I’m a self confessed esports addict, I was gripped for the first time watching competitive Call of Duty in 2012 and over the years have developed a keen interest in Counter Strike: Global Offensive as my go to for both playing and watching (of which I do more watching than playing), while at the same time following FIFA, Rocket League, DOTA 2, Overwatch and Call of Duty from more of a distance over the last 6 years, watching each of them either continue to grow/decline or enter the world of esports for the first time with varied success.
So as you can imagine, when I hear the words, ‘Football Manager’ and ‘esports’ put together, my ears perk up, but it’s curious, my levels of interest from the view of an esports fan before a content creator seem to take over quite aggressively.
Football Manager is at its core a single player game and an excellent one at that, it’s what’s made it famous! It has though dabbled in online elements, there’s the option to do a combined ‘save’ with a friend through ‘Network Games’ but the amount of people doing this is barely marking a scratch on the single player numbers and draft mode suffers a similar fate. To begin to explain why Football Manager will struggle in the realm of esports we need to look at these online modes and if they’re capable of carrying a game into the competitive gaming world.
In October I was invited to Sports Interactive HQ to play and compete with 7 other creators with the winner taking home £5,000 and title of ‘FM2018 Creators Cup Champion’. It was the first event of it’s kind evolving the creative community event of its kind. The tactical adventure of playing against other people in a competitive environment with something on the line isn’t something the single player version can give you and I think the guys involved would agree there’s an extra edge, a buzz, about facing your peers in a game of Football Manager, reputations on the line! Although, as competitive as it was, not once did I think ‘this is the future of FM as an esport’. There is an entire debate to be had on Football Manager’s online features and it’s functionality, until we get that right, until it’s perfect, I’m talking dedicated online servers levels of perfect with the option to connect instantly into a 1v1 game, the esports chat needs to be put on hold.
We had a question and answers session with SI studio director Miles Jacobson that weekend in which having seen the relative success of ‘The Set Pieces’ attempt at making FM competitive (this article by George Osborn is worth a read on the event) would be a good opportunity to pick his brain in regards to FM as an esport. I posed the question ‘Do you see FM becoming a fully fledged esport any time soon?’, Miles responded and as it was some time ago I shall paraphrase slightly, ‘No, there are no plans to have esports become a major aspect of our game, until we see more people playing online we won’t be putting resources into it’. A completely fair reply, it perhaps ignores why people aren’t playing online, their first time experience of peer to peer led gaming isn’t very common these days. The reason I bring up the answer from Miles though is because it’s interesting to me, they’d been an event that year hosted by Iain Macintosh, an event set up over that weekend and the next revolving around draft mode. And while there were no plans to take FM to that next stage, it seems to be existing without SI’s behind the scenes involvement. Something that despite all of this, I agree with, Valve prove they don’t need to be hosting every event for it to be a success.
Football Manager would be ruined by esports, the best form of esports is currently Counter Strike: Global Offensive, every detail you could want to give yourself the same advantage as your opponent is there, damage given, kill time, smoke grenade line ups, spawn points, each team is aware of all of them, they know the possibilities, hence there is no real advantage because the idea of it being ‘random’ is taken away. Football Manager on the other hand is a close kept secret, how the match engine operates, what the hidden attributes of a player are, and how they affect a single one off game, it’s arguably one of the reasons we love it. (While you can access some of these stats from the downloadable editor its only one aspect of AI led gameplay) Football isn’t a calculated all stats given sport, so how could Football Manager ever become that? I don’t want it to be that! I’m not just picking on Football Manager here either, I think EA Sports’ FIFA suffers similar problems. The amount of AI that influences the outcome of a single game doesn’t make it a level playing field. It doesn’t take away from it being a very competitive game, but when people have professional careers in these games that can be affected by a ‘game malfunction’ or ‘mistake’ then that’s a problem. You have to draw a line.
This past weekend we saw the first Insomnia Gaming and Bidstack host the ‘Football Manager 2018 World eSports Championship’ with a £25,000 prize pool on offer, this sort of event goes some way to legitimising FM in the space of competitive gaming. From everything I’ve seen, it ran as smoothly as can be expected so it’ll be interesting to see if we see it again. I hope so!
Maybe I’m just an esports purest, I want to see the best competitive play on a level playing field. Football Manager absolutely has its place as a competitive game, but as an esport? It can’t be taken seriously, but that’s ok.