INTERVIEW: Atlanta United eMLS player Paulo Neto joins Atlanta News First
ATLANTA, Ga. (Atlanta News First) - The FIFA games have become one of the biggest games in the esports scene and MLS has taken full advantage. 26 players represent various clubs in the esports league eMLS. Paulo Neto represents Atlanta United, and he’s certainly represented the Five Stripes well on the virtual pitch.
Neto has quickly established himself as one of the best players in the league in his four seasons. He won the eMLS Cup in 2022 and won the first two tournaments in 2023. He sat down with Atlanta News First as he prepares to defend his eMLS Cup title.
The eMLS Cup will be March 12 in Austin. You can follow along on Twitch at twitch.tv/mls.
Read the full interview below:
Atlanta News First: For people who might not know what eMLS is. Could you explain that?
Paulo Neto: eMLS is Major League Soccer but in video games, in FIFA 23. So we basically represent each team from the league.
ANF: So do you use the Atlanta United roster while playing or are using your own squad?
PN: We use Ultimate Team, but we don’t use our actual squad. We have some restrictions on the team. So we have to use five MLS players and the rest of the team can be any player that we want to use.
ANF: So who are your normal five MLS players?
PN: I’m using [New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Carlos Coronel], Gareth Bale, Thiago Martins, [Inter Miami right back DeAndre Yedlin and Los Angeles FC center back Giorgio Chiellini.] Yeah, there’s no Atlanta United players, unfortunately.
ANF: What’s going through your mind when you’re trying to build a squad?
PN: I try to be more balanced in making that good team. Also in offense and also in defense. So we kind of see because In Ultimate Team, there are like special cards. So some players get some special cards that are better. at least this year there are more special cards of MLS [players] that are good on defense. So we use on them on defense. And yeah, and the rest of the players try to have like [Kylian Mbappe] and other guys on attack.
ANF: So how diverse are the rosters in eMLS? Is everyone is rolling out the same roster every game? How many different types of cards do you see, not just in in your roster but in the guys you’re playing against?
PN: In general they’re pretty similar, but it’s not like everyone has the same team. Normally you see like two or three different players in a team.
ANF: Give me your typical formation.
PN: Okay. So I normally play a 4-2-3-1. My goalkeeper is Coronel. Then on center backs, I have Lucio and Thiago Martins. We have some special cards that are guys that played in the past, so Lucio is one of them. On the left back we use Gareth Bale and on the right back I use Yedlin. Then on the midfielder as the center mid, I use Chiellini. and [Ruud Gullit] which is also a guy that played in the past. So I use Gullit and Chiellini....it’s normal that you would use players that used to play in the past.
ANF: So how did you even get started in all of this?
PN: I have been playing since I was 13, so seven years ago. I use it to play LAN tournaments. We used to do in-person tournaments, so I used to go there and play with other people. When I was 16, I was trying to play the professional tournaments like from the EA Sports one. So yeah, I played a tournament in Atlanta. And yeah, after some months Atlanta signed me.
ANF: So what are the eMLS tournaments like?
PN: The league is divided into three tournaments during the season, the eMLS League Series One and Two, and the final one which is the MLS Cup, which I was the champion last year. So we basically have these two League Series one and two to seed the players for the eMLS Cup. There is a champion on eMLS League Two and One which I was the champion of both this year and yeah, now we are preparing for the eMLS Cup.
ANF: You tend to run into Lamps a lot, the Minnesota United player. What’s your relationship with him?
PN: We are friends but, when it’s come to the game yeah rivals since we played a lot. Last year in MLS I eliminated him in eMLS Series One. He eliminated me in League Series Two. Now this year, we matched up in both finals from League Series One and Two and I got the wins on both.
ANF: How tight are the players as a group? Because it’s only 20-something people. Outside of these matches, how tight are you guys as a group?
