It’s the end of an era as Pro Evolution Soccer is replaced by the new platform known as eFootball, so it’s the perfect time to reflect on its endearing imperfections.
When it came to football video games, the choice was binary: either you’re with FIFA or PES. During my childhood it was one of several binary choices that seemed to cement your identity on the lawless territory that was the school playground, with other face-offs including Xbox vs PlayStation, Adidas vs Nike and, most pertinently for me, socially awkward loser who smells bad vs normal kids.
If we were in a cliché-ridden high school romcom, FIFA would be the muscular jock who wears a letterman jacket and has the coolest car, but PES would be the endearing outsider who has holes in his shoes but a heart of gold. Nothing made that scruffy underdog more endearing than the fake player names it resorted to due to licensing deals that rendered it impossible to use the identities of actual players or clubs.
The best of these were the shameless rip-offs that simply switched a few letters around and hoped nobody would notice; there are no prizes for guessing the true identity of Argentinian midfielder Juan Sebastian Revon, or the full-back free-kick specialist from Brazil named Roberto Larcos.
But there were some of these name switcheroos that were more than a little cheeky, in the manner of naughty kids swapping around words on a public noticeboard. We doubt that World Cup winning defender Cafu would have much appreciated being called Facu to his face; Samuele Dalla Bona was stiffed over by being renamed Samuel Dalla Boner; winger Paul Parry must have moaned loudly when he found he’d been renamed Porn Derry, while Jan Koller’s pseudonym sounds potentially libelous: Jan Killer.
Clubs didn’t fare much better than their players, with truly baffling names indicating a severe lack of geography graduates on the payroll at Konami. West Ham United being renamed Lake District was surely the most egregious example; living just a stone’s throw away from the stadium, I can’t say I’ve seen too many tourists in walking boots and anoraks darting around the alleys of East London lately. Still, bizarre and buffoonish names like that are surely preferable to dull choices like Man Red for a certain club that everyone loves to hate.
Now that the PES name has been retired and a substantially new game launched in its place, it feels like the story has come to an unhappy ending for the series, with the cool kid that is FIFA having outsold its rival by around three to one and simply leaving them in the dust. Could eFootball, which works on a free-to-play cross-platform model, be the “glow-up” that Konami’s series needs in order to compete with the best sports games again?
It would take an impressive piece of skill to overtake FIFA, much like that careering run past four defenders in the dying minutes of extra time that was scored against Arsenal back in 1999 by a certain ‘Ryan Greggs’. Who doesn’t love an underdog story in sport, and if eFootball can register a famous comeback victory then it would be just as sweet as any FA Cup upset.