Inside FIFA 18's Weekend League, the gruelling mode that's consuming players' lives
For some, playing 40 games in just a few days isn't just too much, it's unhealthy.
What were you up to last weekend? Played a video game? Perhaps. Went out for a bit? Maybe. Spent some time with friends and family? Sure, why not?
For an army of FIFA players, the weekend was spent hammering game after game after game for hours on end. And this is no relaxing weekend game session, either. This is high stress, high stakes FIFA. This is the Weekend League.
FIFA 18's Weekend League is for many the reason to play the game. It is the Ultimate Team mode with the best rewards, but the most punishing time commitment. Weekend League asks you to play a whopping 40 matches in a weekend. At 20 minutes a match, that's over 13 hours of game time, not including essential time spent outside of a match sorting out your team and doing other bits and bobs. To complete the Weekend League, you're looking at 15 hours of FIFA. That doesn't leave much time for, well, anything else.
Here's how it works: first off, you have to qualify for the Weekend League, either by winning four consecutive games in one of the Daily Knockout tournaments, being in division one of the FUT online seasons mode, or rank gold on the previous Weekend League. In short, just to get to Weekend League you need to invest some serious time into the game.
Weekend League asks you to play 40 games online against other Weekend League players. The better you do, the higher your ranking at the end of the weekend, and the better the rewards. The reason players want to play Weekend League is clear: the rewards are the best FIFA has to offer. You can win card packs and thousands of FIFA coins, which are used to buy players on the transfer market and more card packs. Finish in Gold 3, for example, and you'll get 30,000 coins, two mega packs and one rare players pack.
Weekend League is, most players agree, the most exciting, competitive and rewarding mode in Ultimate Team. To give you an idea of how popular it is, EA says over six million people have battled in Daily Knockout tournaments to qualify for the Weekend League. But it's become too much for some, and for others, an unhealthy experience.
Perhaps the biggest issue with Weekend League is that it is a highly stressful game mode, made all the more stressful by the unreliability and randomness at the heart of the FIFA 18 online experience. With each game counting for so much (your ranking is determined by your win / loss ratio), there is little room for error. One mistake, one weird gameplay moment or one random disconnect can cause a loss and dent all the hard work and time you've put in so far. This problem is exacerbated by the feeling FIFA 18 isn't in the best place right now, with a number of post-patch gameplay issues many reckon make the game feel like a grind to play.
Jamie from Leeds is one of many players who has struggled with the Weekend League. "As someone who has a full-time job, it's just way too time consuming," he tells Eurogamer.
"I'm not trying by to be a competitive FIFA player. However, asking players to play six to seven hours a day over the weekend when it can easily be spread out doesn't seem like a sensible approach.
"In this day in age with on-demand streaming, customers want to be able to fit entertainment into their schedule and not be dictated to. It seems the Weekend League is a step backwards in this regard. It also doesn't help that the gameplay is drab (and that's being kind). It really does feel like a grind."
Jamie took to the FIFA subreddit to vent his frustration, calling on the community to refuse to buy FIFA coins this upcoming Black Friday as a way to force EA into issuing some kind of response. (EA has so far failed to respond to Eurogamer's request for comment for this article.)
Jamie, who goes by the name TheShearerComplex on reddit, saw his post net an impressive 5230 upvotes. He tells Eurogamer he was surprised by the response. "I know FIFA fans are slowing starting to lose patience with EA," he says. "However, I didn't realise there was such a feeling of discontent."
Jamie is not alone. A cursory glance at reddit, EA's own forum and Twitter reveals there is a collective exhaustion sparked by the Weekend League.
22 weekend league games to play today 😅🔫— Anderson (@91Andersonnn) November 19, 2017
Weekend league is disgustingly hard to get through if you work weekends— FALSE (@FaIse_9) November 20, 2017
After this month im not taking weekend league seriously. It's actually making me depressed playing all these games every weekend to get nothing in return— Tommy (@TommyFUT_) November 20, 2017
Warren, aged 50 from Bedford, is one FIFA player who agrees with Jamie's post.
"For a husband, father and small-business owner such as myself, playing 40 games over a 72-hour period each and every week is simply not possible.
"As of last night, I have played 248 games since FIFA 18 launched 54 days ago on 26th September; so I am averaging four or five games per day.
"Increasing things beyond that level will negatively impact on my family and work life. Although the pure game-time for those matches is 60 to 75 mins a day, when you add in all the ancillary actions (Squad Building Challenges / transfer market / squad management) proI would either have to consistently play the game late at night when everyone is asleep (and be tired and cranky in the morning) or not spend time with them on the weekend. While I love my online gaming, my family and business are more important.
