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Even though soccer is not one of the most popular sports in the US, there’s no denying EA Sports’ soccer game FIFA is a big deal here.

FIFA 22, the latest incarnation of the game, had a double-digit sales growth in the last year, despite sitting behind Madden NFL 22, according to a Forbes report. The profit doesn’t stop there for FIFA, though; their Ultimate Team mode, known as FUT, has raised the company more than $1.5bn since inception.

The concept of FUT is based largely on almost every other gaming concept that’s ever been introduced in sports games. You are tasked with building your own team and your legacy by trading players and picking kits, stadiums, and in 2022 even the theme music your team runs out to. In the past, that has just been a core element of a game, not something heavily monetized, but EA Sports have turned it into a billion-dollar industry.

How? By making players purchase packs containing stars for their squad, ancillary items, and boosters to improve their team. Assembling a squad is like a puzzle game; players have chemistry with other players depending on their nationality, where they play, and who they play for. For instance, two MLS players of different nationalities will have an orange connection, which is acceptable, but if they’re both American or play for the same club, their link will be green. Each player can have chemistry up to ten, with 100 the max for the team. The better the chemistry, the better the AI within your team.

How you acquire players is part of the fun, and many spend hours on FUT without actually playing a game. Throughout a session, you acquire many players; the game rewards you with packs for carrying out challenges, simple at first, such as buying ten players from the market, but then more complex later. The game runs in seasons of a month or two, and each season brings a timeline of challenges rewarding you with more cards. Inside those seasons are specific promos, which can run for a couple of weeks at best.

As an example, one of the most recent is the Future Stars promo. The developer creates some players with stats based on where they are expected to be in five years. Trevoh Chalobah is 22 and plays for Chelsea, who are among the favorites to win this year’s Premier League in the latest Ladbrokes odds. However, he’s only appeared 14 times for them and isn’t seen as a top star. Sure, he’ll win a medal if they pick up the title, but his base card is rated just 73. His top Future Stars card is a whopping 88, level with the likes of Raheem Sterling, his assumed skill level in the future. There are players from across the world featured in the promo, and unique challenges and rewards are offered throughout the running period.

In the end, you could have as many as 1000 players to choose from, which is where SBCs come in. These are essentially a mini puzzle game in their own right; you’re tasked with building a squad that meets certain criteria from the players you have or ones you buy on the market. For instance, you could be asked to build a team with 70 chemistry, where there are no more than three players of any one nationality or from any one division. They’re proper head-scratchers, but the rewards can be beneficial.

Of course, the key is to get a great squad together to win games, but even if you’re not a top-level player, FUT can be engrossing, engaging, and incredibly frustrating, like all good games. EA Sports have certainly hit upon a winning formula, albeit one that has come in for some criticism in the past. Despite that, it remains as popular as ever, with around 5,000,000 players on the transfer market at any one time. Whilst gamers are still engaged, it will continue to thrive.

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