Blurring boundaries: cyberfootball gradually changes football

How FIFA and PES influence the number one sport and vice versa

Blurring boundaries: cyberfootball gradually changes football Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

Today it's already impossible to imagine the game industry without sports computer simulators released every year as it's impossible to imagine world football without its younger brother – cyberfootball. FIFA and PES football series have already become one of the major disciplines in cybersports tournaments, and the audience playing FIFA exceeds the number of many real sports. And such popularity just couldn't help but result in real synergy of world football and its virtual relative. Realnoe Vremya's sports staff is giving examples of how football simulators really affect the development of football around the world.

How FIFA curbs opportunities to line pockets from the tragedy with Sala

The recent crash of a one-engine plane with football player Emiliano Sala on board above the English Channel not only caused a great outcry in the football world and the sports media but also had quite real consequences for both European courts (Nantes and Cardiff are finding out if the Welsh club should pay the French for the player's transition) and in virtual markets.

So Canadian Electronic Arts company, which manufactures sports simulators, decided to limit the ''turnover'' of the football player's cards in the special regime of Ultimate Team (where a card's price depends on a football player's career in reality). Firstly, EA Sports decided to remove Sala from Nantes's squad, while his card in Ultimate Team won't ''falls'' in packs.

To impede a deficit ''commodity'' in the game from going up in price, the Canadians decided to fix the price of the dead Argentinean's card. Now even those players who got Sala's card before the catastrophe won't be able to take financial advantage from the tragedy.

Realnoe Vremya talked with one of the founders of TatGames cyber sports organisation in Tatarstan Rinat Baybekov about this situation.

''I think Electronic Arts made a correct decision. Firstly, because Ultimate Team is specific, it's a market mechanism. And if some of the cards stop ''falling'' in packs, consequently, the card almost exits the market (while there is still demand for it), its price rises. And traders purchase these cards at a low price, start to earn from this event and sell them at higher prices. From a moral perspective, this is not very nice,'' the cyber sports expert notes.

Something similar happens during transfers. For instance, the case of same Cesc Fàbregas who has recently gone to Monaco from Chelsea. Consequently, his card at Chelsea was purchased at a low price, after the transfer, this card stopped falling, and the price grew. This means those who purchased for a low price managed to sell it for a higher one because it stopped ''falling'' in packs.

''Ultimate Team is specific, it's a market mechanism,'' explains Rinat Baybekov. Photo: vk.com/baybek96

RPL counts money but loses representation in the best product in the world

The market issue became decisive in Russian cyberfootball too. The Russian Premier League Konami has stopped being present in FIFA's simulator and has gone to the Japanese game platform since this season. Now Russian clubs are represented in Pro Evolution Soccer game, which has competed almost in line with FIFA for a long period. However, in the end it lost because the Japanese didn't have licensed leagues and teams. So the game had just teams with similar club names but without logotypes and football players' real names.

Several years later, the Japanese decided to choose a ''legal'' path and started to buy rights to use names and characters. A new form of the RPL became one of such priority purchases – this year the Russian league has got new design made by Artemy Lebedev.

''I think it's a specific condition in the agreement between the Russian league and Japanese Konami,'' Baybekov goes on. ''The Japanese explained the clause on exclusive ownership. But, as far as I'm concerned, they managed to come to an agreement directly with our three teams for free – Lokomotiv, CSKA and Spartak, and now they are in the game.

In general, if we remember the very beginning of what happened in PES, there were enough drawbacks. Uniforms were clumsy, they didn't fit. The PES community expected the design to be like a TV picture, that there would be stadiums. But in the end, we got the same tournament, like others in this game. But without a big number of people and uniforms. But they added both things over time – their number became bigger than that of FIFA. But the audience is still discontent that stadiums haven't been added,'' Baybekov says.

Realnoe Vremya turned to the RPL asking to explain the situation with the exit from the biggest cyberfootball market player to smaller and less important. The league's press service redirected this request to a statement of Commercial Director of the RPL Pavel Suvorov previously published on cyber.sports.ru:

''Konami's proposal, first of all, was more profitable from a financial perspective. Indeed, financially, it's worthy. I can't announce the sum, but it's seriously different from the proposal we compared it to. Secondly, the commitment of the partner to developing the product in the Russian market. Konami makes plans, will offer solutions, including in cybersport.

