State of Diamond Dynasty

The State of Diamond Dynasty: That's Baseball™

“When we have a few billion more swings…otherwise the hitting engine is functioning the way the gameplay team wants.”

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When 2021 became 2022, I found myself more excited than ever for the next edition of MLB The Show. That anticipation only grew as Shohei Ohtani was revealed as the cover athlete. Then the fabled Feature Premieres began and gave us a look at this year’s game. Every week — every day really — was building more and more anticipation leading up to launch. Now nearly two months after launch, I’m barely motivated to turn the game on and would like to talk about it. Welcome to the State of Diamond Dynasty in MLB The Show 22.

Before I get into the state of Diamond Dynasty in MLB The Show 22, I think it’s important to note that I’m speaking specifically about Diamond Dynasty and online gameplay. This article doesn’t reflect views on the offline experience outside of Diamond Dynasty.

New Year, New Game

mlb the show 22 covers

MLB The Show 22 had a lot of promise coming in. The advent of Co-Op, the restructuring of stale Inning Programs, and a plethora of new Legends. Helping its cause even more was the fact that MLB The Show 21 was a really fun game. MLB The Show 21 was the first time since getting into DD back in 2019 that I felt the game was fun to play online. Pinpoint was a huge addition last year and eliminated the floating meatball pitches that plagued MLB 19 and ’20. While hitting wasn’t perfect, I felt it was in a really good place by the middle of last summer, and I looked forward to playing nearly every day. In all the online games I played in The Show 21, I felt the better player won pretty much all the time. I didn’t feel that way in ’19 or ’20 and was elated that it felt more competitive.

I felt that SDS simply needed to bring that gameplay forward (besides perhaps the expanded range on your hitting cursor, which remains in ’22) with whatever bells and whistles they wanted to include. New additions like the PCI Anchor and Dynamic PCI certainly fit the bill. There’s always the hope that they rebuild the hitting engine or create something wildly different and better, but I truly felt they were in a great spot gameplay-wise last year and couldn’t wait to play this year.

From the start, some old shadows were creeping in. Within the first few Event games of the year, it was clear foul balls were a major issue. Beyond that, the general increase in poor contact hits seemed concerning. Pitching felt mostly the same, albeit a bit tougher, but nonetheless Pinpoint Pitching was still king. But I kept playing and grinding the new content and was happy to be playing the newest version. I was enjoying the change in content structure and didn’t mind the sweeping changes — I touched on this in my first Program Postmortem.

Headliners Set 17 All-Star Willie Mays

Really the only gripe I have with content is the recycled cards. As of this writing, one of the newest Headliners card is 1963 All-Star Willie Mays. While it’s awesome to have a 94 overall Willie Mays this early in the year, this is the exact same card featured in Team Affinity last year. In other words, this card was free just from grinding last year and is a featured pack-out card this year.

Maybe this seems like a pointless gripe, especially since Mays will undoubtedly get an endgame card at some point — all Legends typically do. That said, SDS really couldn’t find a different year to represent him? They could have even given him an Takashi Okazaki card with “made up” stats to keep his overall in line with the current meta, and it would have been fresh and new. Instead, a free card from last year takes up a Headliners slot and we’re supposed to be excited about it. This isn’t the first example of recycled cards and won’t be the last.

In some ways it might even be unavoidable over time. But if we remove the context of game cycles and look at real time, a free card from around 9 or 10 months ago is now a featured pack card. It just feels bad and feels incredibly lazy. But there’s plenty of new players that didn’t see this last year. For the rest of us it’s just recycled.

But I digress because at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what cards are in the game. Diamond Dynasty and head-to-head games are defined entirely by gameplay and that’s an area that I feel The Show 22 is majorly lacking.