"Bizarrely one of my ambitions for the game is to qualify for the Weekend League, whilst fully knowing I will not be able to compete fully in it and obtain the potential rewards it provides."
There is an additional issue: FIFA is a game played by all ages, including children and teenagers. There is some concern that the Weekend League isn't the best thing for a young person to stress over for 15 hours across a Saturday and Sunday. Do poorly or suffer some frustration and young moods can be easily affected.
There will be some who read these complaints and scoff, of course. At first I was among them. Just don't play the Weekend League, I thought. Take a break! But the more I learnt about Weekend League, its structure and rewards system, I came to understand why so many players feel beholden to it. It is for many the best mode in the game, with a tough but rewarding level of challenge and of course the best rewards.
FUT Champions, of which the Weekend League is a part, feels designed for the expert FIFA player, the person who lives and breathes EA Sports' behemoth game series. It's supposed to be a time sink, right? It's meant to be high investment, high reward. FUT Champions isn't for everyone. It's for the best.
But even the best FIFA players are finding it hard to cope mentally and physically with the Weekend League and its demands. Earlier this month Samer "Samer96" Elbadar, a professional FIFA player from Sydney, Australia, announced he was quitting the game and resigning from his pro team FUTWIZ in part because of the effect the Weekend League was having on his life.
As a FIFA pro, Elbadar faced playing 160 matches per month in the Weekend League in a bid to finish at the top of the FUT Champions monthly leaderboards and get a chance to qualify for the Ultimate Team Championship Series, a global competition designed to bring together the best FIFA competitors in the world. Even the FIFA Interactive World Cup takes qualifiers from the FUT Champions leaderboards, as well as the best players from the Ultimate Team Championship series.
In a twitlonger post, Elbadar declared the current structure of Weekend League "doomed for failure."
"As sad as it sounds, yes this game (17 and 18) did take over my life and really started to affect my personal life (work, study and relationship) due to the amount of time you'd have to play to try to be one of the best," he wrote.
"Even though I'd try to balance it out, the 40 games alone each weekend will definitely take a huge toll on anyone's life and I just don't want to commit to that anymore.
"I believe the current structure of FUT Champs is doomed for failure in the long-term as more and more casuals as well as pros will eventually get completely fed up with the weekly games, which feels a lot more like a chore now, especially with the broken gameplay and not to mention the horrendous server issues.
"Many people who have played almost every weekend in 17 have already called it quits in 18 because they've realised during the few weeks/months downtime before the release of 18, really how much it takes away from their weekend and life in general.
"I know I have."
Paints a pretty dim picture, doesn't it? So, what could EA do to make the Weekend League easier to manage? Jamie, alongside many other players, would love for the mega publisher to extend the tournament, even by just one day.
"I know Weekend League is meant to be a competitive game mode but why not open it up to everyone and extend the time period?" he says.
"Entry into the mode should be based on experience (i.e games played) and not a one-off tournament. I think the format and qualification process needs to be massively reviewed and brought in-line with other games."
This reddit post, from user jack2059, sums up the current sentiment and also calls on EA to make a similar change:
"We are not esports stars, we should not have to play in the mindset of one by putting in huge long sessions and neglecting friends, partners, other interests and commitments just to compete. Real football fans will lose two to 10 hours a weekend watching games. Workers and schoolkids lose most of Friday. And anybody with a family or social life loses much more.
"It makes no sense to not give us this extra day, it will allow many more people time to play games and enjoy the mode. As it currently stands it is not healthy to put the tight time and amount of pressure on young people. FIFA is an addictive game. I have multiple friends who just don't have time to play every weekend and would love the extra evening to put in a few more games even if it just means they make silver 1."
Warren wants EA to make Weekend League less of a, well, Weekend League, and more of a Week long League.
"EA should adopt same approach as they do with offline Squad Battles," he says, "and have the competition running for a seven day period and then resetting every seven days."
Without an official response from EA Sports we don't know why it has structured Weekend League as it has, but I can hazard a guess or two. By squeezing the games into a weekend, EA creates an "event" feeling and promotes serious preparation. You want your team to be as good as it can be before Weekend League begins. And we all know what you can do to have a chance at improving your team: buy FIFA coins.
Jamie isn't holding his breath for a change, despite the growing unrest within the FIFA community. The truth is that while there are many players who find the Weekend League a pretty negative experience, there are many more who play it regardless. Attracted by the rewards the mode offers, the FUT community seems hellbent on devoting its weekends to the game, despite the stress and anxiety it can cause.
"There are a lot of people addicted to FIFA who just won't change," Jamie concludes.