FIFA 19 was, briefly, the most popular game on Twitch yesterday evening. Why? Because of Team of the Year.
The Team of the Year promotion adds the ultimate versions of the best 11 players of 2018, as decided by EA. Last night, the first part of the promotion kicked off. For 24 hours TOTY attackers are in packs. This means there's a chance - a chance! - to pack a 99-rated Ronaldo, a 99-rated Messi and a 97 Mbappe.
? The #FIFA19 Team of the Year! ?— EA SPORTS FIFA (@EASPORTSFIFA) January 7, 2019
GK: De Gea
DEF: Sergio Ramos
DEF: van Dijk
MID: De Bruyne
Forwards will be available in-game from 6 pm UK! #TOTY #FUT pic.twitter.com/jgF2Zg6Owv
These are the best cards you can get for FUT, and so, players really, really want them. And there's only a limited time in which to get them (as EA would have us believe for now, anyway). There are even "lightning rounds" when special, more expensive packs with better odds are made available for just an hour. The hunt very much is on.
Just wanna pack Ronaldo, Kante, or Mbappe pls EA. Two years, K spent, not a single blue. Allow me this year. ?— The Boi ???? (@ChuBoi) January 7, 2019
This is boom time for EA and FIFA YouTubers and streamers. Big personalities in the FIFA community, such as Castro and Bateson, each with millions of followers across multiple platforms, took to FIFA 19 last night to collectively buy thousands of pounds worth of FUT packs hoping to get a TOTY card - and people tuned in in their thousands.
For some, their luck was in. The video, below, shows the moment Castro reacts to packing TOTY Mbappe to some 80,000 viewers. (SPOILERS: he's very very excited.)
By the way, Castro packed Mbappe from an Ultimate Pack. This costs 125,000 FIFA Coins, or 2500 FIFA Points. FIFA Points is the virtual currency you buy with real world money. 2500 FIFA Points costs around £18. (You can't buy 2500 FIFA Points exactly because of course you can't, this is a video game with loot boxes.)
For others, opening pack after pack was a thankless task. In the video below, Bateson opens loads of packs but fails to find a TOTY card.
FIFA 19 is the first game in the series to display card probabilities for FUT packs. Looking at the packs this morning, I've found there's less than 1 per cent chance of packing a TOTY card from the various packs in the game. This is, of course, a vague probability. Are we talking just under one per cent, or are we talking 0.00000001 per cent or something?
This isn't to say it's impossible to pack TOTY cards. Clearly, many players have done so, and some won't have spent a penny (you can buy packs with FIFA Coins, which are earned through play). You can already see these cards on the FIFA transfer market across platforms. TOTY cards can be obtained. They're just ultra, ultra rare.
Whatever the case, watching these YouTubers and streamers fork out ridiculous amounts of money on FUT packs shows just how much money you'll probably have to spend if you want to pack a TOTY player. And players have acknowledged this. On the popular FIFA subreddit, there are a raft of threads started by fans who make the same point.
"Castro just bought 23 100k packs, got 4 walkouts..." reads one, by user Redditallbefore123.
"If you're thinking about buying packs then consider the above. £300 spent in 10 minutes. Aguero was the best player, after that Sane then Isco.
"Not saying you shouldn't buy FIFA Points if you can afford it, but if you expect to get something decent from £150 then maybe think again. It took Castro nine packs to get his first walkout...
"Edit: Annnnnd he's packed Mbappe..."
"I'm not a fan of Castro or Bateson but I really appreciate them during TOTY," commented stebus88. "I see them spending thousands without getting anything decent and it just reminds me not to be sucked in to it."
Ultimate Team is big business for EA. In fact, it's its biggest business, bringing in around a billion dollars a year. With promotions such as Team of the Year in FIFA, and how they're designed to encourage players to buy packs within a short space of time for fear of missing out on a slender chance to play with the game's best cards, it's easy to see why.
The way streamers and YouTubers go big on the Team of the Year promotion also brings to mind the ongoing debate around loot boxes as gambling (I mentioned this troubling aspect of the game and how it relates to children in our FIFA 19 review). EA is reportedly under criminal investigation in Belgium due to FIFA's loot boxes, which the government there considers to be gambling. TOTY will do nothing to strengthen EA's argument that they're not.
Meanwhile, the TOTY event trundles on. In the days to come, more cards from the promotion will be added to packs, more lightning rounds will be triggered and many more millions will be spent on virtual cards that won't carry over to FIFA 20, which is due out in just nine months.