The Honeymoon Is Over

Future of the Franchise Program - NL West Future Stars

As May drew to a close, nearly two full months of playing is more than enough time to see what the game really looks like. SDS likes to talk about their telemetry data and we as players have data of our own — the games we play. Our personal sample sizes are of course smaller data sets, but we have years of experience to compare this game to as well. Once that first month passed and the newness began to wear off, the honeymoon phase with The Show 22 ended quickly. It’s at the point now that I can’t even convince myself it’s worth the time to hop online. The consistency in the inconsistency of online play is maddening, and it truly shocks me how SDS can say they’re satisfied. While it’s good that they let things play out at the start of the year and didn’t overreact (many sports games are too quick to patch their games during the launch windows), it now feels like they’re not being reactive enough.

But SDS also has more priorities than ever before. The Show 22 launched on Switch this year off the back of a first-ever Xbox launch last year. With two new platforms and millions of new potential customers, SDS had a wide open field to bring in additional revenue. Between copies of the game and microtransactions, SDS has hit a window where they’re probably making more money than they ever have. Gone are the days where they had to cater to PlayStation players exclusively.

With these new consoles and a new generation of players learning the game, SDS is in a tough spot. They have to keep longtime veterans of the franchise happy while making the game accessible to new players. I know when I started playing online in The Show 19 I was absolutely terrible. I couldn’t recognize pitches to save my life and struggled to hit in most of the games I played. But I kept playing because I love baseball, and eventually with enough reps I started to learn Zone hitting and became a decent enough hitter to make Championship Series.

My Show skills have only grown over time and that’s where all these new players are. We’ve all been there. But SDS has to keep them engaged or they lose customers and potential revenue. And this is where I think SDS went too far in catering to new players with the gameplay tweaks. The foul balls mentioned earlier are atrocious. These crazy swings that extend at-bats are game ruining by themselves. Even if foul balls are a part of baseball, I’m not playing baseball when I play The Show, I’m playing a video game. And for all the talk about foul balls, there is a difference between fouling off a ball a couple inches outside the strike zone and fouling off a ball that’s an inch from bouncing off the dirt.

Beyond that, pitcher confidence already factors greatly into swing outcomes. As more and more pitches are fouled off, pitcher stamina decreases and the likelihood of a negative outcome for the pitcher increases. So when those poor swings turn from foul balls into bloop hits, that’s when pitcher confidence starts dropping and that’s when things go south in a hurry.

You can look at real-life Statcast data and see average exit velocities against pitchers. In other words, it shows if batters are making solid contact against them regularly. If you’re making great pitches and giving up hits on bad swings that barely leave the infield, it’s very easy to compose yourself knowing you made your pitch. Luck can happen both ways, and sure, pitchers giving up bloopers in real life can absolutely give up a nuke and be down three runs. But we have no control over confidence in The Show. Low exit-velo swings should increase pitcher confidence in the game, thus making it tougher for opposing batters to get on base with cheap hits. In my time with this game, it certainly doesn’t appear to work that way and would be a big step forward.

mlb the show 22 full minors

Then there’s the number of very late, very early swings on pitches far out of the zone that I’ve seen go for hits so far this year and it’s mind-numbing. There’s nothing fun about being subjected to a 10-pitch at-bat against someone who clearly can’t recognize pitches or make swing adjustments. Foul after foul after foul to the point that you aim a pitch in the opposite batter’s box that gets dumped into the opposite field for a hit. Whatever extension there’s been to PCI range, or under the hood changes to increase plate coverage, has resulted in some of the most unrealistic swings I’ve ever seen.

I can’t describe the feeling of watching this happen as anything other than absolute dejection. It feels like a chore. It feels like the game is basically giving the hitter a mulligan before pausing the game and putting the ball on a tee for them. And as the pitcher, we’re simply doing our part to help this player get on base. We’re just an actor in this grand baseball play performing our role.

I say all this knowing I’ve benefited from the same gripes. We all have. This game truly does feel like the “circle of life” at times. I have days where every ball I touch with my PCI is torched, finding gaps and blasting concourses beyond the outfield wall. Bad swings on amazing pitches dribble up the line and I can do no wrong. Then the very next day, every good swing feels like an out. Regardless, that’s not really the game I want to play.

