The final part of our series “What Would a 2K Football Game Look Like,” we take a look at what the “Ultimate Team” mode and how to make it fun for everyone, not just those who spend money on packs like in Madden. It’s been a while since we completed Part IV, but you can read any of the previous parts below:
Part V: “Ultimate Team” Mode
WHAT IS IT?
For those who do not know, most (all?) modern sports games have some sort of fantasy card-based game mode. EA Sports titles like Madden have Ultimate Team, NBA 2K has MyTeam, and MLB The Show has Diamond Dynasty. Each game has positives and negatives. For example, Madden Ultimate Team, or MUT, has the best cards because of the holiday promotions for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. However, MUT also has inaccurate ratings and cards can get too repetitive.
2K’s MyTeam is just very bland for the most part, and it doesn’t feel as rewarding to play as MUT or Diamond Dynasty. MLB The Show has arguably the best mode, as Diamond Dynasty (DD) uses dynamic ratings and the cards used in the game are real-life baseball cards, including rookies and flashbacks. The downside for DD is that there aren’t any cards for the big-three holidays (Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas), which would add a cool element to the mode and keep people playing in the offseason.
Our fictional game would have a nice blend of all the modes that exist today, and would include never-before-seen things.
A big flaw of MUT is that their “base cards” become useless very quickly. Base cards are the ones available at the launch of the game, but the ratings are lowered from the actual ratings. In Madden 17 for example, Tom Brady’s base card is only an 88, and then he earned a Team of the Week (91), Ultimate Blitz (94), NFL Playoffs (97), and Super Bowl MVP (99). It’s good business by EA because Brady fans with money are going to spend it on packs to get the new Brady every time, but it’s not good for the game.
MLB The Show’s system of dynamic ratings is perfect, and adds a better team-builder element to the game. For example, if Mike Trout is a 99 to start the year in the real rosters, he will immediately have a 99 “Diamond” card in DD. To use a more dynamic example (because Trout is likely to remain a 99), let’s say the Phillies centerfielder Odubel Herrera begins the season as an 83 overall. That means he will start in Diamond Dynasty with an 83 “Silver” card, but if he starts hot and hits .350 in April, leading to a rating increase in real rosters, his DD card will see the same increase. So, if you have that Odubel Herrera 83, he will transform into an 88 “Gold” or whatever he is.
The same would be true if Herrera hit .150 to start the season, as he would perhaps decrease to a 79 overall in the real rosters, leading to his DD card transforming to a 79. There are not just dynamic cards, though. Players have rookie cards, flashback cards, prime cards, and more; these cards are “static” meaning they do not change.
In a 2K Football game that employed this strategy, users that want an Anquan Boldin card to remain a staple in their lineup, for example, would be able to get a prime card that remains a 95 overall rather than his dynamic card that is unlikely to go above the low 80s.
Instead of having several Tom Brady’s that go up in overall as the season goes on, there would be his dynamic card that should stay above 95 all year, a flashback card to a 2007 game (when Randy Moss was on the team) that would have sick deep throwing stats and stay as a 99, and then a potential Super Bowl MVP card that would top them all with the best stats in the game, even compared to his already-established 99. It just doesn’t seem right to have an 88 overall present-day Tom Brady, and for those who are worried they wouldn’t be able to get him, there could also be a lower-rated flashback card from earlier in his career.
PLAYING THE MARKET
The best part of dynamic ratings in that users are able to play the market with players being just like real stocks. Think Nelson Agholor will breakout in 2017? Buy a dozen Agholor cards at the start of the season and then sell them when his 72 turns into an 89! Plus, you’ll have one for your own team.
Users would have to try to sell-high and buy-low by determining who is for real and who isn’t. Last season, it would have been smart to sell Isaiah Crowell after his hot start because it didn’t seem likely to last, and Jay Ajayi was a smart buy after his first 200-yard game that led to his breakout season.
Playing the market is great because it takes they power away from the pay-for-play guys that are impossible to beat because they drop hundreds of dollars on packs to get the best team. Dynamic ratings reward those who watch and know football, as opposed to those who think they know the game and are just good on the sticks.
Players who are injured would obviously not have their ratings changed dynamically if they are done for the year, but they can still get new cards through flashbacks, rookie cards, and more. Users would need to be careful not to buy too much of an injury-prone player or their investment could come back to hurt them.
