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One Future Football targets Gen Z with ‘AI Football Manager’ virtual soccer league

1FF promises fans greater influence and global immersive competition.

15 June 2023 Steve McCaskill

One Future Football

  • Inaugural competition kicks off this month, with Jesse Lingard and Patrice Evra team owners
  • Matches simulated by two AI engines and 250 virtual players
  • Melbourne-based startup raises US$3m to develop platform

One Future Football (1FF) has launched what it claims to be the world’s first “global, digital soccer league”, powered by artificial intelligence (AI).

The league comprises 12 teams representing different geographic regions, made up of 250 virtual players. Like real world competitions, 1FF sees each team play each other home and away, with the champion determined by a playoff system.

Teams are owned by real life companies, including Footballco and Indian firm JSW, as well as celebrity owners such as England soccer star Jesse Lingard, Manchester United legend Patrice Evra, and AS Roma defender Chris Smalling.

The simulated league, akin to the popular Football Manager simulation title, is powered by two AI engines. The first determines thousands of outcomes for each match, calculating every touch, pass, shot and foul to create a result. 

The second is a narrative engine that generates real world scenarios such as players fighting in training, or supporting charitable causes. The 250 players will come from 88 different countries, each with their own back stories and personalities.

The idea is that the combination of these two engines will create a detailed ecosystem for fans to fully immerse themselves, with matches simulated in a 3D match engine streamed for free via ten-minute highlight packages on social media.

1FF hopes its product will appeal to fans looking for soccer-themed entertainment during the European off-season and to younger demographics looking for something more engaging and interactive than the real world game – especially if they can’t attend matches.

Fans can influence player signings, training regimes, and which brands will sponsor their team, with the clubs owners providing guidance. In turn, 1FF will hope its product becomes an attractive commercial proposition for brands keen to reach a new audience.

The Melbourne, Australia-based startup has raised US$3 million to help develop its vision.

“The 1FF team has been working incredibly hard to build a tangible league that appeals to supporters all around the world – wherever they are from,” said Pete Davis, chief executive and co-founder of 1FF. “As football fans we see the trends of young people not being able to connect with the sport, owing to factors such as the inaccessibility and rising costs of supporting a stadium football team.

“When you also consider football’s increasing social and environmental impact on the planet we believed something had to be done, otherwise there is a real risk of losing a whole generation of fans. This is why we created One Future Football.

“We’re not trying to replace stadium football – we are confident we’ve built a world where football fans feel a real sense of ownership, that their decisions make a difference and they are actually being heard.

“We’ve created clubs with the DNA of their local regions in mind and designed footballers who fans can identify with and be inspired by. We believe One Future Football will help young fans fall in love with the game. This truly has the potential to be the future of football and we’re excited for the season to kick-off later this month.”

SportsPro says…

Virtual sports are not a new phenomenon – data-driven simulations of horse racing and greyhound racing have been providing bookmakers with additional content for punters for many years now. But 1FF differs in that betting is not a fundamental part of the proposition.

What it is offering is essentially a custom version of Football Manager with its own history, economy, and fandom that doesn’t subscribe to existing soccer structures. Modern soccer is expensive to watch, fans have little influence over the teams they support, and many fans live thousands of miles away from the cities where their favourite teams play.

1FF says its ambition is not to replace real world football but offer a more utopian, egalitarian, and global vision of sport, capable of offering a digitally native experience that many fans crave. eSports prove that the real world isn’t a necessary requirement for a compelling sporting experience, but replicating an existing sport and removing humans almost entirely is an entirely different proposition.

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