Electronic Arts’ EA Sports brand has long been a titan of the sports game genre. Popular yearly releases like Madden NFL, FIFA, and NHL have made the studio prominent for most of the 21st century. These have become the standout video games for their respective sports, with little or no competition to their thrones. However, while its major titles have proven themselves to be winners, the back end of the EA Sports roster has dwindled – and that could be changing soon.
The studio’s output was once studded with successes in every major sport, combining annual pro-league simulation games with arcade-style titles, such as the NFL Street and NBA Street series, and forays into other sports, like Grand Slam Tennis and Fight Night. In 2020, EA released just four sports games (the aforementioned Madden, FIFA, and NHL, and the fourth installment of its UFC series), a far cry from the studio’s heyday in the 2000s and early 2010s. But with recent announcements of developer acquisitions and the return of key series, EA Sports looks to be on the verge of reclaiming its dominance outside across the board.
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On May 5, 2021, EA announced the acquisition of Metalhead Software, developer of the critically-acclaimed Super Mega Baseball series. Super Mega’s non-traditional take on baseball sims, with its cartoonish graphics, customizability, and arcadey-yet-challenging gameplay, has accumulated a decent following. While the series lacks any licensed MLB properties, relying upon fictional teams, players, and ballparks, it has recently solidified its place as a legitimate competitor to Sony’s MLB The Show.
EA’s New Studios Likely Mean More Sports Games
The acquisition of Metalhead signals a return to the baseball diamond for EA, a realm it has not entered since the last iteration of its MVP: NCAA Baseball franchise in 2007. EA’s most recent MLB series, MVP Baseball, was beloved in its time, with the 2005 entry often heralded as one of the best baseball games ever, but an exclusive MLB license signed by Take-Two Interactive in 2006 ended EA’s involvement with professional baseball.
Whether Super Mega Baseball metamorphoses into an arcade-style, MLB-licensed game or simply a more fleshed-out version of the series’ current format under EA remains to be seen. While fans may expect a tailor-made fit between Super Mega‘s cartoon style and official MLB licensing, EA Sports senior vice president Cam Weber told Polygon EA would “Possibly” consider licensed spinoffs, but the goal of the partnership is “to build out Super Mega Baseball, at depth” and to “fully realize what the team’s vision is for the game.”
Months before acquiring Metalhead, EA purchased British studio Codemasters, known for racing series like Formula 1, DiRT, GRID, and Project CARS. While EA’s Need for Speed still hits shelves about every two years, the most recent release being 2019’s NFS Heat, acquiring the Codemasters franchises should add some oomf to EA’s racing division. F1 2021, the first Codemasters game since the buyout, is set to debut in July.
EA Is Already Bringing Back PGA Tour & College Football
The revival of EA Sports’ catalog extends beyond bringing new studios and properties into the fold. Groundwork has already been laid for two of EA’s more popular lapsed series, PGA Tour and NCAA Football, to make triumphant returns.
A yearly staple of EA’s sports lineup from 1990 to 2014, PGA Tour was long considered the marquee golf simulation series. Tiger Woods was tapped as the face of the franchise in 1998, but the series has been on hiatus since its first release without Woods, 2015’s Rory McIlroy PGA Tour, was met with mixed reviews. Golf gamers were left without a new, big budget title until 2K’s The Golf Club 2019 featuring PGA Tour in 2018, culminating in last year’s PGA Tour 2K21.
Perhaps inspired by the success of PGA Tour 2K21 and seeing opportunities created by its shortcomings, EA announced the return of PGA under EA Sports. In contrast to its 2K counterpart, the new EA PGA Tour game will feature all four major tournaments, including The Masters and its famed Augusta National course. Not much else is known about the upcoming title, but golf fans pining for authenticity may find themselves pleased with EA’s reboot.
Perhaps the most important element in EA’s return to sports game dominance will be its famed NCAA Football franchise. Popular among football fans for its authentic college football atmosphere, solid gameplay, and Dynasty and Road to Glory career modes, the series has been on hiatus since 2013. Yearly releases came to a halt after a lawsuit concerning college athletes’ likenesses in video games.
This February, following an NCAA rule change, the EA Sports college football brand was resurrected, announcing a return at an unspecified point in the future. The EA tweet notably did not include any NCAA branding, opting to refer to the series by its original name, EA Sports College Football.
As with the new PGA Tour, not much is known about College Football at the moment, but its road back to store shelves is likely to be a rocky one. The University of Notre Dame will not be participating, unless a plan for player profit-sharing is put in place. A March leak (via Forbes) also revealed the game is planned for a July 2023 release. This is most likely to give EA time to sort out licensing from individual schools and to iron out a system for compensating the players represented. Still, a few years out, College Football may find itself bolstering a newly-rejuvenated lineup of EA Sports titles.
Short-term, EA Sports will continue to coast on the success of its major titles, with Madden 22 scheduled for release this summer and a new FIFA likely to follow in the fall. But with two new developers in tow and the anticipated returns of PGA Tour and College Football, EA Sports could may end with the most robust library of sports games on the market.
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