Forget Barcelona and Real Madrid, or Manchester United and Liverpool, soccer’s most bitter battle is happening off the field. Recognized as gaming’s two foremost franchises, the FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer series of games sell millions of copies each year.
But how did the two titles succeed in emerging from the pack to become such close rivals? In this article we will explore the development of soccer in the world of console gaming and chart the rise of the genre’s two standard-bearers.
A Global Obsession
The rivalries we have mentioned are born out of a global obsession with the beautiful game. A recent survey by FIFA estimates that there are 250m regular players worldwide, while many, many more enjoy the sport as fans – and gamers. The intensity of competition, including the drama of promotion and relegation, contribute to soccer’s popularity, while the unpredictability of results makes for compelling viewing. Indeed, many of the world’s top rivalries, such as Barcelona v Real Madrid, are so intense because the teams are so evenly matched.
This could be huge in the La Liga title race.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) March 1, 2020
For example, there’s very little between Barca and Real whenever they meet head-to-head, although Atletico Madrid are currently the favorites to win the league in the Space Casino football betting odds at a price of 13/10, as the other two have started slowly.
This closeness of competition is a key factor in the sport’s popularity and has helped underpin the emergence of a booming gaming market that allows fans to recreate their favorite clashes on the TV screen.
A Crowded Marketplace
Early soccer games, like the titles across any genre, were pretty primitive. The action was very slow, the sound-effects almost non-existent and the overall feeling of playing ‘football’ sadly lacking. However, with new consoles came new games and, by the time the 16-bit era arrived, there were almost too many football games to count, with eager developers and publishers racing to tap into the sport’s global fan base.
The Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo also saw the debut of the FIFA series, and the International Superstar Soccer games that would ultimately evolve into the franchise we know today as Pro Evolution Soccer.
A Two-horse Race
The launch of the PlayStation, Sega Saturn and N64 brought with it another generation of soccer games, with titles like Actua Soccer, This Is Football and Adidas Power Soccer pushing FIFA and ISS for sporting supremacy. But the release of the PS2 and the next generation of consoles around the mid-2000s saw several titles retire from the race, with FIFA and the newly-rebranded Pro Evo series of games emerging from the pack as the genre’s two torch-bearers.
Since then, it’s essentially been a two-horse race for brand supremacy. Traditionally, FIFA had the advantage in terms of club and league licenses, while Pro Evo’s gameplay was widely regarded as being superior. But in more recent years, developers EA Sports and Konami have out-flanked one another more evenly in both departments.
To this day, both attract a cult following of eager aficionados who snap up the latest title every year and swear against ever switching sides. Much like the battle between Xbox and PlayStation – or Real and Barca – it seems that this is another rivalry that may not be settled any time soon.