Football on the home computer has come a long way since the early days of my childhood playing Kevin Toms’ Football Manager. In that game you could manage any team in the top four divisions but your squad would always be made up of the England 1982 World Cup squad, no matter what team you chose. (Editor’s note: you could actually hack the game and change team & player names. I know one particularly nerdy teenager who created a version with all four divisions of French football **cough**)
Fast forward to the late 90s and Konami of Japan released their first “Winning Eleven” game for the Playstation 1, known in Europe as “International Superstar Soccer Pro”. The game had 16 International teams, and although player names were not licensed, you could easily pick out certain players, eg Italy had a grey haired striker, Colombia’s best player had a huge ‘fro and England’s midfield dynamo had bleached blond hair.
Over the next several iterations of the game they did get licensed player names but team names were still fake. Konami’s big rival in the football gaming arena was the FIFA series produced by EA Sports. In terms of spending power, EA are Manchester City….Konami are Southampton. EA had full licenses and image rights for most of the major European leagues including the English Premiership.
Jump forward another 10 years or so and both the FIFA series and Konami’s game, now known as Pro Evolution Soccer divided the footballing fanbase. While FIFA had better presentation and more licensed content. Pro Evolution was considered a better simulation of the beautiful game. During the Playstation 2 era of the mid-noughties, Pro Evolution was the better game of the two, in spite of the lack of licensed content. The game was built in with a deep editing function that allowed gamers to rename teams such as “East London” and “Merseyside Blue” to West Ham and Everton, as well as being able to reproduce their kits and club badges. This lead to online communities popping up to quickly edit in all the missing licensed content.
When both series moved over the PlayStation 3/XBOX 360, PES (Pro Evolution Soccer) went through a dip in form akin to the one Jadet is overseeing of late and FIFA began to dominate both in terms of sales and critical acclaim. Not only was PES full of hokey teams but the gameplay was going backwards too.
In recent years Konami have raised their game and began to close the gap in gameplay but licensing has always been the stick used to beat them with. For many years Konami did at least manage to secure a big license with UEFA for the Champions League and Europa League to be included, thus allowing players to play through those competitions. They also added content for the South American Champions League and later the Asian Champions League. Konami are a Japanese company, while FIFA is head and shoulders above PES in the European market, PES still has a very strong presence in Asia. If you go around any shopping centre in Bangkok where they have arcade machines set up. There is usually kids on quite a lot of screens playing PES, outside the Cinema at Terminal 21 being a good example.
A few months ago EA fired another shot across the bows by nipping in and taking the UEFA license from Konami. Konami were left scrabbling around to try and fill the void for their 2019 game. This is not the first time such shithousery from EA has been used to try and snuff out the competition. In the field of NFL games, EA’s long running Madden series was under real threat from the upstart NFL 2K games being produced by Sega. After Sega released the highly acclaimed NFL 2K5 and sold it for half the price of Madden, EA knew they needed to pull their socks up to bridge the gap, they opted instead to ink an exclusive deal with the NFL, stopping any other producer from using the NFL license, thus killing the competition dead. Some 14 years later, players still regard Segas 2K5 edition as better than anything EA have produced since. So EA’s snapping up of the UEFA licenses from Konami this year has echoes of what happened in the virtual gridiron arena.
To try and fill that gap, Konami have gone out and snapped up the Turkish, Belgian, Russian, Swiss, Danish and Scottish Leagues. PES2019 was released at the end of August, a couple of weeks later, and slightly left of field, Konami came out and announced through social media that a deal had been reached with the Thai FA to license the Toyota Thai League for the next couple of years. This had been rumoured a few months ago that Konami had been talking with the Thai FA but as the game launched with no sign of a Thai league, it didn’t seem to be happening. Instead it now looks set to launch as a patch update to the game.
We here at the Sandpit (very) often like to bemoan things the Thai FA do but I actually have to give them a lot of credit for this move in terms of raising awareness of the Thai League brand, and potentially putting global eyes onto the league. There I said it….the Thai FA have done something good!
The move is also beneficial for Konami, despite their Asian stronghold, the Thai league will be the only licensed Asian league in the game. Given the games popularity within Thailand, having the Thai league available should further cement its popularity and acts as a great bit of fan service on Konamis part. It has been said Thailand and Brazil are the two largest fanbases for PES outside of Europe. Although some J-League, Korean and Chinese teams appear via the Asian Champions League tie-in, none of their leagues appear in the game. With the Thai League being an added league after launch, it will also pique peoples interest to go and check out the new content once it’s added, even if it’s to scroll through the teams and scoff at how lowly rated the teams are. As an example, the teams are usually rated out of 5 stars and most of the SPL teams are only rated 1-1.5 stars.
As mentioned earlier, due to the AEC license, Buriram and The Scum have already appeared in the game over recent years. It remains to be seen how accurately the Thai League players will be digitally recreated. While the likenesses of the major European players are bang on, the minor league players only get more a generic look. With that in mind I’m not expecting a very good recreation of Boskos beard.
It is unknown if any Thai Stadia will be added in the update, if any Thai stadium does get added, in all likelihood it will be The Thundercastle.
After an exclusive meeting at Konami HQ that probably didn’t really happen, I can confirm some special modes being added for the Thai league add-on. …
WEERA MODE : No matter what direction you press on the gamepad, the keeper dives the opposite way. After losing 6-0 I returned to the main menu to find I suddenly had enough PES Credits (in game currency) to purchase half the Real Madrid squad….
CHANG MODE: Experience how it is to view a game at Thai stadia where only the Devil’s Piss is on offer before kickoff.
THAI LEAGUE SEASON MODE: At the start of the season you will see your fixture list, then suddenly the fixtures will all change and the game will lock you out of the game for a month in August. You will start the season with 18 teams but this may change throughout the season depending on any rulings from above, in a simulation I played Ratchaburi were suddenly demoted to T4 because one of the ball boys had a haircut 2mm longer than regulation. Constant rebranding and franchising has also been taken into account, when I got to season 2, Chainat moved to Isaan and are now called the Mukdahan Monitor Lizards.
The game lets you play either 5/10/15 minute halves although this triples if you enable Thai VAR!
All the Thai league 1st/2nd/3rd kits are also fully licensed, at time of writing the digital artists are still working on getting all of Madame’s crushed velvet tracksuits rendered.