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MLB The Show Needs a True Competitive Mode

mlb the show competitive mode

MLB The Show 22

MLB The Show Needs a True Competitive Mode

MLB The Show is the one true king of baseball video games. Not because it reigns above the competition but because it simply has no competition. For nearly a decade now, MLB The Show has been the only simulation baseball game on the market and there’s been no one to challenge SDS. Competition breeds innovation and without it, inevitably there is only stagnation.

MLB The Show Competitive Mode

State of Diamond Dynasty

That stagnation can be seen in various parts of the game (whether it be franchise mode or the pitcher-batter duel), but one that has come up a lot this year relates to online ranked games. The ultimate battleground in Diamond Dynasty is Ranked Seasons. Full 9-inning games featuring everything about baseball that we love. The cat and mouse game of picking up on your opponent’s pitching tendencies. The mental battle of picking apart your opponent’s hitting in an effort to slice and dice their entire lineup. Ranked Seasons is the ultimate test of not only your skill, but your patience and fortitude.

And Ranked Seasons is horribly flawed.

The One And Only

The fact that Ranked Seasons is really the only way to use your main squad is flaw number one. There’s no shortage of modes in DD, but every mode basically entices you by offering rewards to upgrade your “God Squad.” That God Squad looks great in the squad menu as a nice decoration, but unless you’re grinding Ranked Seasons, it really doesn’t get used online.

Year after year, I find myself lamenting the fact that I don’t use my God Squad enough. Ranked games are a real time investment. On average, these games can last at least 30 minutes and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The ultimate online mode should be time consuming because it’s a competitive environment.

But there’s no balance to Ranked Seasons.

Where Is My Mind?

Let’s start off with the fact that, no matter your true skill level, you’re forced to play on specific difficulty levels. That means that you can’t queue into a specific mode tuned for your ability and just have fun. It means that you have to slog through the divisions, not only potentially playing opponents that are far better than you but also playing on difficulties you have no interest in. All-Star difficulty soaks up the most space in Ranked and overall is probably the difficulty most people are comfortable on. Battle Royale is played exclusively on All-Star and most Events are as well. PCIs are generously sized and pitch speeds are toned down a fair amount. It’s widely seen as the “easiest” difficulty and also the one most plagued by RNG.

So why does SDS force everyone to play on it?

Whether you’re brand new to Ranked Seasons or a longtime veteran, you queue into Ranked and play your first game on Veteran difficulty. From there, you play a bunch of All-Star games until you reach a threshold that pushes you into Hall of Fame difficulty. What does that mean? It means that the timing you’ve established from all your All-Star games is thrown out the window. It means PCIs shrink, pitch speeds increase, and the game plays completely different. All that time invested in grinding through the divisions nets you a massive adjustment period. And the best part? If you lose, you can fall right back into All-Star difficulty and have to adjust again. You can conceivably alternate wins and losses and pinball between All-Star and Hall of Fame, never really getting your feet under you.

I’ve always considered this to be nonsensical. Why can’t the PCI shrink and that be the change? Why can’t PAR sizes increase while pitching, making it more difficult to paint corners? Those things happen: but pitch speeds change, too. All of these things together represent division hopping in Ranked Seasons. You spend all that time locking in and grinding only to have a 95 MPH fastball suddenly get faster just because. A Double-A pitcher throwing 95 still throws 95 if they reach Triple-A or MLB. Their pitches don’t randomly get faster so why does it happen here? MLB The Show likes to advertise itself as being hyper-realistic, yet examples like this are the complete opposite.

Factor all this in with connection induced latency and pitch speeds can end up all over the place. Part of the reason the most elite players are so good is they are able to seamlessly adjust to all the above. I’d wager most MLB The Show players are playing on televisions with sub-optimal response times, which is another huge variable in online difficulty. It took me two years of playing Diamond Dynasty to learn that playing on a good monitor is a huge advantage. Baseball is all about timing. Anything affecting your ability to be consistent with your timing is going to make the game more difficult. It seems clear SDS wants this variability in the game to act as a gatekeeping measure. The best players will adjust and climb the ranked divisions until they settle on Hall of Fame or Legend. Everyone else will just float around All-Star. But that leads me into the next issue with Ranked Seasons.

David vs. Goliath

Battle Royale Season 4 - Prime George Springer

There’s no true matchmaking. Each player has a rating level that’s influenced by wins and losses and the rating of your opponent. Win or lose against someone rated higher than you, and you gain more points. Win or lose against someone rated lower, and you lose more points. It’s straight forward until you realize that hardcore, elite players can be matched up against novices simply because they have the same rating. A very skilled player that doesn’t start playing Ranked until July will match up with someone that’s just dipping their toes in the water. That elite player can mercy rule the lesser skilled opponent on their way to the upper levels and completely wreck the experience for that player.

