The Daily Grind: Where are all the sports-themed MMORPGs?

On those rare occasions when we mention EA's FIFA series, usually relating to court cases over online gambling, I'm always struck again by how few sports MMORPGs we have. We have fishing games and golfing games. We have racing games. But major team sports have never bridged the gap, in spite of their immense popularity -- though maybe that's because they're popular with self-identified non-gamers.

Indeed, even few MMORPGs include sports as something our characters would do -- it's a weird omission, right? Wouldn't it make much more sense for PvP to play out as sporting simulators, a la Star Wars: The Old Republic's Huttball, one of only a handful of examples I can think of from our 20-year history?

So where are all the sports-themed MMORPGs? Why aren't we seeing more of them, and how would you make them work?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today's Daily Grind!
SHARE THIS ARTICLE

LEAVE A COMMENT

63 Comments on "The Daily Grind: Where are all the sports-themed MMORPGs?"

Subscribe to:
Sort by:   newest | oldest | most liked
Reader
Schmidt.Capela

Sincerely, what would the MMO format offer to a sports game?

Open world? Apart from street racing and perhaps a couple other sports all the action happens in closed arenas, so that isn't needed.

Progression (and, in particular, power progression)? It's at the core of most sports to eliminate external influences as much as possible (thus standardized arenas, gear, etc); power progression isn't a good match for sports games. Non-power based progression is already served by achievements and trophy rooms in all their guises.

Live opponents available at all times? You just need matchmaking for that, no need to make the game an actual MMO.

The traditional MMO format is a good match for games where much of the action happens in the open world. It has little to offer to a game centered on arena-bound activities, and particularly so if power progression is detrimental to the experience.

Reader
Zen Dadaist

I just assumed that the audience for competitive team-based PvP was over at the MOBAs.

Reader
Scrungle

In the garbage, where they belong.

Reader
angrakhan

I think the answer is pretty obvious but no one has mentioned it sooooo... How about the fact that there aren't any sports that require enough players to qualify the game as "Massive". I mean do we consider Battlefield "massive"? I don't. Yet they have I think 32v32 player matches. What sport do we have that not only meets but exceeds 32v32 by enough to qualify as a "massively" multiplayer game RPG or not? I can't think of any. Thus you end up with the sports equivalent of a lobby shooter which is not an MMORPG.

Case dismissed!

boredinbc
Reader
boredinbc

The first M in MMO could easily be accomplished by building a persistent world in which the players live.

Reader
Drainage

Dungeons don't require that many people. The games are just a dungeon. You could have AI matches, as well as PvP.

Reader
Vexia

Conventional sports are well outside my range of interest, so I don't really think I'd play a sports-based MMO for the sake of the sport. But I guess I am kind of surprised we don't have very many of them.

Ideally for me, MMOs would have sports more as mini-game or PvP activities like the aforementioned Huttball or the cart racing in Toontown Online. Can't you play soccer in jail in ArcheAge as well? It may sound silly, but for me that's the kind of feature that pushes something from "just a game" into virtual world territory.

Also I'm predicting it right here and now: Blitzball will become a playable sport in FFXIV: Stormblood along with the addition of swimming.

Reader
Robert Mann

Because if you think people are jerks in MMOs as it is, all you need to add to that formula is sports teams...

Reader
Drainage

Broad brushing it today, heh? 🙈

capt_north
Reader
capt_north

Because the quarterback class is OP and needs to be nerfed.

Reader
Bryan Correll

I can see MOBA style games being sports centered*, but not MMORPGs.
* And I can imagine people going apeshit because someone else 'stole' the shortstop position before they could and ranting through the whole game that they're going to lose because of how bad the other guy is at that position. And basketball games where no one ever passes the ball.

Reader
Jack Pipsam

Sport is by its own nature, repetitive and rigid. Unless you want to go down the whacky route with say Rocket League, the amount of things you can do with sports games are limited.

