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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.

Sign up for the new Axios Gaming newsletter here.

Go deeper

Updated 47 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Virginia attorney general fires Jan. 6 investigator from university post

McIntire Amphitheater at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo: Robert Knopes/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The lead investigator for the Jan. 6 House select committee investigating the Capitol riot has been fired from his position as the University of Virginia's counsel by the state's new Republican attorney general, per the Washington Post.

Why it matters: Democrats say the removal of Tim Heaphy from his post after some three years while he's on leave from the university to investigate the insurrection is likely "retribution" for the House probe — an accusation strongly denied by the office of state Attorney General Jason Miyares (R).

5 hours ago - Sports

Gonzaga University revokes NBA great John Stockton's tickets over mask stance

Former Utah Jazz player John Stockton during a 2017 press conference in Salt Lake City. Photo: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Gonzaga University suspended the season tickets of notable alumni John Stockton after the NBA Hall of Famer failed to comply with the school's basketball games mask mandate, the Spokesman-Review first reported.

Driving the news: "Basically, it came down to, they were asking me to wear a mask to the games and being a public figure, someone a little bit more visible, I stuck out in the crowd a little bit," the former Utah Jazz point guard told the outlet in an interview Saturday.

Updated 6 hours ago - World

State Department orders evacuation of U.S. diplomats' families from Ukraine

From left, undersecretary for political affairs Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. chargés d'affaires in Ukraine Kristina Kvien during a meeting with Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal in Kyiv. Photo: Yevhen Liubimov/ Ukrinform/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The State Department will begin evacuating families and nonessential staff from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv this week, according to a travel advisory published Sunday evening.

Why it matters: The move underscores U.S. fears that a Russian invasion could destabilize Ukraine and threaten the embassy's ability to assist Americans.