If there’s one sport out there accessible to the gaming crowd, I believe it’s baseball. Baseball has everything gamers want; insane eccentricities, naturally occurring pauses, one-on-one interaction, and big stars, and more. To that end, if there are any gamers out there trying to get into baseball and wondering which team to support, I’ve created a handy guide for such an endeavour. Being a gamer and a baseball fan myself, I’ve tried to align this to existing gamer tendencies. I’ll lay out a brief background and a few facts about each team, then tell you what kind of gamer they’ll appeal to, and give a few examples of what the good and bad of following a team will feel like playing. I hope you enjoy it!
I’ll be going division by division daily. I’ll admit that this was somewhat inspired by Joe Posnanski’s excellent “How to Pick a Premier League Club” which you can find here. Next up: The National League East, in alphabetical order.
Location: Atlanta, GA
Colors: Blue, Red
Background: The Braves have been around since 1876, though they’ve only been in Atlanta since 1966. In that time, despite winning 17 pennants, they’ve got just three World Series titles to show for their trouble. The Braves are a team that tends to prioritize having a full, complete team rather than one that goes all in. This paid off in a serious way in the ’90s, when they were known as the powerhouse of the decade. From 1991 to 2005, they made the playoffs every year (if you discount the strike-shortened 1994 season, though they were easily on their way then too). They made the World Series five times in that span, but only brought it home once. They’ve sputtered a bit since then, but still have three playoff appearances since 2005, which isn’t bad. Most teams are lucky to have one or two players in their franchise history with 60 WAR or more; the Braves have ten. The Braves aren’t a flash in the pan; they want to return to that age of decade-long success. They’ve made it clear this year after some organizational changes that this philosophy is in effect. They’ve traded Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, and Evan Gattis away to try to build for a future a few years down the road. There’s still a lot to like on this team though. Freddie Freeman is just 24 and always mashes, Andrelton Simmons probably has the best glove in the MLB at shortstop, while Alex Wood and Julio Teheran look like they’ll be front of the rotation starters for years to come. The Braves way is for those who want a dynasty, not just a short-term winner.
When I was working at Electronic Arts, I had some interaction with Valve, the company who makes Half Life and DOTA 2, among other games. Valve is a company committed to making truly excellent games, even if it takes a while. They don’t give release dates years in advance and hold themselves to a deadline. They will release the game whenever it is ready. That often results in true excellence. Portal blew everyone away when it came out, and Team Fortress 2 is among the best free-to-play games to this day. Sometimes it leads a lot of anticipation that never really delivers, and you’re stuck remembering the good old days. If you’re OK with that sort of style, where it’s better to wait for the best game ever rather than ship just a pretty good game, you’d like the Braves.
When it’s good, it feels like playing: Portal 2, Half Life 2
When it’s good, it feels like playing (or waiting for): Half Life 3, The Last Guardian
Location: Miami, FL
Colors: Teal, White, Orange, Black, Silver
Background: The Marlins, in some respects, can be viewed as the polar opposites of the Braves. The Marlins have been around since 1993, and have just two playoff appearances in that time. Their career WAR leader, Hanley Ramirez, has just 26 WAR and plays for the Dodgers now. The difference is that both of the times the Marlins made it to October, they won it all. They have a 100% conversion rate of playoff appearances to World Series wins. In order to do that, the Marlins heavily loaded up for a huge run, won it all, and then immediately traded away everything that wasn’t nailed down. So despite never in their history winning the division, they’ve won the World Series twice. Every year other than that has been nothing crazy. The Marlins claim they’ve learned their ways and are bucking the trend. They just signed Giancarlo Stanton to a massive thirteen year extension, assuring the fan base that this is a sign that their committed to building a strong core instead of just a one year blip. They’ve got some other solid players. Henderson Alvarez put up a huge year, and Jose Fernandez won the Rookie of the Year in 2013 before he went down with Tommy John last year. Whether or not ownership fills up to their end of the bargain remains to be seen, but for now the team has plenty to be excited about.
Some games have sort of a built-in lull period. Maybe the game has a respawn timer between rounds, or mandatory grinding to access new content. For whatever reason, the game is elongated in order to add suspense and drama instead of just non-stop action. When that mechanic is bad, it’s boring and infuriatingly slow. When it’s good though, it delivers great moments. You like the suspense created by valleys, and you appreciate that truly epic moments are just that because they contrast to the rest of the time. You play for the big moments, not the small ones. The valleys are bad, but the peaks are awesome. If you’re a peak person, check out the Marlins.
