Edwin Castro is a master of virtual soccer. He is one of the most popular FIFA video game streamers in the world, with tens of thousands tuning in to watch live as he cracks jokes, makes expressive faces, and dominates opponents under the handle Castro1021.
The 31-year-old is good at this. You don’t accumulate 3.7 million Twitch followers, another 2 million on YouTube, and 1.5 million on Twitter if you’re not doing something right. That fame has led to appearances in commercials, invitations to visit the stadium of his beloved Manchester United, and the ability to travel to basically any match around the world that may pique his interest.
Now the North Texas resident is trying to carry his virtual success into the physical world, putting together the best combination of flesh-and-blood players rather than their digital avatars. The streamer is the owner of Dallas United, one of 32 teams taking part in The Soccer Tournament, a madcap, small-sided competition kicking off June 1 in North Carolina with a $1 million winner-take-all prize.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because the event borrows heavily from its hoops predecessor, The Basketball Tournament, which began as something of a free-for-all March Madness. Anyone could sign up a team and try to enter, and plenty of people have. Squads organized by ex-players representing their alma mater, players recruited through media outlets, groups playing for charity, even a team of models—you name it, they’ve participated at one point or another. Now nine years in, the event has become a national sensation, culminating in a broadcast deal with ESPN.
The soccer offshoot began last year and is partly owned by American soccer icon Clint Dempsey and 12-time NBA All-Star Chris Paul. It combines elements of The Basketball Tournament with the familiar 32-team format of the FIFA World Cup. The action is quick by design, prioritizing fun over formality. Games are played 7-on-7 rather than the traditional 11-on-11. Each team plays three group-stage matches before the knockout rounds are set. And in an attempt to emulate The Basketball Tournament’s Elam ending, teams will try to hit a target score, ensuring every match ends on a goal. Matches will stream on NBC’s Peacock platform and on YouTube.
The Soccer Tournament’s format tweaks are innovative. The base idea, not so much. A number of soccer tournaments regularly take place in Dallas and beyond that offer cash prizes to the winning team. Weekend warriors, ex-pros, and sometimes current pros with contract flexibility turn up trying to make a bit of cash. It’s not unheard of for teams to bring in ringers in a bid to win the grand prize or get bragging rights against rivals.
One of the most important tournaments, Copa Mariachi, often hires a referee with FIFA World Cup experience to oversee the final, along with booking big-name acts for concerts. After several years in Houston, its organizers have since expanded to Atlanta and Virginia. Plans are in place to branch out to Honduras and perhaps other overseas locales, too.
Still, the grand prize for the champion has generally topped out at $100,000 rather than $1 million. So it’s no surprise to learn that players are jumping at the chance to make a roster, leading Castro and the DSA coaches to mine Dallas’ cash leagues and host tryouts looking for the region’s top talent.
“Thankfully, my wife is a trooper for allowing me to come out and play a sport I’ve played my whole life,” says Rene Garcia, a 36-year-old cybersecurity consultant with three kids who plays as a defender for Dallas United and has been competing in cash-prize tournaments since the conclusion of his college soccer career at the University of San Diego and SMU.
After seeing a post that fellow influencer and former United States Men’s National Team defender Jimmy Conrad was putting a team together, Castro wanted to get involved. The Dallas Soccer Alliance, an adult soccer league in the area, already had claimed one of the slots in the event. An introduction was made, and the directors of the local soccer interest were more than happy to bring Castro into the fold. He’ll invest in The Tournament squad, help assemble the team, and perhaps most of all, throw the weight of his online persona behind the on-field product.
“Coming from the gaming world, I have no experience building a team,” he says, “but I do have experience building brands.”
Castro has immersed himself in the endeavor. Rather than jetting off to Manchester, Istanbul, or some influencer-only island, he spent most of his nights in May at fields like the one he stood on last week in Flower Mound, with Dallas United going through a tune-up against a team made up of FC Dallas youth players. While he’s careful to allow the coaching staff to coach, Castro is hardly a detached observer. He paces the touchline and watches each moment intensely. He applauds a good touch and isn’t shy about celebrating his team’s goals. He shouts in encouragement— and frustration—as the action ebbs and flows.
Dallas United wasn’t alone in searching the area for its best players ahead of The Soccer Tournament. In addition to being part-owner of The Soccer Tournament, Dempsey has a team in the competition. His group hosted an event in Dallas looking for North Texas-based players, though much of his final roster is made up of former teammates, including MLS’ all-time leading scorer Chris Wondolowski and fellow USMNT veterans Jermaine Jones and Eddie Johnson.
Most Dallas United players are, like Garcia, veterans of the North Texas pickup fields. There are a couple of notable exceptions. Former FC Dallas legend Kenny Cooper, a Jesuit grad who earned 10 caps for the USMNT, is set to lead the line for the Dallas team. One-time FCD draft pick Nicky Hernandez is in the squad, too. But even Cooper’s pro career pales in comparison to Dempsey’s, let alone that of World Cup winner Cesc Fabregas, who is set to line up next to ex-NBA star Steve Nash for Como 1907.
Castro helped put the team together, but it’s Dallas native and longtime youth soccer coach Dillon Vedral’s job to make it work on the field. A bank employee by day, Vedral knows the lay of the land: he once tried to make it abroad and played in some of the same leagues his current players compete in after completing his college career. He was tapped by the Dallas Soccer Alliance to have some part in The Tournament squad and ended up working as head coach. Vedral is aware his players won’t have the same reputations going into the competition as many other teams’. He’s counting on the collective energy and the desire to represent North Texas to overcome the talent gap in a group headlined by English Premier League club West Ham United’s alumni squad.
“We’re giving these guys a chance to be seen and show the talent level of soccer in the Dallas Metroplex,” he says. “I’ve seen it since the ’80s and ’90s.”
Vedral was less versed in Castro, although he’s gotten more familiar with him after hearing his players talk about his streams. He recalls several occasions when he’s been at a facility with professional players, only to see kids swarm the streamer for photos and autographs rather than the athletes on the pitch.
“When you’re competing against other teams that have Wikipedia pages for all their players, and we’ve got a Wikipedia for our owner, it’s a very unique experience,” he says. Even so, he’s quick to claim there has been no ego from Castro or his team. “Dude is incredibly humble. He’s got an incredible story,” Vedral adds. “I’m just excited he’s in Dallas and willing to work with us.”
The feeling is mutual. Born in Chicago to Mexican immigrants, Castro fell in love with the game thanks to his family. He moved to North Texas in 2017, and six years later, he considers Dallas to be home. His next step is to get more involved in the local soccer scene—to give back as well as to diversify his own career opportunities.
“I’ll never move out of Dallas. It’s given me so much opportunity for myself, for my family,” he says. “I come from immigrant parents that have always taught me respect and to give back to others. We’ve done so much of that the past 10 years on Twitch, being able to raise more than $1 million for charities. Now we’re getting to a place where I’m trying to expand and not have my eggs in one basket.”
He admits he’s been dreaming of where this could lead. Perhaps it’s another run at The Tournament. Or it’s more work with youth development. Maybe even a traditional 11-player outdoor team in one of the United States’ more established leagues somewhere down the road. Big goals, all of them. What better place to start chasing them than The Soccer Tournament, surrounded by a few hundred other dreamers like him?