2015 proved to be one of the best years for gaming in recent memory, perhaps ever. We take a closer look at the most impactful sports games of this calendar year, ultimately crowning our first annual Sports Gamers Online Game of the Year. Find out where your favorite sports game stands below as we break down each game nominated and select a winner.

6. Honorable Mention: FIFA 16

For me, FIFA is in the running for sports game of the year virtually every single year. As a fan of the franchise for 20+ years now, it is hard to find the consistency delivered by EA Canada in any other title. FIFA‘s robust game play, fleshed out game modes and pick up and play appeal make FIFA a must have for most soccer fans.

FIFA is the best selling sports game in history and has major worldwide appeal. However, such success can make a developer shy away from taking chances and play it rather safe from year to year. In my opinion, this is what has happened to the FIFA franchise over the past few years.

FIFA 16 overall is more balanced than in years past and has some tweaks to gameplay that make the game more enjoyable and responsive for casual and hardcore gamers. Although gameplay received some tweaks, the various game modes throughout FIFA 16 have largely remained unchanged with Ultimate Team being front and center.

For me personally there just wasn’t enough innovation present in FIFA 16 to put it into the top 3. I would still recommend this football sim to anyone looking for a robust gaming experience. Perhaps this is just a testament to what a great release year for sports games 2015 was when a game like FIFA doesn’t crack the top 3.

5. Honorable Mention: Rocket League

When Rocket League released as a free game on PlayStation Plus in early July, it didn’t take long for fans of all genres to take notice. This instant indie hit resonated with me in a way no title has done in over a decade. In the mostly predictable world that is AAA sports gaming, Rocket League filled a void and quenched a thirst gamers have been craving for years. It proved that indie games in the sports landscape can succeed if pulled off correctly.

Its timely release — well before most other AAA sports games this year — and widespread availability (free for PS Plus subscribers) assured that a ton of people would at least give it a try. Those people, much like myself, then got a chance to fall in love with this year’s darling.
Rocket League features aspects of soccer, hockey, racing and demolition derby and also has major appeal in the fast growing eSports community with tournaments being held worldwide.

It was by far the most unexpected fun I have ever had playing a game, and it was extremely hard not to have Rocket League in our top 3 for 2015. Personally, I rank Rocket League number one in the fun factor category, and a title like this deserves a lot of recognition for finding a spot in today’s crowded sports gaming lineup.

4. Honorable Mention: Pro Evolution Soccer 2016

This is another game that was extremely difficult for me to leave out of the top 3.
PES made a triumphant return when it made its next gen debut in 2014, leaving many longtime fans of Konami’s soccer franchise hopeful that 2015 will be the best year yet.

I was extremely impressed when laying my hands on PES 2016 for the first time at this year’s E3 back in June. Controls were tight, player animations were unlike anything I have ever seen in a soccer sim, and graphics also looked sharp and improved. PES also implemented its own microtransaction based game mode named MyClub and had acquired more official team and league licensing, including full Champions League overlays to try to close the gap with its competition from EA Canada.

However, shoddy servers around launch made online play rather difficult, and no roster update was present until months into PES 2016‘s release. If solely based on gameplay and player animations, PES would undoubtedly be in our top 3. But, in this day and age, post-release rosters and online play are crucial.

Overall, PES remains an elite interpretation of the beautiful game and is recommended to anyone who can look past the lack of licensing and depth in the game mode department.

3. Honorable Mention: NHL 16

After 2014’s lackluster release of NHL 14, this year proved to be what some people would call a make or break year. EA delivered a stripped down version of the franchise in its inaugural release on next gen which left a lot of hockey fans upset and discouraged. The NHL franchise had a rich history of being one of the best sports games available for many years, so 2014’s release was almost insulting for hardcore fans of the franchise.

EA Canada took the criticisms to heart and returned the features that gamers were asking for. At the forefront of that is the return of EASHL. EA didn’t only return the features missing last year, but also refined them in a major way with gameplay and balancing improvements. Graphics remain very solid and presentation is as good as any game in our top 3, complete with stadium pan-ins, pre-game show, authentic goal sirens, and the addition of mascots.