When it’s good, it feels like playing: Counter-strike, Destiny
When it’s bad, it feels like playing: Final Fantasy III (Japanese III), Operation Flashpoint
Location: New York, NY
Colors: Blue, Orange
Background: Since the Mets were founded in 1962, they’ve never produced a consistent period of success. Since 2001, they’ve made the playoffs only once, and have just seven playoff appearances to their name. The Mets, historically, are known for having one or two really great players that carry the team, with a less-than-stellar supporting cast. In the ’70s, that player was Tom Seaver. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, those players were Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry. Right now it’s David Wright. Though last year was Wright’s worst year, over the last decade he’s been one of the best third basemen in the game. Outside of him, it’s a bit thin. Lucas Duda had a great 2014, as did Jacob DeGrom, but it’s thin elsewhere. They’re hoping this might be one of their big years though. Their young pitching, Noah Syndergaard and Zack Wheeler, look ready to break out, and they’re getting 2013 superstar Matt Harvey back from injury some time this year. Mets fans are hoping this really is the big one, and not just another disappointment.
Have you ever played a game where some small element has completely sucked you in? Maybe there’s a card game embedded in to the storyline that completely engrosses you. Or maybe you’re engrossed with the multiplayer of a game so much that the single player element just gets pushed off to the side. You don’t mind not getting the full experience as long as you’re entertained with the part you’re playing. Obviously this has its flaws. Sometimes you waste a whole lot of time with the side quests and never end up finishing anything. You end up finishing games with all the toys, but months after everyone else did. If this doesn’t bother you, then maybe the Mets are your team.
When it’s good, it feels like playing: Triple Triad (Final Fantasy VIII), Blitzball (Final Fantasy X)
When it’s bad, it feels like playing: Chocobo Race (Final Fantasy X), Lightning Dodging (Final Fantasy X…again)
Location: Washington, D.C.
Colors: Red, White, Blue
Background: If you haven’t followed Baseball recently, you may be wondering how the Senators were reborn. Well, they weren’t. In 2005, the Montreal Expos finally packed it in and decided to make Canada a one team nation. They moved to Washington, and have had a decent run since. While they were suffering the depressing fate of a team that moves to a new city, they spent a number of years accumulating high draft picks, and have cashed in big time lately. Their rotation going into 2015 is, at least on paper, by far the best in the game. They just signed the top free agent, Max Scherzer, and he bolsters a staff that already includes Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmerman, and Doug Fister. The Nationals are hoping they’re amidst a big run for their franchise that will put some of the less-than-stellar memories of the Expos behind them.
To enjoy the Nationals, you should probably be the type of gamer that enjoys a good franchise overhaul. There were some great games from the past, but the past is just that. Sometimes a great game needs a makeover or even a complete remodel. There are plenty of companies that stick to their guns despite market trends, but you actually like it when a game can see what they’re missing and adapt to it. You were really into games that took on online multiplayer with full force, or that updated their graphics to be 1080p, and enjoyed the fusion of old and new. These are the best games for you; those that can take their history and adapt it to the new market. Sometimes the switch is sloppy, and poorly done, and really frustrating. When the company can figure it out though and really deliver, that’s special. This is what the Nationals are now.
When it’s good, it feels like playing: Super Street Fighter IV, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
When it’s bad, it feels like playing: Super Smash Bros: Brawl, Bionic Commando (2009)
Location: Philadelphia, PA
Colors: Red, White, Blue
Background: The Phillies for a long time were known primarily for losing. As an organization that’s been around since 1883 while losing most of the time, they are the world’s most losing franchise (in any sport). That title is a bit deceiving, as baseball plays more games than other sports, but the point stands. From 1883 to 1976 they only made the postseason twice, and lost the World Series both times. Then in the late 70’s they went on a run where they made the playoffs five of seven years and won their first World Series. Then basically nothing until 2007, when they went to the playoffs five straight years and won their second World Series. They’ve had some truly amazing players in that time. Mike Schmidt is one of the legends of the game, and five other Phillies have 60 WAR or more. Unfortunately, they’re trending in the wrong direction. The Phillies front office does not admit failure quickly, and they don’t like to rebuild. They were last in the division in 2014, and they’ve yet to unload some of their big contracts like a traditional rebuild. Cole Hamels is still a great starting pitcher, but the rest of the team is lacking. It looks to be another long rut before the Phillies are big again, but at the very least, they’re not a team that gives in to losing easily. This is the result of pushing all-in for their previous run, and while respectable, it comes at a cost.
To enjoy being a Phillies fan, you need to be the kind of gamer who loves the quick fix. Some people like long games with a ton to do, but that’s not you. You are about quick enjoyment. It could be a fighting game, or a first person shooter with quick respawn, but it has to be something where you can get enjoyment now. Maybe you were the type of kid that loved going to the arcade, and getting in line in order to show what you can do. You’re probably very competitive, and games with quick turnaround feed both aspects of your gamer personality. The downside is that you can get frustrated with a lack of results, as these types of games offer no guarantee of satisfaction. If you cling on to a game for too long, you can be left being the best at a game nobody cares about. If those things don’t deter you, then put your quarter up to the Phillies wagon.
When it’s good, it feels like playing: Unreal Tournament 2004, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3,
When it’s bad, it feels like playing: Street Fighter III: Second Impact, Beatmania
Next post: The Season Preview Series, Part 2: The Minnesota Twins in a Box
Previous post: EW Rewind Episodes 25 and 26