It’s not that I don’t play sports games. Ever since I was little, I loved playing sports games, whether it was NHLPA Hockey 93′ and Mutant League Hockey on the SEGA Genesis, Super Batter Up on the Super Nintendo, NBA Jam at arcades, NHL Hitz 2002 on the PlayStation 2, hell I used to play the NHL series for 4 years in a row online all the time during my Xbox 360 days.
But I burned out. Especially after playing the NHL games for so long and way too seriously, I destroyed my love for these games. Oh and EA Sports had a bit of a hand in that as well, hard for those greedy bastards not to be involved in some way. But for the past 5 years, sports games have been limited to at best 20-30 hours of me playing whatever the game has as an offline “Be a Pro” kind of mode, where I get to play my way up the ladder into becoming the greatest of all-time. Except…I never reach that point. I usually fizzle out of the games around halfway into my first season as a pro player. I get bored really easily, so playing the same thing over and over again usually does go over with me very well and I end up dropping the game pretty quick.
So imagine my surprise after picking up the newest copy of MLB The Show 18 on PlayStation 4. I played the previous year’s edition, probably put like I said before, about 20-30 hours into it. I didn’t hate it, I just can’t play those kinds of games for very long. Well, at least until this edition.
Now I think it helped getting into the game a bit later than others, as I started the game in the summer, whereas the game launched at the end of March. But where the game really hooked me was its “Diamond Dynasty” mode, which to EA Sports players, it’s their equivalent to the various Ultimate Team modes out there. You start out getting a ‘meh’ at best set of cards, with no superstars in sight and you work your way towards building the best baseball team possible, using both present day and past players. Hell, there’s even a few “Future Stars” cards where you have beefed up versions of rookies that could potentially be huge stars in a couple years, for example the first one being the Atlanta Braves’ Ronald Acuna Jr.
You play ballgame after ballgame, whether offline or online, grinding out stats on various players and teams, collecting items to complete various collections and all of this unlocks bigger and better players to make your team even more lethal. Y’know, I’m not going to sit here and say it’s some revolutionary thing, but as a veteran RPG player, what this game offered me was perfectly in line with how I enjoy playing JRPGs. I level up, gain more stuff and I’m more powerful as I go on. In MLB 18, I play a few games, achieve either a one-game mission where for example I need to get 3 hits and 2 stolen bases in the same game, or perhaps a much larger long-term mission where I need to grind out say 50 hits and 25 doubles. I’m always working towards something in the end and that’s what ends up keeping me going. I’m not just playing for no reason, I’m continually working at something, with a goal in mind and a reward at the end. I have a full-page Excel document that has all the missions I’m currently working on, as well as missions waiting in the wings as soon as I have an open spot available. Clearing off missions for me is a little like spring cleaning, you feel a sense of pride and accomplishment (yes that pun is completely intended, EA.) making that list a little smaller.
Admittedly, it also helps that I use this game as my “doesn’t demand my full attention” option when I’m listening to live shows, podcasts and more. I’m a podcast junkie, I’ve got at least 30 followed on my Spotify list and a third of them I’m listening to religiously. Maybe I’ll do a post someday about what I’m listening to and give you folks a few suggestions (hold me to this, I won’t remember…) that you might not have been aware of. But yeah, the game doesn’t really demand too much, so it’s a great multi-tasker for me, I can play the game and grind out a couple missions to completion and I can also listen to whatever I need to catch up on and just soak all that information in. I think that, large in part is how this game is working so well for me, because other games I’m big into like Destiny 2, Monster Hunter World and most single-player games where I want to hear everything, they don’t work when I have 3-5 podcasts I also want to listen to as well.
What’s also made this year’s edition better for me is that unlike last year’s edition where I felt I got a respectable number of decent players. I got a couple of Diamond-level players, which is the highest rank, going from Level 85-99, but not many. This year, I’m literally less than 10 present day (or Live Series as they call it in-game) players away from completing the entire collection. Now if we’re talking other cards, I’ve still got a ways to go, there’s a lot of grinding left to do and I definitely won’t finish it all, but the fact I can look at my collection this year and not only see some progress, but a LOT of progress? When taking into account as well that I wasn’t frustrated or bored the entire way through thus far, that’s a major plus.
And the biggest part of it? I spent less than $40 to do what I’ve done. I got the game on sale and I haven’t spent a penny on microtransactions in the game, so to all the suckers out there throwing hundreds of dollars at fake currency just so you can own that extremely rare 94 overall Mike Trout? Suck it, cause I got one without praying for luck in a card pack (aka a loot box) or buying tons of stubs (the game’s currency) to get him. Patience and hard work pays off.
To those reading this that are actually familiar with the game, I’ve been playing the game on and off since June. I never played online and refuse to at this point, as the way people play and try to use every glitch in the book to win a single fake baseball game, it’s not worth it to me. I’ve done everything offline for mission grinding and in terms of making currency, I just slowly worked away at the game’s marketplace and grew my stub numbers over time. I think it helps that I’m so good at micro-managing things, so I was always paying attention to what I was doing and not getting suckered into spending the stubs I’d made through hard work on loot boxes that would’ve never gotten me anything. For example, any pack I’ve ever open has never landed me a Diamond card. Ever. So instead of hoping for luck to shine on me, I always set myself goals and limits that made it work. And to progress the way I’ve had, it feels pretty damn good!
In the end, I think the biggest help is that I am a baseball fan through and through. I played from the age of 6 until I was 14, now I’m back to playing Slo-Pitch Softball with friends and co-workers (I don’t mean to brag, but I’m actually super good. All those years training to be an anime protagonist paid off!) and staying healthy through that, along with other sports. But baseball is my bread and butter, it’s always been a big part of my life, so it’s not that surprising to me that if a sports game was going to really grab my attention this year, it’s a baseball game.
I think it also just has to do with so many other genres starting to dwindle with me. I’m completely Destiny-ed out, I’m finding it really hard to pick up the game and grind some more, even though I don’t necessarily hate the game. I’ve put over 2000 total hours into the series thus far, I’m burning myself out. Open world games aren’t grabbing me the way they used to, there aren’t a lot of great JRPGs out there these days (though I am waiting for Dragon Quest to drop in price…) and I’m also just waiting for games I want to play to go on sale, cause it’s harder and harder for me to justify paying full price for games that I’m not 100% sure I’m going to love.
So I’ll take a baseball game I paid about half-price for, being the game that’s been my time sinker this year. I always need one.