#1 – What was the biggest sports gaming story in 2017?
To me, the biggest sports gaming story was 2K’s Run The Neighborhood and how they set the precedent for a MyCareer mode that either requires you to pay for microtransactions or grind for many many hours in order to level up. If this is the future of sports gaming, count me out.
It’s hard not to mention the onslaught of story and career modes that came with 2017. It appears that sports games, rather than focusing on the modes that already exist, are becoming more feature rich. This, in large part, is probably in fear of being left behind. Unfortunately, the cinematic story modes haven’t found a way to seamlessly blend gameplay with narrative yet – leaving all of the story modes feeling a tad out of place.
The biggest sports gaming story was, in fact, not a sports gaming story. The dramatic overhaul of Star Wars: BattleFront II’s appalling microtransaction system was gigantic. Given sports gaming’s unequivocal shift prioritizing microtransaction-driven modes over the last few years, this tangentially-relevant story appeared to recognize players’ gripes and change a game accordingly. NBA 2K18 was particularly frustrating due to its own microtransaction woes, but the fact that this went to state lawmakers signaled a potentially dramatic shift in the ugly microtransaction world.
I think the biggest sports gaming story of 2017 was the re-emergence of NBA Live. Obviously it’s not perfect, but if they build on what works (The One), there could be real competition on the virtual hardwood again. Healthy competition will hopefully push everyone to innovate, and we as consumers will reap the rewards.
#2 – What was the most overlooked story of 2017?
The most overlooked was the just how, um, overlooked franchise modes have become within sports games thanks to the rise of card collecting and MyCareer modes. It would be great to see these make a comeback this year, but I remain skeptical that will be the story of 2018.
The most overlooked story of 2017 will almost assuredly prove to be the microtransaction fiasco taking place in FIFA’s latest entry. With questions over lootboxes and pay-to-win scenarios running wild, it’s hard to imagine a world where card collecting modes don’t get more negative attention. With the FIFA community growing weary of microtransactions, it’s difficult to understand why the game has continued to be held in such high regard.
In my opinion, the most overlooked story of 2017 was the lack of sports games on the Nintendo Switch. The red-hot console has otherwise completely dazzled the industry, but sports gamers were somewhat left in the dust. FIFA 18 left out a ton of features, the WWE 2K18 port was almost unplayable, and the NBA 2K18 port suffered from severe frame rate issues. Outside of the overhauled NBA Playgrounds, the excellent-but-different Golf Story, the fastest-selling console ever is severely lacking in sports offerings. However, the question is not whether or not the sports titles will arrive on the Switch. It is how well they will play on the console and whether or not they will be worth die-hard sports gamers’ time.
I’m going to play devils advocate and say the most overlooked story of 2017 is microtransactions. Yes, everyone complains about NBA 2K, FIFA, etc. And yes, everything surrounding Battlefront’s launch was appalling. I worry that by the next cycle of games, this all will have blown over and we’ll be right back where we started, if not worse. NBA 2K makes too much money from virtual currency to stop now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they hiked prices or figured out a way to entice more people to buy in when 2K19 launches. They are in the business of making money, after all. Then when it happens, a few loud voices will complain, but enough people will keep doing it that nothing will change. I hope I’m wrong though.
#3 – What will be the biggest story of 2018?
Instead, I think the story of 2018 will be 2K’s new league that is still in the process of getting started right now. So much is riding on whether the league is a success or failure, as the outcome will likely signal the next direction that sports games will take within the E-Sports realm.
The biggest story of 2018 will be the return of an old franchise. It seems too early for any kind of college title to make a comeback, but Microsoft is almost assuredly interested in crafting competition for MLB: The Show. Whether it be the return of MVP Baseball or a first-party baseball game, I think we’ll see one announced to showcase the Xbox One X. There are also rumblings of a return for NBA Jam, and with arcade sports games skyrocketing in popularity, it would be no surprise to see it announced as early as this year.
While eSports is an easy choice with the Overwatch League’s potential, I agree with Ben that there will be the revival of an older franchise. I wrote a couple of weeks ago about how reboots of Fight Night, NFL Street, and even WWF: No Mercy could rejuvenate a somewhat stale sim-only sports gaming landscape. Tim Kitzrow generated rumblings of a 25th anniversary release of NBA Jam as well, which would be a welcome addition to all consoles. Going off of my previous Nintendo Switch point as well, perhaps an arcade-style gameplay-first franchise revival would be prime for the hybrid console. A direct WWF: No Mercy port to the Switch? Sign me up.
And finally, I’m hopeful that the biggest story of 2018 will be NBA 2K’s eSports league becoming a huge success. I want to be able to tell my son that when he grows up, he can still be a professional basketball player despite the fact that he’s cursed by our family’s gene pool to be short, pudgy and un-coordinated. The sad thing, though, is that to get him to a level even to compete in Pro-Am, I’m gonna have to buy a ton of VC to level his MyPlayer up by Jan 2019, or whenever the next qualifying month is. But it will be money well spent if their league gains enough legitimacy that the mothers and teachers of the world respect “e-sports player” as highly as “doctor” or “lawyer” when it comes to a kid’s career aspirations. Here’s hoping…