Fresh Look Gets a Kick Out of Sports Management Games

Football Manager is a series I thought I would like, but instead I found out that I love it. I sunk over five hundred hours into it before Epic Games offered Football Manager 22 for free. I wanted to review it, but the new installment will be released soon and I have been dealing with some things that prevented me from playing. However, that changed when I sustained a foot injury that has given me the opportunity for more time for such things.

So, I dug in and picked my favorite team, the Columbus Crew, and got to work. It took a moment to reorient myself to the title, especially with the new menus. Football Manager 2022 looks so much better than Football Manager 2018, and the experience is much more immersive. I found myself awestruck at the new features added and the more complex interactions with the team. Additionally, they have it updated to reflect the improvements of the United States youth system.

Fun fact, the Columbus Crew’s coach would be fired the season after the game’s starting point. So, to start, I did the opposite of what he did in real life. Those who are not really soccer fans may not know, but soccer coaching is incredibly complex. It takes a deep understanding of tactics and play style to get the most out of your team. That is not a dig at any other sports, but the philosophy difference between a 3-5-2 and a 4-4-2 are pretty drastic.

I wish I could tell you that I rolled my opponents and was cruising to a third title, but that was not the case. My season wasn’t bad, and I made the playoffs as a five seed, which was actually better than the former coach. Go me. My first season forced me to tinker with multiple formations (4-4-1-1, 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, and 4-3-3), and I was able to adapt well. This made me wonder why this type of title is not more widespread. I think it has to do with culture and the audience size.

Soccer is a worldwide sport with fans in nearly every country, while American Football is isolated to a few countries and primarily the United States. As I mentioned in a previous column, NFL Head Coach had two iterations in the mid to late aughts. In fact, these titles were relatively well received at the time despite their experimental nature. I lament that these games were not continued and that the NFL itself has become monopolized as much as it has.

I’m not sure how large the middle of the Venn diagram is for people who enjoy football and people who enjoy strategy games, but I would argue there is a great market for it. My friend Dakota and I used to have to make our own coaching game using fantasy draft and simulate every game except the ones we played against each other. My issue with the Madden series is that it’s focused so much on microtransaction based Ultimate Team, and it focuses on polishing every corner while innovating as little as possible.

Madden is kind of a microcosm of what happens when there is so little competition. The 1990’s and 2000’s brought us interesting titles like NFL Street, ESPN NFL, and NFL Quarterback Club. Since EA started tightening their grip with the NFLPA, those eclectic games started to vanish.  EA has gone the route of making one game that tries to appeal to everybody, while truly appealing to few.

Soccer doesn’t quite have that problem which allows games like Football Manager to exist. Due to a more open licensing agreement, soccer has two mainline titles in FIFA and eSoccer (formerly Pro Evolution Soccer). This also allows Sports Interactive to license most players and teams to provide a game for the statistics nerds like me.

Football Manager made me happy but also sad that there is not another similar sports title. I think American football and basketball would be great sports to make the transition. If you are a soccer fan, get Football Manager. I am a firm believer in rotating thought provoking games into a regular playing diet. If anyone else is interested in titles like this, we need to let publishers and developers know. Next column, I plan to look at a couple old Star Wars titles to see how they hold up.

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