Everyone should hate this. If someone’s skill cap is All-Star difficulty, forcing them to get punched in the face by a Hall of Fame/Legend player is a waste of everyone’s time. It significantly reduces the fun factor and also makes it more likely that the losing player will quit the game. Quitting in Ranked has been a huge problem as it pertains to the innings rewards. Inning rewards are essentially bonus rewards for people that play Ranked based off the innings they play. So again, skilled players can double dip rewards by not only reaching World Series but by playing a bunch of innings. It’s a huge incentive for everyone to play Ranked and play full games. But if someone is getting battered by a skilled opponent and quitting because it isn’t fun, it’s cutting that reward out of the equation and making that grind worse for everyone.

This happens because we can’t choose a difficulty to play on and play against people that are truly a similar skill as ours.

Legen…Wait For It…

On the topic of difficulty, let’s discuss the fact that many World Series players stop playing Ranked once they hit World Series. Why? Because they have no interest in playing on Legend. Legend is the hardest difficulty in MLB The Show where pitch speeds are blazing fast and PCIs are minuscule. Even the best players in the world find it to be abysmal at times and that’s the worst kind of advertising for the ultimate competitive mode in the game. I’ve even read anecdotes from people who make World Series, then quit out of a bunch of games in a row to drop back to the 400s and play on All-Star again. That’s because they prefer All-Star and just want to play on the difficulty they enjoy the most. It’s another example of SDS forcing people to play the game the way SDS wants us to play. Instead of offering a separate playlist where hardcore players can truly test their skills, they lump everyone together in Ranked, which results in a disjointed, unbalanced mess that’s more chore than joy for many.

So, how we do fix it?

Competitive Ranked Seasons

Ranked Seasons 4 - World Series Rewards

Let me introduce you to Competitive Ranked Seasons. A true comp mode for the very best or for those who want to challenge themselves. Competitive Ranked isn’t necessarily a drastic departure from what we’re used to. It’s a more streamlined and tuned mode turned up to 11.

The Divisions

diamond dynasty prestige

To truly separate Comp from what I’ll now call Standard Seasons, we get a whole new group of divisions:

  • Bronze: 0-200
  • Silver: 200-400
  • Gold: 400-600
  • Diamond: 600-900
  • Blood Diamond: 900+

If those look familiar, it’s because they’re named after the various card shields in the game. My personal favorite is Blood Diamond, named after the Prestige Diamonds from MLB The Show 20. Those disappeared with the advent of the superior parallel system but make a return here in name alone. And here, Blood Diamond represents the absolute best of the best that Diamond Dynasty has to offer. Traditionally, we view the Top 50 players and their World Series rings as the best, but Blood Diamond nameplates and icons can only be earned by the elite.

The Rules

mlb the show 22 patch 3

To make this mode truly competitive, we’re bringing more structure to the format. For starters, there’s no fluctuating pitch speeds between divisions. Competitive Ranked features its own pitch speed that is somewhere between Hall of Fame and Legend difficulty. There’s no true way to quantify this in writing, but settling between those two speeds sounds like a great spot. With many disliking Legend, finding middle ground between these two difficulties should add some regulated balance to the mode. There’s also no change in PCI or PAR size outside of the effect that card attributes have. Simply put, we’re adding much needed consistency to Competitive Ranked that allows players to truly lock in develop a rhythm with the game. Baseball is all about timing and rhythm, and MLB The Show constantly messing with those two things is lazy and awkward. We already know latency will create variables on its own. We don’t need it from the game settings as well.

No friendly quits. Friendly? There’s no friendlies in Comp Ranked. No more FQ’ing against someone you know or avoiding mirror matches. This is the real deal and you play every game like it’s your last. No more offering friendlies because you don’t like how your lineup matches up against the opposing SP. You play the game to win the game. (This might not be ideal if the connection is simply unstable, but let’s assume that’s not an issue here.)

Xbox Pinpoint Pitching Bug

Universal pitch speed, PAR size, and PCI size. This adds even more emphasis to the cards that players utilize and creates the potential for more strategy. It makes control pitchers like Greg Maddux and Roy Halladay considerably more viable. Those cards end up getting blasted on All-Star due to slower pitch speeds/less break and massive PCI sizes. Creating a stable playground here lets these players shine and should create a more unique meta. The same applies to hitters. High contact cards could provide more consistency at the plate, but high power guys present higher risk/higher reward and can bring different styles to Comp Ranked.

