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Worst Sports Game Trend in 2020: AI Somehow Got Dumber

worst sports game trend

game of the year 2020

Worst Sports Game Trend in 2020: AI Somehow Got Dumber

Well, this ended up being one of the few split decisions from this year’s voting. The community went one way with the Worst Sports Game Trend in 2020, and the staff went another way. Since our staff voting still determines who “officially” gets the award, that means our voting wins out in the headline, but we’ll get to the community as well here. That being said, the Worst Sports Game Trend in 2020 was the AI somehow getting dumber — even as we went to next-gen consoles.

Now, we’re not sure if this trend is a continuation of developers maybe wanting you to focus more on “usering” or if it’s because the focus on online modes has maybe lead to developers focusing less on AI enhancements. Either way, it’s weird that somehow the AI got worse in some respects as we jumped to next-gen consoles. For example, the recent Madden patch had a lot of focus on next-gen pass coverage because the AI in the secondary was so bad at launch. This was even more noticeable because “usering” was nerfed somewhat due to how the new movement system works on those consoles. Again, we like that the movement was changed in a general sense, but if the AI does not come along with that more “realistic” movement, then you can’t cover up all of the AI’s flaws in the secondary by “usering” and pulling off unrealistic movement to cover two or three routes on one play.


In NBA 2K21 on next-gen consoles, the pick and roll defense is horrible. Again, part of this has to do with movement and the AI defenders no longer being mind readers (which are good things!) but now they’re just sort of out of position or too slow to help in most regards, which leads to people being able to run pick and roll all game and succeed against the AI on any difficulty level. Help defense overall is in rough shape on NBA 2K21 next gen, and it’s just a weird feeling to see the most common parts of two games (passing defense in Madden and pick-and-roll defense in NBA 2K) feel so far behind.

It’s not like we’re breaking down how the AI Sixers are not running a proper number of post-ups for Joel Embiid, or discussing how Aaron Rodgers does not test the secondary enough down the field. We’re not going into the nitty gritty of NFL playcalling here or discussing how 2K defenders are closing out too hard on non-shooters rather than rotating to a deadly corner shooter. No, we’re talking about aspects that should be top-tier AI focuses out of the box because you know people are going to run tons of pick and rolls in an NBA basketball game, and they’re going to throw tons of passes in an NFL game.

I think if these sorts of issues had not popped up in these next-gen games then the staff would have aligned with how the community voted, but it just felt like such a stark contrast not getting a clear step up in AI that it’s concerning for the future. (2K did make some AI improvements in terms of floor spacing and some other components, but if you want to read more positive thoughts on the game, you know where to find them.)


Now, as for that community vote…

Community Vote – Worst Sports Game Trend In 2020

  1. Community feedback going unheard (38 percent)
  2. Shoddy game launches (21 percent)
  3. AI teammates getting dumber (20 percent)

Yes, “community feedback going unheard” ended up winning the community “award” here. We left “community feedback going unheard” as a bit ambiguous by design when making it a choice because being “unheard” can take multiple forms for people. It could be that the community does not know where to give their feedback/complaints, or know where to go to hear updates from these studios. This could also mean the community does not think the right game design choices are being made, and thus the final product is not focused on the things they think make sense. Point being, the community feels like their voice is not being heard.

Personally, I don’t feel this is the worst trend, but I can also admit I might be too close to the source. Not everyone is as tuned in as me, plus not everyone can reach out to public relations folks and community managers like me to try and get some answers to questions — so I get that.

When it coms to shoddy game launches, this one is also another I’m maybe just numb to in some respects. I just expect major launch-day patches and for certain things to be a little broken at launch most of the time. Nevertheless, I did think NBA 2K21‘s launches were humorous in that regard in 2020. The current-gen launch for NBA 2K21 was one of the smoothest in years, and it had some of us thinking 2K had maybe figured this whole “launch” thing out. But then NBA 2K21 next gen came out and it was a huge mess in terms of having bugs and lag — and that was with only like 12 people in the whole world who were even able to find a PS5 or Xbox Series X at launch.

Not every sports game launch is a hot mess either, but I understand the bad ones really stand out, and so I get why this still received plenty of votes.

Regardless of where you land when it comes to this “worst trend” topic, we can all agree there was still plenty to be chapped about with sports games in 2020. Still, I don’t feel as down overall as I was last year. Now, that could be a matter of perspective as there was a lot of crappy stuff that happened in 2020 that goes beyond sports games, and thus sports games were sort of my happy place even as the chaos unfolded around me. But I do also think if you compare where sports games are at the start of 2021 to 2020, sports games are in a better place overall as we start rolling here.


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  1. I can chime in on community feedback not getting heard - in relation to PGA Tour 2K21.
    There is an ongoing, well-documented issue with career mode scoring. AI players have their scores change between rounds, and sometimes, the winner of an event (shown in the immediate post-round leaderboard) isn't the same one shown once the game takes you back to the career mode menu.
    I submitted a ticket to 2K Support about this, and they simply asked me to reinstall the game, clear the cache, etc. Nothing works doing that - this is an issue with either the game's code or something on the 2K servers, since career mode requires you to be connected to them to even enter the mode.
    The game has been out since August, and multiple people on various forums have called out this problem, but nothing has been done about it. Instead, the 2K21/HB Studios teams have moved on to the "Clubhouse Pass" phase, asking people for more money for things like gold MyPlayer clothing and a flamingo-shaped putter.
    Ai is my biggest gripe with the NHL series and it's for these same reasons you mentioned in Madden and 2k. Routine plays like "cover the slot as a weakside defender" are something the AI fails to do even routinely, even play playing itself! "help" defense in hockey if you will, is something EA has never been able to do correctly. You can actually see their "help" defense result in the AI double-covering areas you already have covered because you're not in the 100% perfect spot according to the AI, so that leads to the AI "deciding" that leaving their man wide-open which effectively destroys any advantage you may have earned via your own position, is the smart thing to do because they're "helping". Meanwhile, if the user does get beat at the point, your AI teammates will all stand still and watch the opponent walk-in and take whatever shot they want with the abundance of time they have. The AI helps when they shouldn't, stands still when they shouldn't. It's a mess, and it's why NHL Hitz Pro still has the most accurate and realistic in-zone play of any hockey game to date, and it's really not even close.

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