I mean sport games suit their mark just fine as it is. You can already play sports games online, offline ect. As an MMO I doubt it would work.
Sport games as a simulation almost need to exist as they currently do if they hope to achieve a degree of authenticity.
I mean you can have fun things like Mario & Sonic at the Olympics, but at its core the sport games have to be somewhat related to the sport.

I mean if your character is spending more time off the field, then what's the point of it being a sport games? If you spend your whole time on the field, what's the point of it being an MMO? I don't really conceive say how a Swimming MMO or a Cricket MMO or a Australian Rules Football MMO would work.

Maybe part of it is that I don't care for sport as entertainment in real life at all, so I am not really invested in the idea.

IMO Sport can only really work as mini-game or side thing like battlegrounds.

Reader
Manastu Utakata

Perhaps because sports is more or less readily available to play in reality. So why would we need to sit on our behinies to kick a ball with your mates in an MMO environment, when you can go down to a local park to do that?

...on the other hand, PvP would be better suited in an MMO environment because that would involve killing off your mates in reality, or being killed off in impossible fantasy/sci-fi environments. Since we only have one life to spare and the local park doesn't have a Warsong Gulch simulation...it gives us more incentive to play that in our favorite MMO's instead. :)

Reader
Drainage

Madden sells a lot of football games.

I think it is more about what the narrow scope of what developers are interested in on a personal level.

Reader
Manastu Utakata

Oh, okays. Not sure that's addressing my point though. o.O

Reader
Melissa McDonald

Because consoles rule for sports games. you need hardcore consistency and fairness and only consoles can offer that kind of homogeneity of platform and capability in sports games.
And, console sports games do have "career" modes where you live the life of an athlete. Madden Football does this, for example.

Reader
Drainage

The football and American football games have insane management systems. You can also play matches online.

purplecopper
Reader
purplecopper

I'm surprised there isn't a football/soccer/etc MMO out there already.

Instead of one player controlling an entire team of NPC, you have one player controlling just ONE member of the team.

Now as to WHY there are very few sports MMO? Because if immersion is the key, you just might as well play actual sports in real life with your friends.

Now you and your buddies can play a basketball MMO, OR you could do the sensible thing and play actual basketball at your local park.

Reader
Cypher

There is a football manager online, and there was (maybe still is) a mode on FIFA that had you playing one of the 11 positions, though not played FIFA in an age...

Reader
wild-abyss

I just always sort of thought as the PVP side of games as the sports side. Rah, rah, team v team capture the flag or whatever they do (can you tell I don't PVP?).

Now, I am snowed in a forecasted 55cm of blizzarding snow so what should I play...?

camren_rooke
Reader
camren_rooke

The Real Putting Challenge. Images be wonky

Lee_Carvallo2.jpg
Reader
RJB

in the gutter whjere they belong

Reader
Schlag Sweetleaf

Reader
Schmidt.Capela

That is an actual game, you know.

Blood-bowl-2.jpg
Reader
Crow

MMORPG are a niche genre to begin with, and "sports games" generally do not fit the mold anyway. Progressive sports games exist, but what "world" is going to be compelling for someone whose attraction to the game is about the bounded and specific match?

There's no real place for central narrative aside from "you play the sport!" Every MMO-like sport game (racing, Winning Putt, fishing, management sims, etc.) is focused on the sport and any narrative or context doesn't matter. You could have a brilliantly written and constructed story/world behind a sport game and the pure reality is that it doesn't matter and can't have more of a background, passive effect on a player's experience.

And sports are rather well detailed and known. There are generally strict rules and guidelines. Strategies are well known and dependent on simulating real world experience as much as possible in most cases, even when done in an "arcade-y" way. American Football still has 4 downs. Baseball is 9 innings with 3 outs each. Golf is 9 or 18 holes with score based on number of strokes.

Although if you want to count "fantasy leagues " (and I likely would if we're talking MMOs-- considering that Roleplaying and Fantasy Sports went through the near exact same kind of analog-to-digital revolution) then we'd probably see the number of fantasy sport players dwarf the number of MMORPG players. Likely would also be much larger than MOBA/MMO bases as well.

