EA Sports' FIFA video game debuted in 1993, but only its most recent edition, FIFA 16, includes female players. It features 12 international teams, including the U.S.
Gamers have responded.
"If you take the U.S. Women as a singular team and you look at the 600 teams you can play with on a global basis, not just in the U.S., the U.S. Women, they're actually the 23rd-most played team around the world in FIFA 16, which is a stunning statistic," says Peter Moore, EA Sports COO.
Moore revealed this fact at BlazerCon, a two-day soccer conference in Brooklyn hosted by Michael Davies and Roger Bennett, the hosts of Men in Blazers. Moore sat on a panel with Bennett.
"Here's a better stat," he says. "Alex Morgan has now scored a million goals. And the goalkeeper is getting p***ed off. She's the first woman to reach a million."
Morgan appears on the FIFA 16 U.S. edition cover alongside Barcelona star Lionel Messi. Any skepticism on the interest in women's teams by gamers can be debunked by Moore's stats. FIFA 16 has not even been out for two months and people are already hooked on the virtual U.S. Women's National Team.
"That's humongous," former U.S. star Brandi Chastain told ThePostGame. "That's like stepping into an environment that no one thinks you belong in. I think about '96 [Olympics], which was the first year women's soccer was a participating sport. Think about it. 100 years and it just became part of the games.
"I'd love to see the '99 team be able to play the 2015 team. Now, people can play both sides of that game."
Moore was born in Liverpool, but has spent most of his adult life in the U.S. He acknowledged the massive interest in the U.S. Women's National Team right now and how it could no longer be ignored. The USWNT won the 2015 Women's World Cup in Canada, the nation's first title since 1999.
"When add Alex, and you add Abby [Wambach] and you throw Carli Lloyd in there and you have that final, I just felt sorry for Japan," Moore says.
For current players, being included in the game is progress but not the end goal.
"We think it was a very smart move for FIFA to put us in the game and we hope it pays off for them because not only is it a cool thing for us, but a cool thing for everyone," says midfielder Heather O'Reilly, who sat on a BlazerCon panel with teammates Ali Krieger and Becky Sauerbrunn and moderator Katie Nolan of Fox Sports.
O'Reilly also half-jokingly questions the FIFA 16 rankings system. She is an overall 81 rating, while Krieger is an 82 and Sauerbrunn an 86.
"I was disappointed in my speed, to be honest," O'Reilly says. "I'm a lot faster than that."
EA Sports was a sponsor of BlazerCon, and Nolan took this as an opportunity to put the brand on the spot.
"You should just probably show us how fast you are," Nolan said to O'Reilly. "We should have a footrace. Aren't the people at EA the ones who make the ratings? If you show them that you can run fast…"
Sauerbrunn said: "I would say that they absolutely should be higher."
Meanwhile, Krieger said with a laugh, "I wish I could score as many goals as I can in FIFA."
One aspect of FIFA 16 the women's players tip their hat: Graphics. When all three were asked if a teammate's virtual equivalent was botched, no one could think of an obvious answer.
"I think there were a few that were so spot on like Megan Rapinoe and Sydney Leroux," O'Reilly said. "They have all the tattoos accurate."
Moore, who says "FIFA" is probably more associated with the video game than the world soccer organization, revealed some other notable statistics on FIFA. He claims "50 percent of [U.S.] players now consider [soccer] a favorite sport" and "34 percent of U.S. players become pro [soccer] fans after playing the video game (meaning they go to an MLS game, buy merchandise or even travel to Europe for a game)."
Moore also explained that due to population, "More people in the U.S. play Real Madrid-Barcelona in FIFA 16 than they do in Spain."
According to Moore, the FIFA series doubled its "population" from 2013 to 2015. The U.S.'s craze for sports and video games makes it a juicy target for FIFA. A video game driving a sport's foothold in a nation may have been a ludicrous idea a decade ago, but in 2015, U.S. Soccer can only buy into it.
"We believe we've been instrumental, the invisible hand in driving this love of the game," Moore says of soccer in the U.S.
For almost two months now, that invisible hand has included virtual women's soccer players. From a moral sense, this addition is a long time coming. From a business sense, this boom for women's soccer, both at the video game and real-life level through EA Sports' use of women's players, is only beginning.
Maybe Heather O'Reilly will be faster in FIFA 17.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.