I want my input to matter, good or bad, for both me and my opponent. I don’t want an RNG fiesta leaving me wondering how I blasted a HR without even getting my PCI on the ball, and on the very next swing make a perfect swing that is an out to 1B. No, this isn’t an argument for all perfect swings or all good swings to be hits, rather how can a terrible swing be a HR and then ideal swings be outs so consistently? The terrible swings are rewarded far too often in this game.

That’s Baseball™

mlb the show 22 patch 2

It’s become a meme within the community at this point. That’s baseball. Anytime someone posts a video of a ridiculously bad hit. That’s baseball. Anytime someone shares a screenshot of PCI contact after a game clearly displaying that bad swings were rewarded far too often. That’s baseball. It feels as though you have to be on one extreme or the other within this community: you either love the game or hate the game. There doesn’t appear to be any middle ground which contributes to the constant disagreement on gameplay.

SDS has stated several times that the PCI doesn’t represent the bat. It’s where the hitter is looking (we could have a whole article just talking about this, but we won’t for now). The PCI feedback has long been contested, and it’s been said that the feedback isn’t always accurate. I’m not sure which one is worse. The feedback needs to be accurate so players can make adjustments. If I get my PCI under the ball and I pop it up, then I know I dropped my PCI and can improve. That makes complete sense. If I’m under the ball and hit it 450 feet for a HR, neither of those things could possibly be true. If the PCI is the player’s eyes, how did he drive it out of the park while staring at the ground? If the feedback isn’t accurate, how is a low PCI a pop-up and a HR at the same time? That makes no sense.

Therein lies the problem. We’re told that gameplay is where SDS wants it, that the PCI feedback isn’t always accurate, and that the PCI doesn’t represent anything. Then those of us who want the game to be more competitive are told “that’s baseball” and that’s supposed to be the end of the story.

That’s not good enough.

Do you know the most frustrating part of this for me? I can watch a random MLB game and a lot of what I see is familiar. Bloop hits, tons of foul balls (albeit, not on balls eight feet out of the zone), pitchers making perfect pitches that are lined into gaps, and I see amazing hitters squaring the ball up and walking back to the dugout because those liners were caught. As I’m watching a real life game, I chuckle to myself because — that’s baseball.

But MLB The Show is a video game. There’s a difference. Video games require user input and skill to be great. Someone that excels with PCI placement and pitching IQ should dominate their opponent if they can’t keep up. The way The Show plays, it’s SDS doing their best to mimic real life Statcast data while ignoring the competitive nature of their own game. I’m fairly decent at the game but there’s players out there who will absolutely obliterate me. And if I match up against them, they should. I’ll give them the most competitive game I can and whatever happens, happens.

For SDS to have a “competitive” playstyle where “stick skills matter” that still results in this regular discourse says a lot. It says online gameplay leaves a lot to be desired for those of us who want a true competitive matchup. I find it hard sometimes to play online and not sit and wonder when the next fluke play will happen. That’s very much a “me” problem, but I’m playing with a competitive mindset. Should I just lose that mindset? Should I just go into games happy to be here and not care if I win or lose? I’m not built that way. And seeing SDS advertise all these competitive tournaments sends a confusing message. We know the game isn’t as comp as it could be, and we see the discrepancies in gameplay. But there’s tons of money and rewards on the line in tournaments throughout the year.

Bottom Line

Ultimately, I think the biggest piece missing from the Diamond Dynasty puzzle is a true competitive game mode. We can talk for days about gameplay in its current state, but SDS hasn’t changed it for a reason. Whatever internal metrics they look at clearly satisfy them, so they aren’t going to rock the boat. Everyone continues to play because they have no choice. That’s why I think SDS is missing out by not including a comp-specific mode or playlist for those of us who want input to truly matter. This is something I’ve felt for a long time and think if SDS added something like this and really fleshed it out, it could bring a level of balance to online play in Diamond Dynasty that just isn’t there.

But what are your thoughts on Diamond Dynasty so far this year? After two months, are you enjoying yourself or are you like me and struggling to motivate yourself to play? This is always a wide ranging topic, so I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts on gameplay and content and where you would like to see SDS go in the future.

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