Football is the the World’s game – the most popular sport in the world, and it continues to grow in popularity and strength. It is only fair that football has a significant presence in various forms of media, including video games. When it comes to football video games, two names have been synonymous with the sport: the FIFA series, developed by EA Sports, and the Winning Eleven/Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) series, developed by Konami.
In the future, FIFA will be known as EA Sports FC, and PES has already rebranded as eFootball. However, for the convenience of this article, we’ll refer to them as FIFA and PES.
Currently, FIFA surpasses PES in many aspects: licenses, graphics, game modes, popularity, sponsorships, and marketing, to name a few. The only areas where PES arguably outshines FIFA in recent years are gameplay and the modding community. If a new football fan wants to play a football game, nine out of ten people would suggest FIFA over PES.
However, there was a time when FIFA and PES were considered equal, or some might even say that PES was better than FIFA, at least from a critical point of view. This era was characterized by fierce competition between the two, with PES constantly introducing innovations to keep up with FIFA, resulting in a fantastic time for football gaming enthusiasts.
FIFA was initially released in 1993 by EA Sports with 2D graphics, and it had no competitors in the market. Konami entered the market in 1995 with Goal Storm (later rebranded as International Superstar Soccer in 1997 and PES in 2001), becoming FIFA’s first major competitor.
While FIFA focused on acquiring licenses and improving its arcade-style gameplay, PES concentrated on refining a more practical style of gameplay. Since EA had already secured significant licenses even before PES was even a “thing”, PES had to prioritize gameplay innovation.
During the early 2000s, this competition offered football fans a healthy choice between FIFA, which provided arcade-style gameplay and more licenses, and PES, which offered a slower-paced football experience. We could say the peak rivalry was in 2006, when PES 2006 outscored FIFA 07 in a vast majority of critic reviews – which was an outstanding scenario since FIFA 07 itself was a really good game.
Despite this intense rivalry, FIFA emerged on top of PES in terms of sales. PES dominated the Japanese market, while FIFA had the upper hand almost everywhere else. FIFA gained a significant advantage in the rivalry with the introduction of FIFA Ultimate Team (FUT) on December 1, 2009.
Initially launched as a simple downloadable content for FIFA 09, FUT evolved into a much larger entity and an integral part of the FIFA franchise. In the 2010s, PES began to lose the battle against FIFA, which surged ahead commercially and became the world’s most successful sports video game franchise. PES was slow to recognize the potential of FIFA Ultimate Team, and it was only after its success that PES introduced its own version of the game mode, MyClub, in PES 2015.
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Hit that ❤️ if you're excited to boost your favourite players! pic.twitter.com/Mz231JNd8Z
— eFootball (@play_eFootball) September 7, 2023
The End of the Rivalry
In 2018, FIFA hit the final nail in the coffin of Konami when they acquired the license for all UEFA competitions from PES. EA celebrated the acquisition with the fans by spamming a +1 upgrade for every Champions League qualified cards and pumping out Road to the Final cards (a promo that every FIFA fans now love) in FIFA 19.
Champions League license ✅
Europa League license ✅
Serie A license ✅
Borussia Dortmund returning ✅
FIFA 19 is going to be stacked! 🔥🔥🔥 https://t.co/MGHfRvOkOP
— SPORTbible (@sportbible) June 7, 2018
As a final attempt to compete, Konami rebranded PES as eFootball and made the game available as a free-to-play digital-only title. However, the launch of eFootball 2022 was marred by bugs, glitches, and other gameplay issues.
Konami acknowledged these problems, pledged to address the concerns, and make improvements. In all fairness, they have considerably enhanced the game with recent updates. Nevertheless, EA had already established a substantial lead over its competition and now dominates the football video game market.
Another factor to consider today is the popularity of eSports competitions. EA Sports FIFA’s competitive scene has grown significantly in recent years, especially with the introduction of the FIFAe World Cup and the FIFA Global Series. PES has its own tournaments, like the eFootball.Pro and eFootball.Open, but FIFA’s competitive scene has generally garnered more attention and larger prize pools which contributed significantly to its popularity.
This heightened interest and viewership have also led to the rise of esoccer betting sites, where fans can place wagers on their favorite teams and players during these tournaments.
The next few months of FIFA Mobile are packed with new content!
Can you guess what's coming up? pic.twitter.com/XaPGRx9XCC
— EA SPORTS FC MOBILE (@EASFCMOBILE) July 19, 2023
There is a silver lining for PES since PES Mobile is significantly better than FIFA Mobile. FIFA Mobile is a very basic, attack-oriented game, whereas PES Mobile is essentially a mobile version of their console/PC game. The popularity of PES Mobile is significantly higher than FIFA Mobile and even the console/PC counterpart of the Konami franchise.
In summary, despite FIFA’s overwhelming dominance in the football video game market in recent years, there was a time when PES was neck to neck with FIFA in terms of competition. Don’t get us wrong – PES still has its own advantages and disadvantages that make it a viable choice for football fans.
While FIFA excels in terms of sales and licenses, PES offers a slower-paced and more realistic football experience, complemented by a dedicated modding community. However, PES is no longer a “rival” to EA Sports’ football legacy and we will have to wait a bit more until some new football video game franchise gives EA Sports a run for their money.