It’s also time to make the designated hitter a thing in this mode. There’s still a belief among many that pitchers hitting in DD creates strategy. And it’s not strategy in the way of bunting runners over — because bunting is absolutely broken in this game — but strategy in the sense that there’s weight on the decision to let a pitcher hit and pitch the next inning or maximize run scoring opportunities. I get it. But I also disagree with it.

The universal DH is now a part of baseball so it shouldn’t even be debated as an addition to MLB The Show. But its applicability in Comp Ranked is straight forward: one more elite hitter to get out. You want to discus strategy? How do you attack an extra hitter in the opposing lineup? An extra hitter means extra balance in lineup construction, which is an added element of strategy on its own. Do you run your starter another batter deep or do you bring in a reliever earlier than normal? Do you get greedy and go for the handedness advantage knowing your opponent can platoon the DH? There’s arguably more strategy in this branching tree of decisions than simply letting a pitcher with zero hitting stats stand in the box until you get two strikes before contact swinging.

MLB The Show Competitive Mode

Position player stamina. Let’s keep talking strategy. What does your bench look like? I’d wager you have two slugging righties, two slugging lefties, and someone with 99 speed as a pinch runner. The tried and true bench formula in Diamond Dynasty. There’s really nothing in the way of strategy or decision making to fill your bench. You just pick the four best hitters you have access to and the fastest guy with the best stealing attribute you can find.

But what if your position players had depleting stamina just like pitchers? That durability attribute on every card that means absolutely nothing suddenly means a lot. Depleting stamina means depleting attributes. Again, this is something that is too involved to try and quantify here in writing, but what if position players got a -1 across the board until you sat them for a game? Once rested, their attributes reset to max. Or maybe there’s an algorithm that can be created to really calculate this in an efficient way. Either way, the idea is that the bench now becomes an integral part of your team.

It’s really easy to load up defenseless sluggers to pinch hit, but now you have load management to consider. Utility players become way more valuable. Defensive replacements become even more important. Have a bronze fielder you keep tossing into RF that’s played 10 straight games and now has a fat 50 fielding rating with -10 speed? Good luck chasing down gap shots. Maybe you should spot start that diamond fielder stashed on your bench and slot them in the 9 hole and take whatever offense you can get while they chase balls down all game. Hey, that’s baseball! On top of all this, it allows us to use players a bit more than we usually might, which might be what excites me the most about it. I don’t want to start Gary Sheffield and his subpar fielding in my outfield every game, but I’d love to spot start him for a game in a meaningful way. If you’re not a fan because you want to use players every single game, I get it. But this is Competitive Ranked. Every game is going to play like your World Series play-in game and every decision should feel important.

This would also create some epic new variety in cards. Someone like Chipper Jones, who battled some injury-plagued seasons, can have massively varied cards to choose from. His 1999 MVP season (the Live Series collection reward from ’21) saw him play 157 games. But then his 2008 season where he won the batting title he only played 128 games. In other words, he barely qualified for the batting title and this card would have considerably lower durability. We could get some pretty amazing splits out of this change, and it would add strategy to which version of a card you might choose.

The Rewards

Ranked Seasons 3 - Pennant Race

No online mode is complete without rewards. And Competitive Ranked has its own reward structure. Each division structure pays out stubs and XP. Bronze can pay out some standard Show pack 5-Bundles while Silver delivers the goods with Ballin’ Out of Control packs. As we get into Gold and above, SDS can add in some Premium Pack choice packs. A mouthful, but each upper-tier division will net a player a choice of any of the premium packs. The odds of said packs can remain as they are now, but simply allowing players the chance to choose which premium pack they earn is a fun and new reward. As the year goes on and more of these packs release, SDS has even more variety to add in to freshen up rewards.

But this mode being a beast like we’ve never seen means we need some hefty rewards for Diamond and Blood Diamond. We’ll give out those Premium Pack choice packs to Gold, and this is where we’ll add in the Comp Ranked Reward Pack. This is effectively the “World Series” pack of Comp where new rewards will be rotated monthly. And ideally, these cards should be a step above World Series cards that will still exist in Standard Seasons. I’m talking 99 overall cards where Standard is seeing lower versions type of step above.

Diamond players will get things really spiced up. Let’s add in two free Battle Royale entry vouchers. It’s only a 3,000 stub value but we’re trying something different here. We’ll also add in an Event Rewind pack. If you’re playing Comp Ranked religiously because it’s so cool and innovative, you probably have less time for Events. That’s what the two free BR vouchers are for (to encourage a breather and something different), and the Event Rewind pack is a juicy bonus for cards you might have missed. I didn’t mention it previously, but each Comp tier should also get exclusive nameplates and icons that the SDS art team really goes to town on. One of the best parts of Diamond Dynasty is the incredible art that gets put out. I would love to see nameplates and icons turned up a notch, including animations to really decorate the competitive players in the community.

prestige pudge rodriguez

And last but not least, the Blood Diamond tier. The absolute best Diamond Dynasty has to offer. Not that showing off a Top 50 nameplate isn’t special, but queuing into a game against a Blood Diamond player should feel like staring into the eyes of a storm.

