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How I Learnt To Accept Sports-Based Video Games

I’m of the opinion that there’s no need for video games that simulate sports.

The very idea of them is pointless.  I mean, why play a football video game when you can go outside and play the game for real?

Sport is an activity, gaming is an activity, but that’s no excuse to combine them. Sport takes place outdoors, gaming indoors. They are opposites.

Kicking a ball is fine. Pressing buttons to kick a ball is dumb.

So when my friend and podcaster Bret ‘The Red Bobcat’ Canny of podcast Bros and Cons, suggested a FIFA tournament with a fantasy football competition, I wasn’t exactly bowled over by the idea given how I feel about sports games, namely how pointless they are.

I met his suggestion with mild indifference and apathy but decided to partake and give him £2 anyway (there was a small amount of money at stake but ultimately I am VERY competitive and wanted the honour of winning!).

Little did I know that Bret literally meant “fantasy” football as in a tournament full of fictional characters from all of my favourite geek-verses!

The chance to create a dream team of Marvel, DC, video game, 80s cartoon and Firefly characters was exactly what I needed to get excited and invested in the game.

Incidentally, this isn’t my team… I lack the photoshop/MS Paint skills of my fellow managers

After bidding for my team (Hulk, Aeryn Sun, Skeletor, Ryu, Roberto, Luke Cage, Wonder Woman, Mal Reynolds, Bender, Iron Man, Gambit, Captain Hammer, Bobby Singer, Tail, Marcus Fenix, Zoe Washburne, Mojo Jojo, Dexter and Buttercup) I began allocating positions and determining my style of play.

I knew very little about football but made big decisions like putting Hulk in goal because in a real life situation, I figured he’d be a great goalkeeper (I was worried that if I put him in defence he’d get too many red cards for playing rough). I was also slightly anxious because I had both Captain Hammer and Mal Reynolds on my team… I never had them playing a match at the same time, you know…in case the world imploded. I wanted Link on my team but was out bid dramatically. Next season, Link…next season!

I interviewed Bret about his project because I thought it might inspire some non-sports game playing gamers. I mean if it worked for me than who knows? Though I’d like to see him try and get me excited about golf, I have trouble accepting it as a sport, let alone as the subject of a video game!

The teams – minus one who submitted too late!

Anyway, I digress, so here it is. I hope you enjoy it and if you like Bret’s ramblings then be sure to check out his podcast with Tim Maytom, Bros and Cons (you can also find them on twitter @BrosandConsTwit)

Emma-Jane (EJ): What gave you the idea to organise a FIFA based fantasy football game?

Bret (B): I’ve been gaming ever since I was a little child. We weren’t the richest of families and so even though I owned my own console we rarely bought any games. Instead many hours of my youth were spent in a tiny, family owned rental shop, browsing the catalogue of Sega games with my dad. We had a rule, never rent the same game twice. This meant that even though I would naturally gravitate toward the fantasy and RPG titles I was still exposed to a huge variety of games and genres. This is where I first discovered my unexpected love of sports titles. I think it was something about being able to create my own player and have them compete in tournaments that really captured my imagination. I remember making my entire class of school mates in one of the earlier FIFA titles from the 90’s, and then moving onto fictional characters like the Incredible Hulk in the N64 WWE game.

I was reminded of all this last year when I discovered a show called “The League” on Netflix. A comedy about a group of friends entering into a fantasy football league for American football and the adventures they get into whilst trying to get one over on each other to ensure they have the best team available. The thought of having a friendly competition seemed like a great idea. The only problem was that I really didn’t care for most current sports. That’s when I remembered the hours I’d poured into create-a-character sports games. Making fictional teams or teams comprised of my friends was something I’d done before, all I’d need to do was create enough of them for me and all my friends, set up a fictional tournament, have the computer control both sides in a match and we were golden!

EJ: I loved the fact the nature of the matches didn’t just boil down to which player had the most skill or who had played the game the most which brings me to my next question. Which FIFA game did you use and why?

B: I have the fondest memories of FIFA 2000. You could fully edit all the team and character information, change the kit and colour, names of players, shirt numbers, positions on the pitch and even what they looked like. I was hooked. I soon had several teams made up of my favourite super heroes, mythical creatures and friends and family playing against England in the world cup. I think it helped that the game had a lot of fun features, like being able to send UFO’s onto the pitch to abduct players at random.

Since the 2000’s I’ve bought newer versions of FIFA and none have been quite the same. Yes, the graphic have improved (incredibly so) and the players can do more than just run and kick but as the game has got more complex and serious (no more UFO’s), the options to edit a team have lessened.

