Confession time. Until earlier this month I hadn’t played many more than ten matches on Master League since PES2013. It hasn't been an entirely conscious act; when the PlayStation 4 arrived, PES2014 was still relatively freshly squeezed and there wasn’t a next gen release until 2015. Couple that with the fact that edit mode wasn’t reintroduced until PES 2016 and the result was that I ended up playing a lot more of FIFA 14 & 15 than perhaps I’d have liked.
By the time I’d gotten to grips with PES2016, Master League felt stale compared with FIFA’s career mode. The cheesy cut scenes, broken English and the over-repetitive soundtrack in particular made the experience feel hollow and boring.
Over the past couple of years I’ve barely played PES at all. The odd online match here and there, or playing against someone’s MyClub dream team on co-op mode (which, by the way, is a whole separate issue in itself) aside, the game just wasn’t as appealing to me in the way that it once was. Maybe that was down to the sheer amount of hours spent creating kits for the PES World option files; there’s a lot of work behind the scenes that goes into making them that never gets mentioned or even thought about by the masses. There’s nothing quite like pulling an all-nighter, trying to perfect the many fine details of Everton's latest third kit so that thousands of other people can play as their favourite team and then never actually using it yourself.
But recently, with the abysmal demise of Manchester United, I’ve found myself drawn back into Master League, hoping to right some of the many, many wrongs that Ed Woodward and co. have committed since Sir Alex abdicated the throne in 2013.
All things considered, you could argue that I’m not best placed to compile a list of things to improve Master League, after all, I haven’t played it properly for five years. You could also argue that having spent some of my hiatus with EA’s offerings has given me an insight into how things could be. That’s not to say that FIFA is perfect. It isn’t. But, there are a few things that Konami could learn from their rival's work.
While there are many things that still annoy me about Master League, I have seen signs of improvement in this short stint. But, as with all things in life, there is always room for improvement. So here it is; 10 things I’d like to see in Master League for PES2020.
1. The Transfer Market.
This is something that is seemingly quite hard to get right. In-game algorithms determining which players are moving to which clubs and for how much etc. can throw up some real anomalies. Anthony Martial joining Ipswich Town for £5m is something that just shouldn’t be possible. Likewise, failing to negotiate with a club that want £50m for their star player only to see him join your cross town rivals for a fraction of that shouldn’t be a thing. Take Deadline day for example - this should be a stressful experience. Having recently watched the ‘Sunderland Til’ I Die’ documentary on Netflix and seeing just how tense things can become, that drama simply doesn’t come through on PES in the way that it should. It’s definitely stressful, but for all the wrong reasons. I get that negotiations take time, of course they do. But the current system on PES can be described at best as dated and clumsy. It is very much behind FIFA. Being able to negotiate with only one player at a time over a 3-4 hour period within a 15 hour time limit means that you really have to be selective on what you do. This forces you to do your business early, of course. However, because the starting transfer budget is so small, even at the larger clubs, you’ll likely need to generate funds by selling your unwanted players first. Unfortunately, those players will likely sit on the transfer list being stalked by all and sundry until the last minute. So, if you’re heading into deadline day already negotiating with three new players and still needing to offload six, then forget it. It’s just not going to happen. In reality, you’d have a team of people talking to different clubs/players etc and reporting back. Advancing time by the hour, rather than the aforementioned 3-4 hour chunks in which you can only be handling a single negotiation, would allow you to deal with more transfers while existing negotiations are on-going in the background.
2. Returning Loan Players.
In the first season you’ll doubtlessly have players that are either at your club temporarily or out on loan from your club by default because that’s where they are currently in reality. Especially if you’re playing as Chelsea. In FIFA, these players will, at the end of their loan contract, return to their respective parent clubs. Not in PES. Timothy Fosu-Mensah is still at Fulham and apparently doesn’t want to come home unless I fork out £12m of my previously mentioned tiny transfer budget. This may have something to do with limiting the size of squads. If that’s the case, either raise the limit or remove it entirely so that when the time comes, you get your players back.
3. Create a Manager.
Having to build a custom manager model that will appear in cut scenes and main menu news flashes is tedious in the extreme. FIFA 19 lets you choose from a selection of preset manager models. Why not give us the option for both or, better yet, let us bypass this option completely and turn it off. I realise that you can already skip this step and just have the generic poe-faced moron that lurks in the shadows of edit mode, but even this is frustrating. You’re supposed to be the manager. It’s meant to be seen through your eyes. Having an on-screen ‘imposter’ detracts from the experience and creates a separation from the player.
