PORTLAND, Ore. – Edgar Guerrero is supposed to be in grad school. He is supposed to be working toward his doctorate, following up on the psychology degree that’s already in his pocket. But like so many 23-year-olds, the McMinnville, Oregon-native has suddenly found a new path, one that was a mere hobby while he progressed through college.
Today, all those nights devoted to his PlayStation 4 console are fully paying off, with Guerrero announced on Thursday as the Portland Timbers’ first eMLS signing.
“I’m somewhat surprised I was picked,” Guerrero said, a hint of modesty mixed in with the realization of what Major League Soccer’s first video game venture will be about. Whereas other players might have a greater online following than the Western Oregon University alum, Guerrero has the actual gaming chops – the top priority in the Timbers’ first video-world acquisition.
“I’m sure [the process was] quite competitive, and you might pick someone because of their personality,” Guerrero said. “They might be just as good, but you might like one person a little more. It’s somewhat random. It has different variables than just skill.”
Skill, however, is Guerrero’s strongest attribute, even if his entry into the 19-team eMLS competition will come with an adjustment. Already an accomplished 11v11 player, where he captains the top-ranked team on the PS4 console, Guerrero is also a skilled a one-on-one player.
“I know a lot of the guys have a lot more experience in 1v1 than me, because I have like two years,” Guerrero conceded. “I used to play a lot, but the competitive side, I just started it last year. I think I just need to practice.”
The practice he’s already put in is yielding results, something you’d expect from one of the world’s elite 11v11 player. Whereas at first Guerrero was easily able to find players at his 1v1 skill level, now he’s sprinting beyond the competition. Finding opponents that can push him is getting harder and harder.
“It’s actually gotten a lot more difficult this year,” Guerrero said. “I feel like my level of play has increased a lot within the last five, six months.”
That increased level shows. Most recently, Guerrero found himself ranked among the top 20 1v1 competitors in the U.S. and top 35 in North and South America.
Known as “xthiagosilva_o” online, Guerrero began truly playing competitively when a recruiter got him involved in online tournaments two-and-a-half years ago. Slowly, this team, Infamous, found success in Pro Clubs Leagues, one of the largest and most prominent communities online.
That success turned Guerrero’s attention away from grad school and, eventually, toward eMLS.
“I live here, so this is kind of like my dream job,” Guerrero said.
For now, though, Guerrero needs to adapt his game to the eMLS competition, a process that will not only involve refocusing his skills but also mastering the new competition's unique rules that will be on display in Boston from April 5 through 8, when the PAX East showcase will host the first-ever eMLS Cup competition.
The league will play with FIFA 18’s Ultimate Teams platform, giving Guerrero and his rivals access to the world’s worth of soccer talent. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are already players he’s targeting, as well Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne, but per eMLS rules, he must also play with three MLS players, including at least two Portland Timbers.
“I’m probably going to go with Diego Valeri and Alvas Powell,” he said. “Powell, because he’s a quick right back, and it would better to have him there than to have a striker take the role of an icon that I could use.
“Diego Valeri, because I use [Paul] Pogba, and when I was looking at their stats, they have similar stats. They’re both well-rounded, and Valeri allows me to attack. He has long shots. I can create with him; passing, dribbling.”
The icons Guerrero refers to are where his playing style and personality truly come out. In the FIFA Ultimate Team format, legends from the soccer’s past also be incorporated into your team. The ones Guerrero has targeted hint at how he’ll approach next month’s competition in Boston.
“I have Ronaldinho at [central attacking midfielder], and he’s my best player,” he explained about his current FIFA Ultimate Team.
Another of Guerrero’s icon choices pays homage to how he came into his soccer love.
“Ruud Gullit, because my uncle, he’s the one that got me into soccer,” Guerrero said. “[My uncle] would train me, and he loved Holland. He would always talk about Gullit, and when the opportunity came to use him in FIFA, I had to do it. I watched clips of him from back then, and the things he could do were incredible.”
Gullit, Valeri, De Bruyne and Ronaldinho is the type of fantasy midfield you could only see in a video game, but it also reveals something about how Guerrero approaches his play.
“This [version of] FIFA, even though it keeps changing, it fits my style of play very well,” he said. “The attacking is quick. Sometimes the gameplay can be inconsistent, but it fits my style.”
What doesn’t quite fit his style, yet, is the attention he’s getting through eMLS. Just weeks ago, Guerrero was spending his days playing on his console, offsetting that with real life pickup games and going to watch his brothers box. Now, Guerrero’s gaming carries responsibilities, including media sessions where he’s suddenly the star.
“It’s a little overwhelming,” he confessed. “I’ve never had a camera pointed at me. Well, I’ve had once, and I froze. It was at a Mexico versus Venezuela game, and I got interviewed by a reporter. She asked me a question and I froze. It was a little bit weird.”
That attention, however, is the next step Guerrero’s journey, one that started at a friend’s house as eight-year-old, when he was first exposed to FIFA. Three years later, his family got a Playstation 2, one he and his younger brother christened with a 90 minutes of real-time FIFA performance culminating with a scoreline of 23-22.
Now, a decade later, Guerrero is ready to take his game to the highest levels. He’s also ready to do what he can to help his sport grow.
“I think I have room for improvement, and it’s just a great opportunity to help the team, help myself, and help the community grow, as well.”