NASHVILLE – Daren Bates has no doubt that he tops the Tennessee Titans’ locker room when it comes to EA Sports FIFA, the popular soccer video game.
That makes him confident he could follow in the footsteps of another NFL player and become a professional eSports athlete. Running back back Jay Ajayi, most recently a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, signed this week with Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise the Philadelphia Union to be that team’s eSports player in MLS-sponsored tournaments. That made Ajayi the first NFL player to become a professional gamer.
“Absolutely, I would. I would,” Bates said this week. “… Offseason, that would be something fun to do.”
For Bates, of course, the offseason has not yet started. The linebacker and special teams stalwart traveled with the rest of the Titans to Baltimore, where they will face the Ravens on Saturday in an NFL divisional playoff game.
Friday also was the first of this year’s three eMLS events, League Series One, which was held at Philadelphia. Additional tournaments are set for February at Portland and March at Austin, where the best EA Sports FIFA 2020 will be crowned.
Perhaps, the conflict was for the best. Ajayi was the only player to go winless in the 12 preliminary round contests. He was outscored 72-11.
Plus, Nashville SC was well-represented at the event by a gamer known as “doolsta,” the reigning eMLS champion who represented Philadelphia last year. Nashville SC is an expansion club that will begin MLS competition in 2020.
So, for now, Bates will have to be satisfied with the fact that – in his words – he has no serious challengers among his Titans teammates. He credited linebacker Jayon Brown and defensive backs Josh Kalu and Kareem Orr with making him work harder than most and said veteran linebacker Wesley Woodyard “once in a blue moon” puts up a fight.
“Wood, he might score a goal or two,” Bates said.
Recently, he said, he has teamed with Brown in two-on-two contests and the pair had won at least a dozen straight contests and had scored at least five goals in each.
When playing FIFA, Bates said he likes to use Arsenal of the English Premier League because he is a fan of forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. When he teams with Brown, they typically use France’s PSG. But his first choice most often is to play as Tottenham Hotspur of the EPL.
“I like Son [Heung-min]. Son, man, he’s pretty good,” he said. “They got a good team. Like, overall, they’ve got a good defensive, mid-range game. Good strikers. Good team.
“Just from playing the game, I learned a lot about soccer, started watching it, started getting favorite players and all that.”
If Ajayi is any indication, Bates will have to get better in order to be good enough to compete as a professional. If he is not good enough already, it is not from lack of practice.
“Other than playing with kids … when they go to bed, yeah, I’m on the FIFA and Call of Duty all night long,” he said.