Ten years ago, EA unwisely attempted to reboot its NBA Live basketball franchise, which was then coming off one of its most successful entries to date. The result was NBA Elite, an entry so bad that it effectively killed the franchise while wholly ceding the video game basketball market to NBA 2K.
At the time, NBA 2K was a critically acclaimed basketball sim — NBA 2K11 is often called one of the finest sports games ever made — but it didn’t take long for the lack of competition to have an effect on the franchise. These days, NBA 2K22’s positives are buried beneath an avalanche of product placements and microtransactions. With no competition, 2K has little incentive to change its ways, even as fans take to sites like Metacritic to voice their displeasure.
Enter Konami’s eFootball 2022, the latest attempt to reboot Pro Evolution Soccer, née Winning Eleven, this time as a free-to-play soccer sim. The results, to put it mildly, have not been good. With its strange glitches, poor character models, and zombie-like crowds, Konami eFootball 2022 is effectively a pre-alpha release masquerading as a finished product. Adding insult to injury is that last year’s release was treated as a placeholder game, with fans asked to sit tight for an even better release down the road. The backlash has been intense — Konami eFootball 2021 is one of the worst-reviewed Steam games of all time.
But while it’s easy to laugh at Konami eFootball’s horrifying versions of Messi and Ronaldo, it’s also hard not to feel sad. Barring a monumental comeback on the level of No Man’s Sky, or Barcelona against PSG, Konami’s soccer franchise is more or less dead on arrival. This gives FIFA a clear field, depriving it of even the semblance of competition.
“Final nail in the coffin for PES, a sad day for us all since now EA genuinely has zero competition with FIFA and it’s [sic] Ultimate Team [b*llshit],” a Reddit commenter wrote on the day that Konami eFootball was released.
Another wrote, “Yeah this is [f*cking] gutting, PES was back to being a legitimate competitor to FIFA and I had high hopes this next version was going to be the crossover once more to PES being the better game… and then I heard about the free-to-play cross platform with phones thing, and it’s as bad as I’d feared…”
To be fair, PES was poor competition even before the Konami eFootball debacle. The last truly great PES game was arguably 2006’s Pro Evolution Soccer 6, which saw release a few years before FIFA introduced Ultimate Team and became the juggernaut that it is today. Since then, PES and FIFA have largely gone in opposite directions, with FIFA becoming a true global mega franchise while PES has regressed into more of a regional competitor. In a separate thread, one Reddit commenter opined that FIFA’s real competitor is Fortnite.
“FUT shot FIFA into a new market and it now competes with other major entertainment IPs built around sustained services. I’m sure the dev team still keeps an eye on PES for ideas and inspiration but EA couldn’t care less now about what PES does, aside from annoyingly grabbing a license here or there,” they wrote.
Still, PES has had its moments. In recent years, PES has enjoyed a mini-renaissance, buoyed by arguably superior gameplay and the wider backlash against FIFA Ultimate Team. Its lack of licenses was offset by a robust user community that made it easy to download kits and logos that would replace the generic placeholders within the game. It was hardly enough to overtake FIFA, which raked in somewhere in the neighborhood of a billion dollars last year, but for those tired of EA’s sweaty pace and loot box mechanics, it wasn’t a bad alternative.
With Konami eFootball 2022, though, it appears that Konami has squandered all of its hard-won momentum, as what might have been a big release has instead devolved into scores of derisive memes. Even if it doesn’t end up being a death knell for the series, it’s certainly a missed opportunity to generate some much-needed excitement.
⬅️ Tinder Profil Photo
➡️ First Date pic.twitter.com/gDM7tm1xts
— Monster Flair (@MonsterFlair) September 30, 2021
eFootball 2022 Zombie Edition. pic.twitter.com/La4uXOn0e0
— ASATOR (@asatorfury) September 30, 2021
In the short-term, at least, this means that virtually none of the major sports sims have any competitor of note. MLB: The Show, NBA 2K, Madden, NHL, and FIFA all dominate their respective sports — a far cry from the days when the sports market was filled with robust competitors like NFL 2K and MVP Baseball. Classic arcade sports games like NBA Jam and NFL Blitz are long gone, effectively replaced by microtransaction-driven mobile sports titles. It’s a grim landscape if you’re a sports fan; a wasteland of incremental updates, glitchy gameplay, and heavily-monetized game modes. The tragedy of Konami eFootball isn’t necessarily that it had a chance to supplant FIFA but failed; it’s that it’s so emblematic of the state of sports games in general.
With no alternatives in the sports game space to push it in a positive direction, FIFA is apt to continue as it has over the past generation, happy to put out updates with little overt pressure to genuinely improve. It need only focus on maximizing revenue, which it can accomplish by squeezing FIFA Ultimate Team players even more, aware that they have nowhere else to go for their soccer fix. In such an environment, the only real alternative is Football Manager.
Some fans remain hopeful that Konami can turn things around, putting out suggested lists of fixes and other constructive feedback. Konami has apologized for the state of eFootball at launch and promised fixes.
— eFootball (@play_eFootball) October 1, 2021
If it can at least achieve parity with the earlier games, eFootball’s status as a free-to-play soccer sim might be enough to garner it a real audience and start pushing FIFA. But for now, EA’s soccer juggernaut has no competition, and that’s bad for everyone but EA.
Kat Bailey is a Senior News Editor at IGN.