May 7, 2021 - Sports

Sports is gaming's hottest battleground

Illustration of a video game controller with sports-related buttons

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Suddenly, sports gaming competition is everywhere. Unless you're into the NHL.

The big picture: EA's return to making baseball games this week is the latest in a recent rush of moves that will restore competition to video game baseball, golf, football and more.

  • Fans of many sports video games complain that decreased competition among largely annualized releases has made the games worse. Increased competition = increased quality?

The intensifying playing field: Baseball — EA vs. Sony (sort of): EA's new acquisition, Metalhead, makes "Super Mega League Baseball," an arcade-style game with fictional players.

  • The deal puts EA back in baseball game development for the first time since 2006.
  • Take Two snagged a semi-exclusive on the MLB license until 2014, when it got out of baseball gaming.
  • That left Sony's "MLB The Show" standing. It remained PlayStation-exclusive until this year, when an extraordinary new MLB deal forced Sony to also release "The Show" on the arch-rival Xbox.

Golf — Take Two vs. EA vs. ... Nintendo?: Take Two got into making golf games in 2020, with the acquisition as it rebranded "The Golf Club" series into "PGA Tour 2K."

  • That filled a void left since 2015, when EA bailed on its long-running golf series that had been long-associated with Tiger Woods.
  • In March, EA announced a return to golf gaming with the development of "EA Sports PGA Tour," just as Take Two signed former EA cover athlete Woods for their game.
  • Bonus: Nintendo is bringing back "Mario Golf" in June. No Tiger Woods there, but they do have a well-dressed Wario.

Football — EA vs. Take Two: Big-time video game football has been EA's "Madden" series and nothing else since EA landed the NFL exclusive in 2004.

  • That 2004 deal killed Take Two’s well-regarded rival series “NFL 2K” and all but ended serious football competition.
  • Last March, Take Two announced its long-missed "NFL 2K" series would return in a deal that lets Take Two make "non-simulation" football games.

The other football — EA vs. Konami: EA's "FIFA" series is dominant here, having turned the tide against former category leader "Pro Evolution Soccer" from Konami.

  • Konami’s been struggling to battle EA, but fancied an incredible 2019 name change to “eFootball PES” might help. 
  • Doesn’t seem to have, and the series did not get a full new release in 2020. Its 2021 plans are unclear.

Basketball - Take Two vs. maybe EA: Take Two’s “NBA 2K” series rules here, with EA barely still in contention.

  • “NBA Live” has simply sat out this formerly annual rivalry multiple times this past decade including no-showing 2019 and 2020.

Hockey — EA: EA's got the NHL to itself.

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