So, when it came to creating a “Fantasy” Football league made up of fictional characters I decided to revert to FIFA 2000 (which amazingly runs on Windows 7). In FIFA 2012 there are hundreds of options to each character as to exactly how fast they run, which foot they prefer to kick with, how confident they are, even how likely they are to get into a fight with an Referee or Official. In FIFA 2000 the characters are based on a 9 basic stats like Speed, Accuracy, Fitness and Combat Skill, making it much quicker to finish editing and customisation

A quick sketch by one of the team managers

EJ: Was there anyone taking part (excluding myself) who is not usually a fan of football and/or sports based video games?

B: Quite honestly I think everyone. Obviously some people have the odd interest in sports but I really couldn’t describe the people that joined my league as hardcore sports fans. I think most people just wanted to see what would happen when The Scarlet Witch clashed with Dumbledore on the pitch (which actually happened at one point. It was a clean tackle by the Witch, but Dumbledore was injured for the rest of the season. That’s like him though, willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good. “No More Hogwarts!” I guess). The biggest shame was that I couldn’t get more people interested. A lot of my friends couldn’t get over the idea of it being a football game. Regardless of my pleas that the football aspect would be the smallest part, they still refused to play. Luckily, the 10 people that did play thoroughly enjoyed it and I believe agree with me that the league was more about creating a team of your favourite characters and pitting them against your friends rather than sport.

Doomstadt Athletic

EJ: How did you get the inspiration for all of the characters and how long did it take you to prep and stat them?

B: Well I’m a geek (you’d have to be right?) so inspiration wasn’t hard to come by. I just took characters from all the things that I love, from the A-team, James Bond, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Avengers and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to the Powerpuff Girls, Disney Princesses, Pokémon and My Little Pony. I had 358 fully stated characters from over 70 different film, tv, game and book universes ready to be picked by my players and put into teams. As my centre forward, Starbuck would say it was Frakking awesome.

As for how long all this took, I’m ashamed to say about 3 months worth of my spare time. Sometimes up to 12 hours a day. I feel the need at this time to point out that I do live a very full life with friends, fun and going out into the sunshine and everything! We then proceeded to play 5 matches a week for 9 weeks so it was worth it. I posted the results on the League Facebook page and loaded some of the videos onto YouTube. Search for “Cookiecup League Fantasy Football” if you’re interested. My team was the Devil’s Hatricks in black and pink. COME ON YOU DEVIL’S!

Bret’s team, The Devil’s Hatricks

EJ: Will there be another season? And if so, can I bribe you to fix it so that I win Link this time?! If you do another season is there anything you’d do differently?

B: Yes, there will be another season. It would be a crime to put so much time into something only to do it once. Especially as the 10 players I had last time raved so much about it that I think it’ll be much easier getting more people involved. Also, I awarded the people that came top and bottom of the league with a trophy each that I’m hoping to pass on to the next winner for their glory or shame. The only thing that I would do differently is how the teams are chosen. Last time I held an auction for the characters where each player could bid against each other with fictional money to claim a character for their team. As fun as that was it took far too long, and so next time I’ll be holding a draw where players take it in turn to pick a character until they have a full 11, plus substitutions. This means that if you want Link on you’re team you better make him your first choice and hope that no one before you in the draw chooses him first. As to the order the players will draw their teams, well I’m leaving that up to the winner of last years game.

EJ: I WILL have Link damn it! I will find a way. I have one final question for you.

What advice can you give people who flat out refuse to play sports games?

B: I’ve realised that most sports games are just RPGs, aimed at a different audience yes, but functionally the same. Pro wrestlers have stats for Strengths and Dexterity, footballers can be ranked by skill and racing games are filled with facts and figures to increase performance. I think you just need to find something about them that sparks your interest. Everyone who plays a game plays it for different reasons. Some like to be told a story, some like to blow things up and some achievement hunt and so when a gamer comes to a game for the first time they search for a way that they want to play it, or a goal they want to set. Sports games are no different. Some people may be put off by the fact they don’t know what Offside means, or any of the rules for that matter, but I didn’t know how to enchant my Sword in Skyrim before I started either.

EJ: Thanks Bret! See you next season!

Massive props to Bret because the level of detail in this tournament was astonishing! He even created a rule book explaining everything from how to change our tactics for each game to kit design. We all had an imaginary budget to buy characters and there was lots of rivalry and friendly competition throughout the tournament.

The level of interaction from each manager was wonderfully varied too, some decided to change tactics each match (like me!) while others let it automate, in fact one team was made up entirely of drones because the manager had missed the deadline to buy players!

I hope I’ve inspired you sports game haters to give them a try or maybe create your own tournament. Until next time, here’s one of the matches between my team (The Daft Punks) and Bret’s (The Devil’s Hatricks):

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