FLASHBACKS, PRIME CARDS, AND ROOKIE CARDS
It’s been explained a bit, but what exactly are flashbacks, prime cards, and rookie cards? Here is a description with examples:
Flashback: a particular game where the player played great (ex: Tom Brady in Week 6 of 2009 against the Titans when he threw for six touchdowns in the snow; the card would be a 99 and the picture would be Brady in the snow)
Prime: an entire season where the player played great (ex: Darrelle Revis in 2009 when he had six interceptions, one touchdown, and 31 deflections)
Rookie: a card based on the rookie year of an NFL player (ex: Larry Fitzgerald in 2004 when he had 780 yards and 8 touchdowns, and he would be an 83 overall)
Basically, flashback cards give users a chance to get players who had a really good game, which could be a stud or a lesser player that they like who played great one week. Prime cards give a static rating to players, including aging veterans like Frank Gore, allowing his overall to stay at a 96 or whatever rating they get. Rookie cards give users a chance to get a cheaper version of a player they like but is normally priced too high for them to get.
Having flashbacks, primes, and rookies does not eliminate holiday cards by any means. Madden doesn’t do a lot right, but the promos for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are usually pretty strong. Let’s just do a few example cards for each promo to give you an idea of what it would look like.
Halloween: players that are feared throughout the league
- CB Richard Sherman (98): quarterbacks try to avoid his side of the field
- DE Jadeveon Clowney (98): just don’t give him a free run into the backfield
- DT Ndamukong Suh (96): based on both his ability to wreck a game and dirty play
- WR Brandon Marshall (96): an intimidating matchup for any defensive back
- RB Derrick Henry (93): no one wants to tackle this guy in the open field
- MASTER – LB Ray Lewis (99): one of the most feared players of all-time
Thanksgiving: players that have historically played well on Thanksgiving
- WR Antonio Brown (99): torched the Colts on Thanksgiving Night 2016
- LB Luke Kuechly (98): dominated the Cowboys in 2015 with two interceptions, including a touchdown
- QB Tony Romo (98): completed 22 of 29 passes for 306 yards and five touchdowns against the Bucs in 2006
- QB Robert Griffin III (97): threw for 304 yards and four touchdowns against the Cowboys in 2012
- RB Reggie Bush (95): totaled nearly 200 yards against the Packers in 2013
- MASTER – RB Barry Sanders (99): 19 carries for 167 yards and three touchdowns in 1997 against Chicago
Christmas: Ghosts of Football Past (retired players and current players past their prime), Present (current players in their prime), and Future (current players with great potential); cards are for players who play their best in December, including on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day
- PAST – QB Troy Aikman (99): led the Cowboys in the 90s, including 1995 on Christmas where he threw for 350 yards to close out the regular season
- PAST – RB Adrian Peterson (99): one of the greatest running backs of all-time had 861 rushing yards in December 2012, with games of 210, 154, 212, 86, and 199
- PAST – LB Lance Briggs (98): intercepted Brett Favre for a touchdown on 2005 Christmas Day victory, which was one of four picks the Bears had
- PRESENT – QB Aaron Rodgers (99): threw five touchdowns on Christmas Night in 2011 on his way to winning NFL MVP
- PRESENT – WR Jordy Nelson (98): 9 catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns against the Vikings on Christmas Eve 2016
- PRESENT – TE Travis Kelce (98): 11 catches, 160 yards, one touchdown on Christmas Night 2016 against Denver
- FUTURE – QB Carson Wentz (97): the Eagles will hope to build around Wentz to win their first ever Super Bowl
- FUTURE – DE Myles Garrett (97): Garrett is expected to be the first overall pick in this year’s draft
- FUTURE – S Malik Hooker (96): the former Ohio State star could be the next great ball-hawk for whoever drafts him this April
There have already been some legends in the holiday promos that we just went over, but there would be normal legends, too. Unlike EA did for Madden 17, there wouldn’t be legends released with ratings in the low/mid 90s before releasing the same exact ones all over again as 99s after the NFL season concludes. Instead, legends would get the ratings they deserve from the start.
For example, Madden released a 93 Brian Dawkins in the early fall, and just recently created a 99 Dawkins card, calling them both “legends.” He’d be a 99 from the start for us, but could also have a rookie or flashback card so that a version is affordable to everyone.
