cup in Atlanta. That was my first time going to national tournaments. So not too long ago. I used to play for an e-league team from Brazil called SPQR, and then Atlanta approached me and that’s been my next big step.
DSS: Do you ever play casually just with friends or family?
NETO: Yeah, actually that’s what kind of made me go to the professional scene. I used to be good just playing against my friends and my parents when I played against them. Then I saw that like one day I was the best inn my city, and then the state, and then I was competing in international tournaments.
DSS: So does your family watch you compete?
NETO: Yes, normally they watch me on Twitch. I’m under 18 though, so when I have to travel my father and brother go with me.
DSS: How have your parent’s supported you in the unorthodox path of e-sports?
NETO: They really support me. They go with me to every tournament. But to have their support, I have to study, so I make sure I do both.
DSS: What is the best team to use in Fifa from kick-off mode?
NETO: France is a good one. And then for a club, I pick Juventus because of Cristiano Ronaldo.
DSS: What are three key skill moves a player needs to have in their toolkit to be better at the game?
NETO: Oh, this is good [laughs]. I think the drag back, heel-to-heel and.. oh my gosh... I can’t pick a third [laughs].
DSS: What’s more important: tactics or player instructions?
NETO: I think player instructions. The tactics if you don’t change it, it’s okay.
DSS: How do you deal with the pressure to perform?
NETO: Honestly, I’m pretty calm now. I don’t feel the pressure inside of me. I just try to forget about any of that because if I do feel pressure, I’ll play worse.
DSS: What are your three biggest tips for people wanting to improve in Fifa.
NETO: One, you have to be calm and be comfortable in possession, passing the ball a lot. You need to learn some skills too to be better in the attack. And you need to know the right decisions to make to be able to compete.
DSS: What professional club do you support?
NETO: Atlanta! [laughs]
DSS: Any from Brazil?
NETO: I follow a little bit of the club that is close to where I live, Sport Recife.
DSS: Pick one: Messi or Ronaldo?
NETO: I think that Messi is better, but I’ll say Ronaldo in Fifa because he’s so physical.
DSS: Who’s your favorite all time Brazilian footballer?
NETO: Oh my God... I think Ronaldo.