Pavel Suvorov: ''I have a deep respect for FIFA brand and thank partners for the lasting cooperation.'' Photo: premierliga.ru

Both partners were candidates to obtain an exclusive licence. As I understand, now Konami is relaunching the whole range of products in this industry, this is why unique relationship is important for them. They chose the Russian Premier League, they are going to very seriously work to activate it.

I have a deep respect for the FIFA brand and thank partners for the lasting cooperation. The brand was really big, probably the Russian Premier League didn't have leading positions from a perspective of this brand and could simply get lost in this diversity. Konami, on the contrary, is putting the RPL to the façade, it's an active part of its marketing plan,'' Suvorov said.

Our clarifying question why the RPL was under pressure of conditions of exclusive rights of one of the sides and wasn't represented in both products unlike many leading leagues and their clubs remained unanswered.

How football players press developers

The cases when virtual football and real football influence each other aren't a rare thing, in general. So famous football players themselves aren't against playing FIFA for themselves and their team. And mutual jokes and put-downs that someone is good on the pitch and someone wins trophies only in FIFA became ''professional humour'' a long time ago.

A recent case confirms the close connection of real and virtual football when French Nice's midfielder Allan Irénée Saint-Maximin asked EA game's developers via Twitter to add a band by Gucci he has in his FIFA 19 card. And it's not the first and unique case. Two years ago, footballer Michy Batshuayi from Chelsea didn't like his rating in FIFA 18, which totalled 80 points.

EA Sports noticed the footballer's discontent and replied soon: 'Keep scoring goals and we'll talk...'' But Michy wasn't confused and replied: 'Hahaha fair point but I've been doing this for quite a long time now… even longer than the last time your servers were OK,'' the Belgian trolled FIFA.

Moreover, a footballer from Turin's Juventus Sami Khedira was very annoyed because EA Sports ''trimmed'' him wrongly. The German midfielder was so irritated that EA didn't change his hairdo in new games that started to ''bomb'' Twitter of the Canadian company: ''I'm really glad you like my long hair… but I'm wearing it short for almost two years now… '' After that, Khedira's new hairdo finally appeared in the game. Moreover, the Canadian company seriously updated the player's face and made it more realistic.

''By the way, it's what Konami is taking advantage of today – they add footballers' faces earlier than a rival and try to ''demonstrate'' this fact in social networks. For instance, a player doesn't like his face hasn't been changed in the game for long, while the Japanese immediately update his face in their game and focus on it: like the footballer asked Electronic Arts, but it's we who did it. As for such cases like that of Saint-Maximin, everyone can make such requests. The more popular a player is, the more chances he has to have his interest met by a company,'' Baybekov concluded.

Tattoo studios can 'kill' reality and uniqueness of athletes' characters in games

The history of collaboration of football players with developers regarding their virtual characters, in general, doesn't have losses or negative connotation. On the contrary, it's only fun and a reason for football fans to gossip in social networks.

However, EA Sports has a bad experience in using athletes' characters. A debate between tattooists who sued the Canadian company because the developers used images of their works without agreement and, in fact, stole their intellectual property has been dragging since the 2000s. Like these images don't belong to the athletes.

The most famous case was in basketball – Solid Oak Sketches tattoo studio sued for using LeBron James's tattoos in NBA 2K16. Jurists of the studio claim that the developers should have obtained agreement to use Solid Oak's works in their game. The tattoo studio demands a compensation of $819,500 for infringement of copyright and offers to license other games of the series for 1,14m.

There haven't been any trials in favour of tattooists in sport so far. But the first positive decision will have a domino effect – the court's decision might be used in other trials to earn from every programme or game where tattooed athletes' characters are used.

Developers are already laying out big money for licensing sports competitions, leagues, use of music and faces of athletes. If there is a precedent for rights to tattoos in games, developers will have to suffer from additional costs or simply refuse to use them – so they will just save money on having talks with hundreds of athletes and tattooists.

By Erik Dobrolyubov