Reader
Cypher

Fight Night round 3 still remains the best online sport game I've ever played, though I agree that's not what we're talking about here.
There is the Football Manager Online offering from Sports Interactive (they also do an NHL and I think an NFL one too) which seems good but not that popular... short answer is, I have no idea!

Chukii

Reader
Melissa McDonald

An incredible boxing game yes. It got us through an entire holiday weekend/family reunion once. My brothers and dad were amateur boxers so they had a lot of fun creating all sorts of famous fighters from history and watching them battle it out. I remember Foreman, Tyson, and Klitschko ended up being the 3 best records from all the bouts. I laughed myself silly watching them get drunk and boxing into the wee hours of the morning. I was glad they've moved on from tolchocking each other and just play the video game now. they aren't kids no more and punches hurt a lot worse I bet hahhaha.

Reader
deekay_plus

by being aware of those ones you seem to have a better idea than most of the commenters below lol. >>

but goes to show the lack of overlap between sports gaming and non sports/mmo gaming i guess :D

Reader
Armsbend

The soccer manager games are immensely popular I could see that working as an MMO as much as anything else.

Reader
Cypher

Dam! beat me to it! I mentioned the football manager series but I didn't think the online version was that popular, given I only ever see it on the ad hoardings in the single player game.

Chukii

Reader
deekay_plus

well aren't real life fantasy football leagues kind of like a pen and paper mmo? :D

Reader
Cypher

Yep, and the funny thing is I believe the biggest MMO of all now I think about it, at least over here IS Fantasy Football! So maybe we do get the major sports MMO's we want, just not on a screen with peripherals attached.

Chukii

Reader
deekay_plus

pretty mmo like in various ways already for sure imo.

Reader
Rheem Octuris

I just stopped playing Winning Putt. Honestly, the cash shop and daily login thing killed the game for me. On top of that its had constant lag issues of late. The only thing it had going for it was graphics and jiggle-factor. The only other real option is Shot Online, and that makes Project Gorgon visuals look modern by comparison.

Reader
Rheem Octuris

Oh yeah. And I played the hell out of Mario Kart 8's online mode. not an mmo, although you did get an ranking number, get getting coins in multiplayer unlocked parts and characters I think.

Reader
deekay_plus

yeah someone noted in another venue that world of tanks isn't an mmo. but there are people who consider them mmo's and if you are amongst that crowd than those games are as much mmo's as world of tanks or w/e.

i don't think of those kidns of games as being true mmo's but certainly an interesting angle on the question.

Reader
Schmidt.Capela

Which begs the question: what does the MMO format have to offer to sports game that lobby-based matchmaking doesn't already offer? Apart from Need for Speed's free drive mode (it still has that, right?) I can't think of something that would add value to a sports game and can't be done either better or cheaper using a lobby model.

Reader
Rheem Octuris

I don't either, but I don't think the important thing is whether or not it qualifies as an MMO, but if there exists a community of players that interact with each other.

Reader
deekay_plus

ahh yeah i think i was trying to think of the golf one below lol.

tbh most modern sports games have an mp component that is very much mmo like in terms of world of tanks type games being mmo like with central hosting and cash shops and such.

Vaeris
Reader
Vaeris

I don't think it's a case of being a "non-gamers" matter. I think it's more of a "non-MMORPG gamers". Tons of major league players play gamers religiously. It just seems like most play primarily sports games. Back when Schilling was first starting his MMORPG push I remember reading he wrote that there were a bunch of baseball players that played the MMORPG he was in and that they had their own guild. So some play MMORPGs, but most probably not so.

Part of that I think is that MMORPGs CAN be played competitively and those sports players are the epitome of the word. MMORPGs also soak up a bunch of time if you play in that fashion and most of those professional athletes have all kinds of other responsibilities outside of just training.