That’s a tad dramatic but I like cool stuff and Blood Diamond nameplates sound epic.

Anyway, entering Blood Diamond nets you all of the above as well as a World Series (Standard Seasons) choice pack, five total Battle Royale entry vouchers, a Chase Pack choice pack (choose from all available sets), and a Rewind Bosses pack where you can choose any boss from previous featured programs. Your total loot would be: countless Stubs and XP, five-pack Show pack bundle, 2x Ballin’ Out of Control packs, 3x Premium Pack choice pack, Standard Seasons World Series Reward choice pack, Competitive Ranked Reward choice pack, Chase pack choice pack, Event Rewind pack, and Rewind Bosses pack. If you’re truly one of the best players in the world, you should be showered in rewards as well as accolades. Ultimate dedication to Comp Ranked would not only pay out epic rewards in terms of the cards you can earn and lock in for collections, but you could flip all these cards for stubs to build your team how you see fit. This mode is constructed to be the ultimate gauntlet, and you will be rewarded for your perseverance.

Gameplay Balance

mlb the show 22 realistic sliders

I saved this for last, but SDS would absolutely need to tune Comp Ranked for user input to matter more. I get why Ranked Seasons is so random and RNG-infested. I think we all do. They need to keep the entire player base engaged and it’s all about engagement. I really do understand this. But that’s why we so desperately need a true competitive mode in Diamond Dynasty. I’m not asking SDS to take away Ranked from players who like the mode as is. In fact, with the addition of Competitive Ranked, SDS can eliminate Legend difficulty in online play and cap Ranked Seasons at Hall of Fame. They can scale rewards however they want, but this would streamline that mode as well. But the gameplay needs to change in Comp Ranked. It needs to be more skill-based. I don’t know the best way to go about this because I’m not on the dev team. Would eliminating the outer-PCI be an easy solution? How about reducing the range that people can make contact? I don’t want to see people looping singles as they swing at pitches in the opposing batter’s box in Comp Ranked.

Especially with all the rewards I proposed, Comp Ranked needs to be challenging. But it doesn’t need to be random nor unbearably punishing.

esports And Beyond

SDS has been pushing MLB The Show into the esports realm more and more over the last couple of years. It’s been a rough go of things, but the introduction of Battlefy seems to have smoothed over some edges. Ultimately, if SDS truly tailored a Comp mode like I outlined, they should be able to code this into the game as a selectable difficulty that could be used in the tournaments that get run. Ideally, SDS can just introduce a real tournament menu function in their game so they don’t have to rely on third-parties to run massive tournaments. But this becoming the default esports difficulty would create a streamlined environment.

Aside from esports, a lot of the highly skilled players who play in those tournaments are also content creators. They stream and create YouTube content for the masses, and I personally think a mode like this would be overwhelmingly engaging. With the way MLB The Show 22 plays, I often find myself rolling my eyes at outcomes in games that I’m not even playing. Watching elite players find themselves subjected to the same stuff I see is relatable, but it’s also disappointing and frustrating. Much like I watch MLB games to see the very best in the world ply their trade, I watch content creators for the same reason. And if I’m watching someone who wants to play this game on a competitive level, I want the environment to be able to handle that. I don’t want to watch an elite player be blooped to death because the RNG wheel wasn’t in their favor. I want to watch two elite players play on dedicated settings in a stable environment and watch sparks fly as they compete.

Bottom Line

If you made it this far, then you’re probably as invested in MLB The Show as me. I fall in and out of love with this game every day and can never really seem to decide how I feel. Part of the reason is because the freedom of choice is taken out of my hands when it comes to playing competitively. I have actually stopped trying to play the game seriously and that saddens me because I’m a competitive person. I’m not a top player and would probably never find myself in that Blood Diamond tier. However, you can bet that I’d be playing Competitive Ranked exclusively and building my skills as best as I could by learning from mistakes, making adjustments on the fly, and truly playing this game competitively like I want.

Because that my friends, that’s baseball™.

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  1. I like your suggestions for Ranked Seasons but what I really would like to see is Connected Franchise Modes like we see in Madden and NBA2k. Baseball is the best sport for such an endeavor but we are denied this feature because it seems the developers would rather drive interest in DD and people spending money.
    Personally, I will not purchase MLB again until this feature is added.

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