San Pedro native Giuseppe “the Godfather” Guastella, one of the world’s top EA Sports FIFA video game players, has become the Carson-based Los Angeles Galaxy’s first-ever eSports athlete.
The 32-year-old will represent the Major League Soccer team in the newly established eMLS, a competitive league with 19 eSports athletes who are affiliated with various franchises.
“I was really, really grateful because they were my hometown team from Day 1,” said the 2003 San Pedro High School graduate, who also supports Italian powerhouse Juventus, his Sicilian father’s favorite club. “It’s a great honor to be the first FIFA eSport player to represent the best club in MLS.”
Guastella started playing FIFA against his brother as an 8-year-old. Competitive even then, Guastella hated to lose so much that he just kept playing and playing.
By 2009, he knew he was pretty good and was invited to play in the 2009 FIFA Interactive North American Championship, where he beat seven of the best players in the region.
“Whatever I did, I always wanted to be No. 1, so I wasn’t surprised,” he said.
Since then, Guastella has traveled the world playing competitively and is a five-time FIFA Interactive World Championship finalist.
He won the 2009 FIFA Interactive North American Championship in New York and finished in the top four at the 2012 FIFA Interactive World Championship in Dubai. He won the North American championship at the 2016 AT&T MLS All-Star Game and last year was crowned FIFA Ultimate Team Champion in Vancouver, taking home $30,000 and earning a qualifying spot at the world championships in Berlin.
EA’s FIFA video games series, updated annually, is the world’s most popular game among the elite sports competitions that have exploded in popularity in recent years.
For instance, cable television channels ESPN2 and Disney XD announced last week they would air a new tournament running from Feb. 2 through April 28 featuring the world’s top 16 Madden NFL 18 players. The winner competes in what’s dubbed the Madden Bowl at the NFL Draft on ESPN2.
In Europe, top soccer teams like England’s Manchester City or France’s Paris Saint-Germain own eSports teams staffed with full time professionals.
Guastella, who plays about 10 hours a week in his spare time, doesn’t quite enjoy that sort of status.
He’s a full-time sales representative with Fred’s Carpet Plus in Torrance who is getting married next month to fiancee Vanessa Romo.
Still, with eSports in its infancy and growing fast, who knows what the future holds.
Chris Thomas, the Galaxy’s director of digital media and marketing, said the Galaxy realized how popular eSports was becoming when the club worked with EA Sports to make Carson’s StubHub Center the first-ever MLS stadium in a FIFA game. Hawthorne’s Gyasi Zardes, a forward with the Galaxy recently traded to the Columbus Crew, also played a large role in FIFA 2018.
“There’s research that suggests that people who play a team in FIFA become more dedicated fans of the (actual) game,” Thomas said. “You talk to kids who live and breathe this game, they know (a real life player’s) stats and how good they are at crossing, for instance. That level of engagement is pretty cool to see.
“Competitive eSports, especially FIFA, is huge and we wanted to put our own stamp on it,” he added.
Indeed, last year the club had a father and son from Paris visit the stadium and request a tour.
“My son is obsessed with the Galaxy because he plays FIFA 2018 and wanted to see it in real life,” the father told club officials.
They got a tour.
Guastella will represent the Galaxy in the first eMLS Cup this April in Boston. The winner gets an automatic berth in the EA Sports FIFA 18 Global Series Playoff and a chance to become the FIFA 18 World Champion at the FIFA eWorld Cup 18 in August.
He may also play at halftime of a Galaxy game on the stadium’s large video screen and appear at other events.