At the moment, injuries aren’t a big thing in Master League, they just happen. You lose your player for a few weeks, without any explanation or consequence and then all of a sudden they’re back and feelin’ fine. There’s no updates on their recovery, you don’t even get to find out why they were injured in the first place, just that they are injured and that they will be unavailable for three weeks. It all feels a bit like getting that chance card in Monopoly; “Go straight to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200”. But why? What did I do? As the manager of the football club you should know everything. Just imagine for a second that Pep Guardiola has been told by his chief physio that Raheem Sterling is injured and will be unavailable for three weeks, but then not tell him why or keep him updated. He’d probably be looking for a new job. There’s no human element to this. The first thing any sane person would want to know is why their player is hurt and how he is. I’m not asking for a ‘send flowers’ button but some information on what's going on with your players would certainly help with immersion.
5. Interaction with your players.
Being able to interact with your players isn’t something new in football games. Both Football Manager and FIFA have been doing it for years, albeit at different ends of the scale. FIFA’s system is very one sided; players can come to you, but not the other way around and when they do it’s usually about starting the next game. Football Manager on the other hand has a very intricate system that can, in my opinion, go too far for a video game. Depending upon the scenario, you could end up alienating half of your squad and derailing your entire season all because you’ve fined Ousmane Dembele a weeks wages for skipping training because he was up all night playing Fortnight with his mates. Finding the middle ground here could be an interesting proposition for Konami and add a whole new dimension of gameplay to Master League.
6. Interaction with the press.
This goes hand in hand with the previous point. Talking to the press before or after games, being asked about transfer rumours etc. are part and parcel of the modern game. Again, Football Manager does this really well and what you say and how you say it can really effect your team and the owner's confidence in you. Likewise, having your words twisted in the papers would likely create its own problems that you would have to navigate through.
7. Upgradable Facilities.
I know the modern trend in football is to demolish your stadium and build a new one, but this could be an interesting inclusion in Master League and would also see a welcome return of the stadium creator. LMA Manager on the PlayStation and Ultimate Soccer Manager on the PC used to do this really well. If you had the funds available and the need to do it, you could either build a new stadium off site to move into and have it constructed in the background with regular updates on the newsfeed, or, knock down a stand in your current stadium like Liverpool did recently and watch it grow throughout the season while you’re playing matches. The same could be done with your training ground and the hiring and firing of staff.
8. Social Media.
Those of you that have played Marvel’s Spider-Man on the PlayStation 4 are probably aware of the the Wall Crawler’s fake twitter feed that runs in the background reacting to different storylines as they happen throughout the game. It isn’t an integral part of the game but it’s there if you want to read it. I seem to remember something like this being attempted in PES2013, where you would see pictures popping up in your main news-feed of fans getting dressed-up and making their way to the ground for your next game. Re-introducing something like this to PES2020 would be a fantastic addition and add an element of reality to the game.
9. TV Style Broadcasting.
This is something that was introduced as far back as 1993 in FIFA International Soccer on the Sega Megadrive, with Rob Barr popping up to give you a text summary of the game ahead. EA brought something similar back for World Cup '98 with Gary Lineker or the legendary Des Lynham passing comment upon your last match and where it left you in the tounament. But it wasn’t until recently that this sort of thing was completely smashed out of the park by 2K games in NBA 2K16. They had a fully rendered TV studio with a presenter and ex-players as pundits actually holding a conversation about how your season was going so far and what to expect in the forthcoming match. After that they’d come back at half time and comment on what they’d just seen along with pitch side interviews with players and managers. If you haven’t seen it, go and look it up, it’s incredible. This is where PES could enter the fray; EA’s English commentary and broadcast style is very much influenced by Sky Sports. So, why not get BT Sport involved with PES?
The ability to completely customise your experience by switching off any of the different modes within Master League. Don’t want to play friendly games? Done. Don’t want to talk to the press? Okay then. Allowing you to choose which parts of the game you want to include completely personalises the experience just for you. Much like the way Football Manager lets you delegate to your assistant manager or the Formula One games have always done when dealing with car setup. You could go as in-depth as you wanted or, if you had absolutely no idea what you were doing, which downforce settings you needed for Spa-Francorchamps, or which camber settings to use around Magny Cours, you could rein it right back in and literally change the bare essentials like tyres and fuel.
Whether or not we’ll ever see any of these appear in Master League is a mystery. Even just some of them would help improve the mode and help attract more of the older fan base back to PES. Let me know what your thoughts are and what you’d like to see in Master League.