EA Sports' Icon SBC Debacle Shows it's Completely Lost When it Comes to FIFA Ultimate Team

FIFA Ultimate Team is one of the most played and popular features in video gaming today. The concept of building a fantasy team around your favorite soccer players (both past, present and future) entices fans to boot up their consoles and play manager.

Since its inception in FIFA 09, the game has come a long way in terms of content, replay value, competition and more. Even more so in the past three entries in the franchise.

An inherent problem with Ultimate Team in the past, however, was the underlying pay-to-win formula. Spend money on in-game currency for the best team possible. The more money you spend, the better your team.

FIFA 17 marked the start of a new Ultimate Team directive with the inclusion of Squad Building Challenges and FUT Champions. The latter being the flagship competitive mode for the franchise. FIFA 18 introduced Squad Battles, a single player mode where players competed against computer AI teams for weekly rewards. This year, in FIFA 19, Division Rivals revamped Divisions, the standard matchmaking mode, while making FUT Champions more accessible.

Each feature had the same general idea in mind: give players more ways to play the game and grind for free all whilst still having the fun and enjoyment of Ultimate Team.

The same formula remains though for the most part. Spending money equals a better team. Now there's just a counter formula: how much time you spend in the game results in a better team. The latter formula, though, requires relying on EA Sports to run a competent year of FUT.

That's not to say players should have to spend 50 hours a week playing FIFA for the best team ever, but that's the general idea. Players shouldn't be reliant on a pay-to-win method for the game. There should be accessible and manageable ways to enjoy the grind of Ultimate Team.

There are peaks and valleys throughout an Ultimate Team year. Peaks being the start of the game, in-game events such as Team of the Year and Team of the Season, valleys being weeks with nothing going on outside the handful of in-forms.

EA Sports upped the amount of content in FIFA 19 with more events and SBC challenges. Special releases like Flashback cards honoring historic seasons from players in the past have been a huge success. Other events, more recently the Carniball event, come off as disinteresting and filler content.

One event that completely turned FIFA 19 Ultimate Team on its head was in the introduction of Prime Icon Moments cards. Icons, previously known as Legends, are special players from history such as Pele or Ronaldinho who no longer play soccer. At the start of the game, they are the rarest and most sought after cards due to their insane statistics boost and overall belief they are programmed differently in game.

EA Sports introduced different levels of Icons in FIFA 18, essentially making them easier to pack and more accessible. Key word here, again, is accessible.

Then, at the start of the Winter Refresh promotion where current players received upgrades or downgrades compared to their seasonal performances and their initial rankings, a new level of Icon was introduced. The Prime Icon Moments were designed to be the best of the best of the best. A true selection of overpowered, rare cards that made your team immensely better.

Icons, and eventually Prime Icon Moments, are available in the SBC section of the game to progress toward. Complete the requirements and earn an untradable version of the player for your team alone. Another basic principle here, the better the player, the higher the requirements and price.

When the PIMs were announced, EA Sports said no more regular Icons would be released as SBCs because they were inferior. That finally brings us to the crux of the issue at hand.

EA Sports released 12 final Icon SBCs, six PIM and six normal Prime. Going back on their word just three months later. The outrage was unreal.

"The cost of some Prime ICON Moments are above the threshold that we aim for an ICON SBC. The feedback from the community has been that you want to progress towards getting your favorite ICONS and therefore we made the decision to release them as Prime SBCs," EA Sports said in the announcement.

The theme of making things more accessible finally hit a wall. Six of the best players in the game were made no longer accessible to the entire community unless they spent coins or money on packs. On top of that, the SBCs for the six regular Prime Icons were made ridiculously expensive. Yes, they should be because they are top tier players, but they aren't the best versions of those players. Players are better off saving their coins and buying a tradable version of that card they can sell off somewhere down the line.

EA Sports essentially used the community as a scapegoat for a crappy content release and that's never okay. It should never have released these PIM cards because they created an massive imbalance it didn't plan for. All in the name of trying to get people to spend money on the game. Whether or not it planned for popular content creators to disagree and, in turn, influence a major part of the player base, it's happening right now and FIFA 19 is dying before its second largest promotion of the year.

How is a community supposed to trust and dedicate time to FIFA Ultimate Team entries in the future if they keep getting spurned by the creators? The general FUT population might not follow content creators who vigorously voice their displeasures with EA's practices, but as FUT gets more popular, people become more educated.

EA Sports needs to take a nice hard look in the mirror for FIFA 20. They hit some home runs with this year, but they struck out swinging more.

Photo courtesy of EA Sports