The game looks and plays beautifully, and you will be hard-pressed to find a better game to pick up and play with your buddy on the couch. It’s nice to see the NHL franchise make a return and SGO is proud to announce NHL 16 as the second runner-up in 2015.

2. Honorable Mention: MLB 15: The Show

As alluded to earlier, 2015 was possibly the most difficult year to crown a Sports Game of the Year. MLB 15: The Show was the game I definitely spent the most time on this year. With a focus on stadium atmosphere, player emotion, and improved pitching and hitting interfaces, MLB 15 The Show did not disappoint.

A new ball trajectory and the implementation of directional hitting once again made The Show the most customizable sports game on the market. The dozens of gameplay options such as player lock, camera angles, and sliders lets Baseball aficionados experience hardball in a way enjoyable to just about anyone.

The refined Diamond Dynasty card collecting based game mode, complete with MLB Legends and improved franchise control were also welcome additions. The game simply looked and played beautifully. Crowds felt and sounded alive, player, manager and umpire animations were spot on, and the lighting was some of the best I have seen in a sports game.

Improved load times and a simple menu interface added to the experience. The Road to the Show game mode and in-game commentary however were largely unchanged, making those two areas the ones needing improvement in the coming years. The X-factor to me this year was online play. Online play finally worked from day one, and a fleshed out online franchise mode was a novelty mode hardly found in today’s sports games.

MLB 15: The Show remains at the top of the heap when it comes to sports franchises, and making it runner-up this year was an extremely difficult decision for all of us here at SGO.
Collectively we tip our hat to San Diego Studios for giving us quite possibly the best representation of a real life sport found on consoles to date. And the winner is……

1. SPORTS GAME OF THE YEAR: NBA 2K16

For years the NBA 2K franchise has delivered an incredibly deep and rich experience for basketball fans across the globe. However, in many of those years, NBA 2K was plagued by online connectivity and server issues hindering the game in ways that limited its full potential. In this year’s release, Visual Concepts finally put it all together and delivered a game that is not only easy on the eyes, but also plays as solid as any sports game ever released.

Much like the FIFA and MLB: The Show franchises, 2K is a game that you can count on to be top notch year in and year out. With one major difference though; unlike the FIFA series which usually plays it safe, NBA 2K has been known to make bold changes and take chances in their game. That hasn’t changed this year, as they brought filmmaker and basketball superfan Spike Lee on board to write and direct the story in MyCareer.

The story plays out like a movie and takes your character all the way from high school into college and through the NBA draft ultimately leading you through your first year in the NBA.
The story itself is dramatic, a little cheesy, at times over the top, and doesn’t give you many options aside from choosing where to spend your college career. It is very linear but I found myself really enjoying it for what it was.

After year one however, the MyCareer mode really hit its stride with a revamped menu and time management system to spend your off days. Complete with endorsement deals, community events and even practice sessions to improve your player, NBA 2K16‘s career mode is by far the best in its class. Outside of the career mode, 2K brought back a functional online league mode which is becoming a rarity in sports titles these days.

MyTeam is also back and deeper than ever with many different ways to enjoy the card collecting game mode. Aside from those game modes, almost every other mode had major work done to it all the way down to the play now feature, which now features a tiered ranking system. The game also thrives when it comes to presentation complete with a pregame and halftime show, cheerleaders, pregame player animations, arena pan ins and even live shots of the city you are playing in.

All in all, NBA 2K16 is the deepest, best looking basketball sim we have seen to date and is sure to have a game mode or two for casual fans as well as hardcore hoopers.

Congratulations to Visual Concepts and 2K Sports for making 2015 the year they put it all together. All of us here at SGO are thrilled to announce NBA 2K16 our consensus Sports Game of the Year.

What do you guys think? Did you favorite virtual adaptation of a sport make the cut, or would you have liked to see it make the list? Let us know on social media or in the comments below!