Since I’m the newer guy to Sports Gamers Online, I feel as though I should preface this post by saying that I’ve played almost every iteration of EA Sports’ EA Sports Hockey League, better known as EASHL. Since NHL 09, the same group of friends and I would create “The TPB Version (insert number here)” because of our love for The Trailer Park Boys. We would set off with the same goal; to win virtual hockey games against other virtual hockey teams and eventually take home a glorious trophy at the end of a long playoff run.
Some years we were victorious. Most years we weren’t. For the most part, none of that mattered because we enjoyed playing together. We enjoyed our roles on the team. Mine was a left-handed, right defenseman built around a two-way game. If long outlet passes and one-timers from an offensive zone faceoff were the bread to my game, blocks were my jam.
It wasn’t until the eventual NHL 15 debacle that we started to regress from our EASHL addiction. EA Sports was making the jump to “next-gen gaming” and in doing so, left behind a mode that was incredibly popular among the fans. While the EA Sports virtual hockey league was still available on “current-gen consoles” at the time (see: Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3), it didn’t matter. We all moved on to the flashy, crisp graphics that an Xbox One or PlayStation 4 had to offer.
Throughout the years, EA has done little to tweak the core mechanics of EASHL. Sure, they’ve added a ton of customization options like in NHL 17 when you were able to create your own arena. This included things like the color of the seats, gameplay introductions, horns, music packages and even the type of lines on your ice. It was an incredible achievement for a mode that didn’t even exist just three years prior.
NHL 18 added a 3-vs-3 mode to the EASHL repertoire, but personally, it wasn’t something that interested me. We were a 3-5 man squad at any given point. Playing without AI was strange and the open ice model led itself to more “cheesers” than ever. The game even added custom mascots! Talk about game of the year!
Now that you’ve read a little bit of my EASHL history, I want to get into a wishlist I have for NHL 19’s EASHL mode. We know very little about this year’s EASHL iteration. Some of these are going to be minor additions, but they will go a long way in making the EASHL player happy. Meanwhile, some are features that haven’t been around since the last generation of consoles that changed the way our created player was used.
Adjustable stick options.
Previous EASHL builds had stick customizations that seem to be lost in this current-generation of gaming. In past versions of the mode, you’d be able to change a sticks flex and curve, each changing the way the stick will interact with the puck. Instituting a stick curve/flex system would easily deepen the customization options (although EA is touting over 900 customization options already). This would also allow the player to change their build on the fly and not have to worry about what preset player type they’ll have to be stuck to. Maybe they want a bruising Milan Lucic type of power forward with the shot selection of a Tyler Seguin.
Five player celebrations.
Have you ever watched a hockey game where someone scores and the player celebrates with two of his teammates? Probably not. Sure, it happens, but in EASHL that’s all that happens. When I’m playing with my friends and we’re using D-to-D passing or setting up something on the sidewall when it comes to the power play, I want to celebrate with everyone when we score.
Allow players to choose AI builds.
One of the biggest frustrations with EASHL is the AI with a heavy emphasis on the defensive AI. The defensive AI in every EASHL iteration is either the second coming of Bobby Orr or a dressed up parking cone wearing your team’s sweater. Currently there is no way to change your AI teammates build or even see what type of player they are.
Allowing the team’s captain to set up their AI to play specific ways will go a long way in rounding out a team. Have a foursome comprised of a sniper, two way forward, power forward and offensive defenseman? Sticking a two way defense or defensive defenseman label on your AI teammate will give your team a well balanced lineup.
Make captaincy special.
Right now, captaincy in EASHL has no meaning. The only thing a captain is able to do is set which jersey you’re going to wear for your upcoming game. It’s time to make captaincy special again. Keeping the mechanic of the first player in the room is the captain is fine. I don’t subscribe in the Lord of the Rings theory of “one ring to rule them all” when it comes to my video game captains.
First, adding the stitched C and A to the jerseys is a start. If you’re going to be a captain or an alternate, you need to look the part. NHL 17 had an option to color the captain and alternate captain patches when creating your team jerseys, but they seemed to be locked during play.
More importantly, the captain should be able to augment the AI player builds to fit their team composition better. In the section above, I touched on why this is a need and allowing the captain to do it gives them the responsibility one would think a captain would have.
Unless you’re doing EASHL drop-in games, no captain is going to sabotage their team composition for the fun of it.
Make strategies important again!
Lastly, I want to cover something that has always been a bee in my bonnet. EASHL’s strategies don’t mean anything. For years, I’ve frantically cycled through offensive and defensive settings for my AI players (again, why AI player builds matter) to find the perfect mix for them to excel. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to do anything.
When I set my defensive settings to “All out attack”, my defensive AI teammates don’t feel aggressive. Instead, they act as they would on normal or cover the net. The same goes for my offensive settings.
Make these strategies matter and allow players to implement what they want before a game is even launched. No one should have to cycle through a blazingly fast cutscene or take time from pursuing the puck to change their strategies that may or may not change how their AI teammates work.
Strategy in hockey is important. Your aggression on breakouts matter. Your forecheck and backcheck matter. EA Sports needs to do a better job implementing this going forward.
These changes may not seem big when discussing what EA Sports should do to change the face of their EASHL mode, but I believe that little changes can give the popular mode a much needed quality of life change.