A brief history of: FIFA
How the first 'footballer's football game' grew from an atypical soccer title into a eSports giant
As players across the world tuck into FIFA 19, it's worth remembering that FIFA certainly wasn't the first football video game.
Throughout the seventies – two decades before FIFA arrived – numerous companies offered re-arranged versions of Pong, insisting that they represented all kinds of sports, from volleyball to football. The gameplay, though, always came down to bouncing balls from moving monochrome rectangles.
By 1981, Pele's Soccer even looked a tiny bit like football; even if the players were represented by coloured blocks. Then, towards the end of the 1980s, games like Kick Off arrived, ushering in a golden era for football video games. Kick Off and contemporaries like Sensible Soccer, however, had an arcade gameplay leaning, presenting a 'cartoonish' version of the beautiful game. They were brilliant, but each was far from a 'footballers' football game'.
Pele's Soccer; Atari
Then, in 1993, EA released FIFA International Soccer. The fact that it was the first game to be granted an official FIFA license shows how serious the publisher was about delivering an authentic football experience. Released on platforms like the SNES, Mega Drive and Amiga, it impressed players and critics, but it would take a few more years for FIFA to truly find its footing as the king of soccer games.
By the release of FIFA 97 the game was truly 3D, featured elaborate commentary, and allowed players to perform numerous offensive and defensive abilities previously unseen in sports titles. Only a few years previously, most provided the choice to either pass or shoot; now FIFA was enabling a whole range of ball skills that suddenly meant soccer video games played much more like the real thing.
FIFA97; Electronic Arts
FIFA 97 also let up to 20 players battle it out together over LAN, and quickly, a fledgling competitive scene began to form around the series. Importantly, FIFA was now by no means only a game played by devoted gamers. It was hugely popular with football fans; many of whom had never considered owning a gaming machine until the series arrived.
A game of FIFA between to football fans could only be extremely competitive, of course. It provided a chance to prove you knew the game inside and out. Instead of shouting at the television or arguing hypothetical scenarios with fellow fans, footballers could take now control of entire matches themselves.
As such, with each year that passed, every new version of FIFA became more devoted to capturing the reality of football. Complex game engines made the physically of the game more authentic, as player weight, speed, direction and even skeletal structure determined how collisions played out. Management functions and increasingly varied ball skill systems were introduced with more ambition each year.
FIFA2002; Electronic Arts
But for a time, FIFA even lost its way, with its great rival in Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer briefly being the preferred choice of seriously competitive football fans.
Still, the EA series was an early stalwart of organised eSports, with the FIFA eWorld Cup launching in Switzerland in 2004. Since then, FIFA has grown with eSports, and arguably pioneered the link between traditional physical sports and eSport. Today dozens of the most famous football clubs in the world now have an eSports team to represent them in competitions; the FIFA games deserve some of the credit for making that a reality.
The FIFA video games have also always been inherently, competitive, simply because football itself is an extremely competitive sport. But it was with the arrival of FIFA 18 – the 34th game in the series – that the eSport's elite found a title truly built from the ground up for esports. Sure, there's still single-player and local-versus options, but FIFA 18 is a game that knows how important eSports is to its success – and perhaps vice versa.
FIFA18, Ronaldo; Electronic Arts
The developers of the iteration clearly got something right, too. Through the season for FIFA 18, 20 million people played FIFI as an eSport. Not bad for a series that was not so long ago eclipsed by Konami's Pro Evo titles.
Looking forward rather than back, things have changed a great deal since EA's isometric soccer release in 1993. Now FIFA 19 has arrived, pushing the game forward a great deal.
FIFA19, Neymar; Electronic Arts
The debut inclusion of UEFA club competitions – including the UEFA Champions League – will delight fans of real football. But eSports soccer players? You may be more interested in the new 'Active Touch System', which promises to give more nuanced control over the ball when at your feet. Essentially, many more animations and tools have been added to make the player's connection with the ball more detailed. There's also Timed Finishing, which could revolutionize goal-scoring technique. Now you can tap a button to strike, and tap it again to determine when a player's foot actually hits the ball. That gives you much more scoring precision.
Other gameplay additions include Dynamic Tactics, which give you more control over wider game strategy, and a revised method for deciding how players win or loose balls.
Dynamic Tactics; Electronic Arts
FIFA has become remarkably nuanced. That's why today you'll find FIFA being played on stage at many of the biggest eSports events there are, with plenty of teams making impressive amounts of cash from the series. And, of course, you can play it right here on World of Duels.