Also, 99 overalls should be reserved for the best of the best. If a player isn’t considered one of the best ever, they shouldn’t have a 99-rated card. The only 99s in the examples above were Ray Lewis, Antonio Brown, Barry Sanders, Troy Aikman, Adrian Peterson, and Aaron Rodgers, none of which could be argued against being among the NFL’s best ever. Madden recently released WR Chad Johnson as a 99, but as someone who is unlikely to make the Hall of Fame (let alone be considered one of the GOATs), he should be a 98, at most.
To be clear, there could be legends who are not 99, though. Most would be 95-98 overall, with the 99s left for the guys like Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Reggie White.
WAYS TO PLAY
A lot of this would be similar to Madden Ultimate Team. There would be daily or weekly solo challenges, with big rollouts for holiday promos, allowing users who spend the time to play them to get a chance at exclusive cards. There would also be limited-time challenges, but unlike Madden, they wouldn’t take place on Sundays because people watch games, go to games, tailgate, etc.
There would also be a Draft Champions or Battle Royale type mode where users get to draft a team and play a season with them. Unlike Madden, users would have the ability to choose who their “base” players are, because it’s unfair for someone to get better base players than someone else.
The main way to play against other users would be “Seasons” mode, where users would play a 16-game schedule against real opponents and try to make the playoffs. Winning 9 or 10 games advances you to the playoffs, and winning 12 or 13 games gives you a first-round bye. Users in the regular season would only play users in the regular season and users in the playoffs would only play users in the playoffs.
We believe this is an improvement on the flaws of MUT, but what would make this hypothetical game even better is the gameplay improvements in general. It’s frustrating to play Madden when people user-control a fast linebacker and run around with their back to the quarterback, somehow still intercepting everything; it’s unrealistic, and our game would penalize users for straying far away from their assignment. Also, we would have total control passing, as Madden has terrible ball trajectory, allowing defenders to pickoff passes that are intended for open receivers.
The customization in Madden Ultimate Team shouldn’t even be called that; all users get to do is pick a real-life NFL jersey or a pre-set uniform from Connected Franchise Mode relocation teams. NBA 2K gives users the ability to create their own uniforms, build arenas, and even upload logos from the internet. There is no reason those options shouldn’t be in Madden.
MUT is so inflexible that a user who equips the Ultimate Freeze (holiday) jerseys have their team automatically called “Chicago Blues.” Not only is the “cool” holiday uniform completely unchangeable, but the announcer calls them Chicago—which should eliminate any Packers fans from using holiday uniforms.
The team name that is chosen through typing text is just as rigid as everything else in MUT. For example, if I wanted to be the Winterfell Wolves, that should be easy enough, right? Nope. The best you can do is “Winterfell Wolv” before running out of characters.
Like DD and MyTeam, a fantasy card-based game in the NFL should have big-time customization to separate users from each other. People should be able to make/upload their own logo, create their own uniforms, build their own stadium, call themselves whatever they want (with location and team name), and more.
Also, the team chemistry feature in MUT was a good addition, but it has its flaws. The lineup screen should change depending on whether or not a user employs a 4-3 or 3-4, but instead, there is always two defensive tackle spots and one middle linebacker spot. The chemistry is added to both the second DT and LB, but little things like the visual should be fixed to make things easier on players.
SETS AND LIMITED CARDS
Like MUT but perhaps more similar to Diamond Dynasty, there would be sets to get certain cards, such as collecting all 53 players from a particular team to get a legend, flashback, prime, or other card. This gives all cards value, which is good for the market so that everyone cannot easily get the best players, and completing the sets would be the only way to get a particular card.
There would also be limited cards, that may be in packs or challenges, where only 100 total exist for example, but that number can be higher like 500 or even as low as 10. It would be awesome to have a limited edition Deion Sanders that is extremely exclusive, leading to more variety in teams throughout the mode. It's annoying when everyone has every good player. Our game would set it up so that people who want to spend money on packs can still do so, but those who do not will not be at a serious disadvantage like they are in MUT.
Thanks for reading our series “What Would a 2K Football Game Look Like Today.” Hopefully 2K Sports (or someone else) is able to get the chance to make an NFL game in the very near future to give Madden some much needed competition, but EA Sports will probably do all they can to stay exclusive. It’s up to consumers to make a difference by making the NFL and EA hurt in their wallets, especially if the Frostbite engine in Madden 18 does not make significant changes.