The state of FIFA 21: still a beautiful game?
FIFA rolls on, but is the franchise maximising profit at the expense of a deeper emotional connection with fans?
The reasoning behind the launch of the attempted European Super League earlier this year was that football needed to branch out to new fans. “Legacy” fans would just have to accept the changes and were expected to follow along eventually. There’s a sense of inevitability about the idea — even today. The money will always win.
That’s the beautiful game, so how about the virtual one? With the FIFA 22 release date on the horizon, we decided to take a deeper look into the history of a franchise that we truly love.
The (d)evolution of FIFA
We don’t know if Roy Keane has ever played FIFA, but if he did he would say that the game’s gone. The focus on Ultimate Team and rise of the professional FIFA players has reshaped the game. It’s not your dad’s football game — focused on providing as realistic a simulation as possible. It’s turned into a money-spinning, content creating juggernaut with arcade-style skill moves and a need for intense levels of concentration.
The pandemic saw the video game make more money than actual football for the first time ever. As tournaments were cancelled and leagues postponed, more players than ever took to the virtual pitch for comfort. And the numbers are eye-watering: FUT made £115 million last year (the cost of one Joao Felix IRL, for context).
We don’t want to veer into “old man yells at cloud” territory. But, we should be able to point out FIFA’s transformation from a vicarious bit of fun into an unstoppable competitive juggernaut designed to be advertised by pros and influencers.
Lets talk about pay-to-win
That has an impact on your average, everyday player too. Just as big money has elevated a few clubs above all the others, anyone with enough cash for an endless supply of FIFA points can pick up some extra wins in FUT Champions. As with professional football, once the money comes in — it becomes a pay to win game.
Don’t worry though, online career mode is coming in FIFA 22. They’ve even added tracksuits so players can walk onto the pitch just like they do in real life. As Keano himself would say, “Do me a favour.”
A results driven business
Cynicism aside, games that used to be about having fun have been subsumed by the oncoming professionalisation of eSports. Professionalism tends to strip games of their fun — once it becomes a results business nobody cares how they win: so long as they win. We’re not saying that’s a bad thing, but it has irrevocably changed the experience of playing games like FIFA.
That means that the game becomes more about mechanics and working out the META. No top player played FIFA 21 with any style that remotely resembles real life football. Through balls — a rare thing of absolute beauty on a real pitch — were so effective that each game became a ping pong through ball contest.
Skill moves continue to divide the community. Some players want to see the best coordinated players with the best reflexes performing impossible feats, others would prefer to see players with an obvious appreciation for football come out on top. It’s a delicate balance to strike — one of the game’s biggest selling points is that it includes real-life superstars, but should they be bound by real life laws of physics?
If the game was about faithful recreation, then you’d have to say yes. But, it isn’t — it’s about creating a compelling product that people will buy year after year. And as football has been marketed to within an inch of its soul (Mitchell and Webb say it better than we ever could) — so has the jewel in the FIFA crown: FUT. New content drops every week, with endless chances for players to buy that new card they are sure will turn their fortunes around.
The trouble is, players can’t even spend money and be safe in the knowledge that it will benefit their team in a meaningful way. You could end up with a bunch of extra cards you have no use for, or you could find yourself running around the room because you packed a worldie. The introduction of preview packs doesn’t change the facts: you’re rolling the dice every time.
A breath of fresh air
We believe that the game should be about having fun. Isn’t that how every Sunday league coach finishes their pre game speech? “Get out there and enjoy it lads.”
That’s why when you play FIFA on Stakester, you play Seasons with real teams. No FUT. No pay to win. Just a fair fight, with a version of FIFA that we all know and love.