The world of eSports has taken off over the last five years to the point where its potential and entertainment value has reached the mainstream. The industry has been built around balanced games of skill that often feature teams. Many people would expect the ever-popular licensed sports titles from Electronic Arts – FIFA, NHL, Madden – to be among the most popular eSports due to their likeness to already established, heavily followed traditional sports, but EA’s titles have greatly struggled for legitimacy and fandom on the competitive scene.
EA knows this and, as reported by GamesIndustry, they’re trying to build an emotional attachment, as traditional sports do, to the teams and players of their eSports effort to join the likes of DOTA 2, League of Legends, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive as the big eSports titles. But there are far more fundamental issues stopping the traditional sports titles from being considered legitimate eSports.
Change the focus to another game mode to bring in real skill
— Digital Spy (@digitalspy) January 10, 2019
The primary issue that most eSports fans have with games like Madden and FIFA on the competitive scene is that the user only has control of one player at a time, and so the user plays a diminished role in the eventual result of each game.
EA pushes its cash cow Ultimate Team mode as its eSport, where users who input more money to get better players gain an advantage through the players that they won’t be directly using most of the time. SB Nation sees this as a major stumbling point also, as in true eSports, users succeed or fail on their play
It comes down to being an issue of balancing and whether or not true gaming skill is actually on show. However, not only do users continue to play the game and compete knowing full well of the imbalances in play, but third parties such as MoPlay offer odds on FIFA German Bundesliga matches, legitimising the competitive gaming scene as they deem it to be fair and viable for betting alongside the other major eSports.
Still, the game mode being pushed allows for easy criticism of EA Sports titles being considered as legitimate eSports, while a switch to the Pro Clubs game modes – where full in-game teams are comprised of each user controlling only one created player – would go a long way towards creating a game of skill and teamwork.
Make people care about the major tournaments
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— FUT Mentor (@FUTMentor) February 22, 2019
A major sign of an eSport’s legitimacy is the size of its audience, and the EA titles simply don’t have one unless they offer small in-game perks to those who tune-in. One problem behind getting viewers is that people who are interested in seeing a sport play out can watch the real-world sport. In other eSports, the top games on display don’t mirror anything that consumers could enjoy in the real-world, enabling the brand of entertainment to fill a niche.
In real-world traditional sports, people who are highly skilled compete for coveted trophies with their efforts being recognised and appreciated by viewers who then become fans. In the competitive play of EA Sports titles right now, the gamers control very little of the field and are competing for comparatively measly rewards.
In 2017, EA reported a massive $1.68 billion in digital content revenue, per Tweak Town – a great deal of which will be from people paying for packets in Ultimate Team – and yet all they’re willing to put up for their ‘big push’ into eSports is a $400,000 prize pool for their ‘prestigious’ FIFA eWorld Cup 2018 tournament when DOTA 2’s The International has surpassed $20 million in each of the last three tournaments.
If EA Sports wanted to become a legitimate name in eSports, they would switch the focus to a more skill-based format like Pro Clubs and offer a prize pool big enough to make people care about the result.