I think there is, conversely, a view by the industry that it's the geeks and nerds playing these games and not the jocks and cheerleaders and thus it wouldn't appeal. Which is odd to me as I lettered in baseball while playing Rifts RPG, D&D and Magic TG. *shrug*

Reader
KumiKaze

I don't think you could have an mmo based on a sport game that would be sustainable. I love sports games, but I usually only play them for a couple of hours a week at most, and usually only during the current season, so I think people would get tired of it pretty quickly.

The logistics alone would be a nightmare. Are there season, leagues? What happens if my opponent isn't online when I normally play? The current Madden game does have online leagues so they are trying to move to connect people together. I think that is the closest we will get.

Why there isn't any type of sports in a regular mmo? I don't know. It's probably because they don't want to just throw basketball into a game and would want something relevant to their world.

The only type of sport mmo I think that could work is a racing mmo, if you consider that a sport.

Reader
deekay_plus

esports is built on leagues and seasons already. idk what about that would be any more of a challenge for sports video games than it already is for any other kind of video game that has those.

and there's already mmo like if we consider games like world of tanks to be mmos sports games out there. quite common to have that sort of mp component to sports games these days.

Reader
KumiKaze

When your job is to play on an esport team, that changes everything. You have to be there. At least the sports games that have leagues are run by players and weeks can be skipped if people are taking too long. If the leagues were player run I could see it working.

Reader
deekay_plus

i mean immidiate obvious familiar example is wow areans.

been seasonal for over a decade now, and battlegroups act as leagues. nevermind the extra cost "esports" arena server.

the majority of players of which never make it to a point where they can potentially get paid for it.

Reader
deekay_plus

lots of leagues with seasons that aren't professional leagues and you have to pay for the service the league provides.

this has been a thing for many many many years in many games.

even most "pro" teams don't win any money to be paid for their gaming efforts even if there is potential to make money along the way.

Reader
deekay_plus

the crew is a racing sport themed mmo.

gtao has a number of different sports activities.

i believe there's some fishing and derping on teh sport and sport hunting ones too.

largely with sports games they tend to have audiences with less overlaps with other genres/segments of the gaming audience compared to other genres. idk how many guys i've known over the years that have a console box exclusively for sports games and very little to nothing else and people who dedicate their gaming pc's to racing sims above all else with little else on the table if anything.

as well the nature of most sports don't really lend themselves well to the defining characteristics of what makes an mmo an mmo outside of the everything online with central hosting is an mmo thing that innundated us almost a decade ago now. if we go by the world of tanks games are mmo's then there's lots of sports games that effectively do that sort of thing for just about every sport out there.

Reader
Oleg Chebeneev

Sports theme fits MMOs as well as banana fits into borsch

Reader
MesaSage

I'm still waiting for "World of Bocce".

Reader
dm_jim80

I'm that odd duck--the gamer who also played sports. I wouldn't ever call myself an 'athlete;' I got my varsity letter through being a nasty stubborn bastard, not because of physical gifts. So I'm probably the weirdo here--I like sports and I like games. Virtually ever other gamer I've met in guilds/clans/whatever has an intensely contemptuous attitude towards sports. Many were bullied or looked down upon by the 'jocks' in school. Society often lauds athletes (the person who can run fast, jump high, etc) and puts them on a pedestal (literally in ancient statuary); the glorification of 'the geek/nerd/whatever' (the 'smart' person, the 'creative' person) is a more recent thing in comparison. Several of my fellow gamers come from schools where the arts or other activities/classes were neglected or completely defunded because of a focus on sports. There's a lot of hostility, and I can't say it's unfounded hostility.

I have a friend who is a cross country coach at a small local college, and even though the school really didn't have the money, he explained the school abolished choir, laid off instructors, and took other controversial steps to fund...a football team. They've never had a football team in their almost 100 year school history, but now they 'need' one, so everything else gets cuts. The 'non jock' culture there is pretty ticked.

