Cissé Diop Wreaks Havoc on the Virtual Pitch

The eMLS All-Star plays for FC Cincinnati, but you won’t see him on the field at TQL Stadium.

Photograph courtesy Cissé Diop; photo composite by Emi Villavicencio

One of FC Cincinnati’s most prominent players is a man you’ll never see at TQL Stadium on game day. Macissé “Cissé” Diop works a finance job in New Jersey during the day and at night trains for 20 to 30 hours a week on the pitch. The virtual pitch, that is.

Diop is FCC’s official representative in eMLS, where the best FIFA video game players in North America duke it out for cash prizes and a chance to play in the electronic World Cup. He was recently named an eMLS All-Star. His main competition in the league? His brother, Mohamed Alioune Diop, who plays for D.C. United.

You started playing the FIFA video game professionally while attending Rutgers University. How’d that happen?

Being from Senegal originally, it’s a big soccer nation—probably the only relevant sport back home. My friends, my family, dad, and brother are all big soccer fans. We were always playing soccer in real life growing up and playing at soccer academies, playing at home, playing at school.

The dream for all of us growing up was to be a professional on the pitch. Our parents were really big on us getting an education, though, so we had to find another outlet to put our competitive mindset to. FIFA was the next best thing. And growing up, well, everyone plays a lot of FIFA, too. Now my brother and I play FIFA at the highest level. It’s a dream come true.

What’s your preferred player or team when you’re competing?

In the competitive world, we only play on Ultimate Team. [In FIFA Ultimate Team, or FUT, you create a team of your favorite soccer players.] It’s based off personal preference to

 choose which players work best for your style and who you’re up against. But if I had to pick one player who’s always in my team regardless, it’s Kylian Mbappé.

So is your playstyle on the virtual pitch kind of like Mbappé’s in real life, then? Lots of dribbling, speed, flashy moves?

Of course! I describe my playstyle as pretty unorthodox, especially in the final third, and it can be unique with regards to adding a bit of flair on the pitch. I played the same way in real life growing up—I was always a flashy guy. Sometimes it leads to mistakes, but, y’know, I’m not just here to win, I’m here to put on a show, just like how FC Cincinnati is putting on a show for the fans at TQL this year. I’m really looking forward to coming up to Cincinnati a few times this season to watch them.

What’s your best memory with FC Cincinnati?

On the virtual pitch, my favorite moment was placing in the top eight this past season at League Series 1. We did very well, and I was very proud of that moment. But as an FCC fan, I was able to attend their away game versus New York Red Bulls in New Jersey last year. I just remember the fans going absolutely crazy and thinking, “I’ve never seen anything like that in my life at any game.”

Really? I know you’re from a place where football is huge, but the FCC fans measure up to what you’d see in the rest of the world?

Definitely. I go to about three games at TQL a year. Every time I go, I just love it. The people are so kind, and everyone is so passionate. There’s even a guy who follows me on Twitter in Ghana with his own FC Cincinnati fan club. Every match day, him and his friends pull up to one place to watch the games together. It’s amazing the way that Cincinnati is able to impact people’s lives not only in Cincinnati itself but all over the world. Who would have thought that a group of people would be cheering on FCC all the way in West Africa? The club holds a special place in a lot of people’s hearts.

Explain the structure of the eMLS. What’s your season like? How are rankings determined?

The eMLS season goes from January to March. It starts off with League Series 1 and 2, that’s where you play every other MLS team. Usually, each team has one player representing it. The results from the League Series are combined for the eMLS Cup; the top 11 make it straight to the playoffs, while teams 12 through 26 battle it out for a last chance qualifier. There’s a mainstage broadcast event for all events, too. I was able to head to New York City for League Series 1, which was amazing to be able to represent Cincinnati on an epic stage.

What’s your training regimen like for this?

People often doubt that gaming can be considered a sport. It really is, if you compare it to other professional sports. There is training and a routine every day. You also have tactics, reviews, going over game play, watching other competitors. For example, the Europeans are considered the best in the world. Watching them and practicing amongst each other helps you find the tactics that fit your playstyle and help you win. It can be a daunting task, but it’s definitely something we’re willing to do because at the end of the day we love this game, we want to be the best, and we want to do the best we can for our team.

Are there any players who you’re rivals with, or players you’re on the lookout for?

FCC’s rivals are also my rivals on the virtual pitch as well. Columbus Crew is the big one, obviously. D.C. United is where my brother plays. Even though I know everything he does, every time we play it’s always gonna be a tough game. [He’s] probably the player I’ve played the most out of anyone in the world, y’know? We live together and we train together, so every time we play it’s always a clash.

I know you’ve got a finance job outside of FIFA. What do you do outside of those two things?

I do enjoy finance and gaming. I’m so glad that I’m able to do both, really, and I hope it doesn’t stop anytime soon. You know, this is my fifth year in the eMLS, and I’m 25. Wouldn’t say I’m the oldest there, but I’m not the youngest. My hope is to keep going as long as possible. But besides this, I love actually playing soccer too, even if it’s hard to find time these days. And I watch soccer a lot, too—not just MLS, but I’m a big Chelsea fan (in the English Premier League). For them, ehh, it wasn’t the greatest season this year, so it was a rough one for me personally.

Being from Senegal, 2023 has been our best year ever as a soccer federation. Not only did we win the African Cup of Nations, but our under-23 team is winning championships. I’m telling you, man, soccer is literally life or death in our nation. It’s not surprising to me at all that my brother and I were able to find a place for soccer in our lives like this. Even though going pro was our ultimate goal as kids, this is definitely a dream for us as well.

FIFA is well known for its music soundtracks—not just in gaming, but to everyone all over the world. Do you have a favorite song from one of the FIFA games?

Oh yeah, definitely “Tribe” by Bas & J. Cole. You know, the one that goes “I think I made ittttttt!” That’s my top FIFA song of all time, my MVP. If I had to pick only one, of course. What’s yours? [I tell him it’s “Love Me Again” by John Newman.] OK, throwback! I like that. From, like, FIFA 14? The one I mentioned was from 2019, so kind of recent. But the old-school FIFA songs? Oh yeah. History.

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