CHESTER, Pa. — It was a case of life imitating art on Tuesday when the Philadelphia Union announced NFL free agent running back Jay Ajayi as the first pro athlete to also turn pro gamer in eMLS.
Like Vernon Littlefield, the fictional NFL lineman played by Donovan Carter in the HBO series Ballers, Ajayi is adding pro gamer to his resume ahead of the start of the eMLS season in Philadelphia on Friday. He was introduced to media at a press conference at Talen Energy Stadium on Tuesday afternoon.
The Union are the defending champions of eMLS, having captured the the second ever eMLS Cup last year with Cormac “Doolsta” Dooley. Dooley became the Union’s first pro gamer after winning an open competition in 2018 but has since moved on to sign on as Nashville SC’s rep in their inaugural eMLS campaign.
Union Chief Marketing Officer Doug Vosik said he was a big fan of the HBO show and mentioned the Vernon Littlefield gamer story line to his staff when the season — the show’s last — initially aired in the fall.
“(Ballers) is a fictional tale that has some truth behind it,” Vosik said. “That script was written with a whole lot of knowledge about the game and what happens so for them to say this could happen and now we’re one of the first clubs to make that happen is really special.”
There are some key differences between Ajayi and Littlefield. Littlefield plays for the Dallas Cowboys in the show and his game is League of Legends while Ajayi is a FIFA guy who grew up immersed in soccer in his native London.
“It’s two things that I enjoy, FIFA, something I’ve done since growing up as a kid and the game of soccer, something I’m passionate about and something I love,” Ajayi said during his introductory press conference here on Tuesday.
Ajayi joins gamer Cissé on the Union’s current eMLS roster. Cissé won the Union’s open tournament back in November and will represent the club at other events like Jeffrey Acevedo (JisForJeff) did last season.
“As a competitor I want to carry the torch, next man up and just try and bring another title to the Union,” Ajayi said.