One of the most absurd things I’ve seen on the internet recently was a tweet from a Puerto Rican player who uploaded a screenshot from his career mode campaign in the one just released FIFA 23.
It features a digitized Jason Sudeikis in full Ted Lasso garb welcoming Paul Mullin – the star forward of Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney’s real-life Wrexham AFC – to the fictional AFC Richmond. Apparently you can now do that if you know the right buttons to press.
As random as it is to be confronted with a pixelated “Super Paul Mullin” in the wild, it makes sense that Wrexham is accessible in the FIFA universe. Even before the prominent takeover, the Welsh team was a historic club. Subordinate teams are usually available under FIFA’s “Rest of World” feature.
But you can now find AFC Richmond under this tab as well. The beloved “Believe” boy’s shot off Teddy Lasso is a brand new upsurge from Electronic Arts, which has spent over a year negotiating deals with Apple TV and Warner Brothers Interactive Entertainment, conducting scans of the show’s top talent, and refining club logos and likenesses – from the crowd roaring Nelson Path to the individual bristles of Lasso’s mustache.
The effort has paid off. The latest installment in the legendary franchise released a record last month; 10.3 million users bought the game in the first week. Industry insiders can’t pinpoint that exactly why gamers are so keen on this year’s drop, but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Ted Lasso, playable as Gaffer, has already amassed over a million in-game wins.
Ted enters the EA Sports universe at a turbulent time. FIFA 23 is the very last video game from Electronic Arts to bear the nickname “FIFA” in its branding. After a 30-year partnership that has seen EA rake in over $20 billion in revenue (on its way to becoming the best-selling sports game series of all time) and controversial world soccer governing body a $150 million annual paycheck, the sides say finally waived a contract extension in the spring of this year.
There was disagreement over exactly what EA was entitled to move forward if it continued to compete for the license — higher officials said they wanted “highlights from actual games, arena video game tournaments, and digital products like NFTs.” The New York Times – but ultimately talks deteriorated over FIFA’s latest prize: around $1 billion in each four-year World Cup cycle. That’s nearly double what EA used to pay.
What’s next? EA will continue to produce a more or less identical game under the new brand (it retains its extensive licensing deals with organizations like UEFA, which runs the Champions League… but obviously loses the World Cup). EA Sports FC, while FIFA appears to be plotting some sort of revenge spree and vows to create its own video game. It will be difficult to find experts on par with EA’s best; The only “competition” in the room right now is a game called eSoccer. When it was released last year, the game’s graphics were derided for being so atrocious that the developer was forced to apologize.
As publications like Wired have pointed out, EA’s move away from FIFA licensing is likely a blessing in disguise. The FIFA name has been tainted for years; In the 2010s it became synonymous with corruption and bribery, in the 2020s – and particularly the following two months – it came under scrutiny as fans, players and journalists questioned the cavalier approach of the organisation, their pinnacle game Hosting homosexuality in Qatar is still a criminal offense and 6,500 migrant workers have died under the abusive kafala system, all in the name of building seven new, glittering stadiums.
From this perspective, saving $250 million a year becomes an even easier decision. But whatever name is on the cover, the FIFA Franchise can’t afford to rest on its laurels forever. Video games have been a comfort during the pandemic (with non-cash sales skyrocketing), but they’re a luxury during a recession. The game is certainly a decent seller, regularly selling over 12 million units for its annual iteration, but not every property under the EA umbrella has fared so well (Driving me crazy Sales have stalled for example) and also the chatter around FIFA is always eerily similar and goes something like this: “The devs have made some compelling changes, the visuals look great as always, but remind me why we needed another one of these so quickly?” What’s different?”
Ted Lasso is different. While critics have given measured reviews (IGN’s consensus reads, “FIFA 23’s slick and dramatic virtual football fits the series’ final hooray under its long-standing name, but there are many known frustrations”), fans on Twitter got their thoughts straight. One user put it simply: “FIFA 23. The gameplay sucks but it has Ted Lasso and AFC Richmond.”
Is your first assertion correct? Well, that’s subjective. Regardless, it illustrates the inevitable boredom that can accompany the purchase of this game year after year. (Not to mention the annoyance of many of the game’s supporters at the continued presence of “microtransactions,” where purchasing in-game player packs can help you fill out a list and beat up strangers online.) It’s valuable, every year Game to release for EA. This also creates markets within these games. But the trend has also hurt the brand — or at least frustrated the fan base at times.
But Lasso, which appears freely in the game, seems to function as a kind of monocultural olive branch. Forget what you read about “season 2 backlash” and the like… the TV show is a hit; According to an entertainment analytics site, it’s 44.5 times more popular than the average program these days, and that’s at the height of the hopelessly crowded streaming era. As Cam Weber, executive vice president and group general manager at EA Sports, said the athlete recently: “We see EA Sports very strongly at the center of sports culture and fandom. We looked for other ways to expand our reach into pop culture, sports culture and entertainment.”
EA needed to know that some critics would decry Lasso’s inclusion in the game as “a waste of time” or “a brief novelty.” You can’t make everyone happy. Especially in the Redditor era. What’s more interesting is that EA has moved on FIFA 23 X AFC Richmond despite the fact that in real life football, lasso is a bit like a punching bag. Consider: American managers in the UK, like Leeds United’s Jesse Marsch, have in the past disowned the character, saying it created a stigma.
Mike Keeney, who trains in Finland, told ESPN this year: “The little I’ve seen [of Ted Lasso], I don’t think it does the image of an American abroad any favours. It undermines some of the work that I and some of the other guys have done, the guys who actually come to Europe and work and fight.” And Chris Armas, an American assistant coach under Ralf Rangnick’s short tenure at Manchester United last year Spring, has been repeatedly taunted by gamers for walking them through apparently bizarre and old-fashioned workouts… of the kind Lasso is famous for on Apple TV+.
That FIFA The Franchise’s Connection to IRL Football Matters – EA has long boasted that its flagship game is a gateway to appropriate engagement and interest, creating fans (particularly: well-funded and influential American ones) out of thin air. Does this process skip a step or go in a different direction when one of the game’s selling points is actually not rooted in reality?
Maybe. But ultimately, EA’s ultimate allegiance is to itself and the annual sales of its immensely popular soccer game. From that perspective, 2022 was a resounding success, even if it had to fulfill its Q4 hopes in an unusual way. The culture – reliably changeable and undefined as always – is not satisfied with just a Jack Grealish shot into the far corner. People want him to get “an extra pass” from Jamie Tartt along the way. (Who, fictional as it may be, has an overall rating equal to Grealish.) No wonder Steph Curry of all people is now a playable character in PGA Tour 2K23.
It’s possible that this kind of collaboration will open the floodgates for future “multiverse” licensing deals. For example, imagine Warner Brothers signed a deal with Visual Concepts to record a special space jam Campaign in his NBA 2K series that could feature Bugs Bunny and the gang alongside the likes of Luka Dončić. (It almost feels like a missed opportunity after the sequel came out a few years ago.) Or what if in 2025 for the 25th anniversary of Think of the titansDisney worked with EA to record TC Williams High School Madden NFL 25?
The possibilities are endless, which might one day prove annoying for some players. But is now really the time to start thinking about realism in video games? Who among us hasn’t named a “Create a Player” after themselves and then hit 92 home runs in one season? Well-placed fictional drops in all their random glory might be just what the big game companies need to keep the lights going – and what we need to keep coming back.
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