So it's not because sports are 'popular with self-identified non-gamers' in my mind. It's because sports are 'not popular with self identified gamers.' ;)

Reader
deekay_plus

sports fans have been routine fixtures in guilds i've played with over the years. and not uncommon to see sports talk in general chats of any given mmo i'm playing over the years if there's a big game on.

tho definitely it's a minority.

idk how much hostility i've seen towards it outside of people complaining about it ruining their immersionz in trade chat on some rp server or w/e but those people complain about just about everything ruining their precious immersionz so i'm not sure they represent a wider indication of hostility amongst gamers.

tho as noted above i don't think there's alot of overlap between people who play sports vidya gaemz and other types of games in general. but in terms of people who watch sports certainly there.

and i don't think it's only gamers who find too much sports talk annoying either. i've seen the irritation on teh faces of people at parties when confronted by that one guy that wants to rage about sports all night to everyone regardless of if they play video games at all or not.

Reader
Dobablo

I remember seeing some tripe ftp mmos on Steam where you are a footballer and have to go about your daily routine with occasional matches.
The issue with most sports is that they lack persistence. Everything goes back to zero for the next match and what you do outside the game would generally have very little impact on the patch. It is almost always better to ignore the boring world-building activities and use match-makers and lobbies so you can focus on making the sporting aspect the best feature of the game.

Reader
deekay_plus

beyond fantasy football manager things in video game format persistence has been a thing with mp components of sports games for a while now. how else do you think this fifa gambling ring did business?

Reader
Dobablo

Sorry, I failed to explain what I mean by persistence. I consider a persistent world to be one that continues to be active while the player is logged off, not a lobby game where items/rosters/hats persist between matches and playing sessions.

Reader
dr_lucien_sanchez

Ah, imagine a cricket game where all the players are, um... players. That would be awesome. Role-playing sitting in the pavilion for hours on end waiting for your turn to bat. I'd buy it.

Would have to have a comprehensive character creator, though, so you could have a Merv Hughes or Shikhar Dhawan moustache.

Reader
Dobablo

Cash-shop items.
Wisden Almanac (Increase Personality by 1 for each over off the field)
Book of Duckworth-Lewis tables (Reduce target score by 10 runs)
Marked set of playing cards (Consumable: Gain 10-50g but reduce team chemistry by 5. Cooldown Once per session).
Morris dancer outfit (+30% to rain dance skill)

Reader
BalsBigBrother

Team sport based mmo, so that would be what forced grouping and actually co-operating with other players to achieve a win against another group of players.

Well thank you for making me smile on a dreary Monday :-)

Reader
Drainage

My sports gaming friends have always wanted a shot at having a match in which all members of your team are human. Most matches work as AI vs AI currently, with a human calling the plays and controlling the offensive NPC with the ball. On defense, you just take over the NPC closer to the ball. Mostly.

I think it could take off, but so much of sports AI has a cheating mechanism to help blocking, tackling and catching. Would take a huge leap in player control and collision detection.

Reader
deekay_plus

so like a battle ground?

Reader
BalsBigBrother

The thought of an mmo that would only allow you to play the game if you were force grouped (notice team based sport) and would require you all to co-operate to win in today's solo centric I need to be able to play all the game on my own in my own special snowflake way market. Sorry but that amuses me

This isn't a serious post not am I really interested in debating it I just wanted to post that the thought made me smile is all :-) (blame it on being a bleak Monday it makes me easily amused.)

Reader
deekay_plus

so like rocket league? :D

Reader
BalsBigBrother

people co-operate in Rocket League, my experience was everyone rushes the ball and takes it from there all trying to be the "one" rather than organised team play.

However, if it makes you happy, *side eye*,
"yes, like rocket league."

images.jpg
Reader
deekay_plus

wat

Reader
Pandalulz

He's saying a Rocket League match is like any other online multiplayer game. There's no teamwork, everybody tries to steal the ball and get all the points by themselves. He forgot the /s tag at the end.
I haven't played it so I can't say. Because like his other point, I'd have to go online and play with people, and... ewww. :P

wpDiscuz