WASHINGTON — Move over, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Abby Wambach and Marta Vieira da Silva are coming to a game console near you.
Sports video game leader Electronic Arts Inc. announced Thursday that the next installment of its “FIFA” soccer franchise, FIFA 16, will include women’s national teams.
When EA Sports launches FIFA 16 in North America on Sept. 22, gamers will for the first time be able to play with female pro players from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, England, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Spain, Sweden, and the United States. Previous versions of the wildly popular video game have only featured male players.
Spanish national team captain Vero Boquete has been fighting to get women into the video game since 2013. While playing for Swedish club Tyresö FF, Boquete wrote a Change.org petition appealing to EA for the addition, which nearly hit its goal of 50,000 signatures.
“It feels great,” Boquete wrote in an email on Thursday.
“It was thousands of people who demand[ed] this change,” she wrote. “It’s something so important for women’s football, [it] can help us a lot. Now more people will know about us and it will be really important to educate kids.”
An EA Sports FIFA spokesman wrote in an email on Thursday that the franchise has wanted to introduce women’s teams for many years. “While those specific petitions didn’t have a direct influence, we do listen [to our] fans in many forums and Change.org is one of those,” he wrote.
The women’s teams will be an additional feature included with the base product (rather than a downloadable add-on or a paid update).
Ron Weaver, a video game industry expert at the University of Central Florida, said that the promotional video highlighting the new edition of the game showed high quality likenesses of the female soccer stars.
“It didn’t look like they phoned this in,” said Weaver. “I think it could actually influence how many girls would play this game, as opposed to just being this tiny thing that they add and nobody actually uses.”
An asterisk in EA’s game announcement is that women’s national teams — like in real life — can only compete against each other.
Eleven of the 12 teams featured in FIFA 16 are among the 24 that will compete for this year’s Women’s World Cup Finals in Canada. The tournament kicks off on June 6.
EA’s announcement has gotten a huge amount of reaction on social media, a good portion of it positive.
@EASPORTSFIFA Awesome. My 7 year old daughter loves FIFA and great to have role models for young girls right here – nice one!
— paolo (@chopmunky) May 28, 2015
But there’s been plenty of negative response, too — ranging from skeptical (“I’m really not trying to be sexist here but honestly, who is REALLY going to play with them?”) to disapproving (“nobody wants this”) to … not worth reprinting.
EA’s chief operating officer Peter Moore responded in a tweet:
— Peter Moore (@petermooreEA) May 28, 2015
Though unprecedented for the FIFA franchise, EA has given gamers the option to compete as female athletes in many of its other games. The NHL franchise added the option to play as a female character in 2011 after Lexi Peters, then a 14-year-old living in Buffalo, wrote a letter to the company. EA’s ultimate fighting series and its golf simulation game also allow players to use female avatars.