PN: We are very friendly. Of course, there are some groups of players that are closer to each other. But in general, the relationship about the players on the league are very, very nice. Normally you have some football pickup games before the tournament so everyone can be together. So yeah, everyone’s a good friend outside of the game. Of course, when it goes to the game, everyone’s a rival. But yeah, before the game, everyone is just friends.
ANF: So the eMLS Cup is at South by Southwest this year. Are you excited to get to go to Austin to this, you know, big thing that happens every year?
PN: Yeah, I’m really excited. Not just because of the tournament, but also because it’s different. There are like a lot of people watching it. So the atmosphere is very good. So it’s also very nice to be on these kind of places. So yeah, we kind of play and see the crowd. It’s very nice.
ANF: Yeah, what’s it like to play video games in front of a crowd?
PN: Yeah, it’s very, it’s different. Because if you are not 100% focused, you can maybe distract with the noise of the crowd. But it’s also like very good, because when you win it, you see like a lot of people watching you and that’s very cool. But I don’t think that should be a good thing to play against the Austin FC player, because the crowd would not be on my side or any side just on him.
ANF: Do certain players get that home-field advantage with the crowd?
PN: I feel it on the eMLS Cup now that we have the big crowd. And yeah, you can get advantage of that and like be motivated with the crowd. Or maybe you also can like get a bit nervous. Like ‘Oh my God, I need to show up for this crowd.’ And that’s not how should work. You just need to play your game and be motivated about playing in front of a big crowd.
ANF: How do you tune out the crowd when it is that sort of big crowd and you feel yourself getting nervous? How do you center back in?
PN: Like yeah, just I’m a very focused guy so I try to focus 100% of the game and forget about the crowd at that moment. But yeah, before the game, after the game, it’s very nice to be with all of them.
ANF: Do you stream in the offseason? Series One and Two and the Cup are in this three-month span, so you know, are you streaming FIFA in that other nine months? How do you prepare for each season?
PN: Like, I don’t stream a lot, I used it to stream like every day, but I stopped with that so I can focus more on practicing. There are so many tournaments that I don’t have even time to stream like at least these months because I was playing in eMLS. I have tournaments that I need to travel to other places. I was in Argentina last weekend to play Libertadores. I also not have been like almost not at home these days. Like the season normally begins at the end of September and ends in July. Like end of July. We have August and the whole month of September like on vacation, so we normally don’t play a lot. But yeah, when the season started is just about to play and yeah, getting better and better.
ANF: So what’s the furthest you’ve traveled for a tournament?
PN: Romania was far, Portland was far. And I remember when I traveled to Portland,, I was in Brazil. I traveled to Portland. Then I came back to Brazil and traveled to Paris. So I was really jet lagged after that.
ANF: Yeah, I can’t imagine the jetlag. How long did that take?
PN: Maybe 15 hours to go to Portland because like, from my city, I need to go to Sao Paulo to go to Atlanta to go to another flight to Portland. So it’s like too many flights then coming back to Brazil. Then again, like going back to Sao Paulo and go to a city in Europe then to take a flight to Paris. So sometimes it’s a very tight schedule, but I love to do it, to be traveling to play in tournaments. It’s what I like to do so yeah, it’s not something that gets me tired. Of course, like, sometimes you need to rest but yeah, it’s what I like to do. So it’s very good.
ANF: How do you think [the video games] could improve from a competitive perspective? What would you want the developers to do to make the competitive experience even better?
ANF: So tell me about your earliest soccer or football memory in general.
PN: I have not been a good player on soccer. I used to play in school with my friends, like on the breaks after the classes. We use it to play there. And yeah, I also like to go to the stadium to watch some games. And yeah, I feel like, I also love to watch football, like on TV. So yeah, football is like a big, big part of my life.
ANF: So how often do you get to go to games?
PN: Not that often, because like the team that I support here in Brazil, it’s not in my city. So it’s like, two hours drive. So sometimes it’s hard to go to the games. But yeah, not that often. Because also I’m traveling a lot with all the tournaments and competitions.
ANF: Thank you so much for joining us.
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