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Set in the historic Camp Nou stadium, the eFootball 2022 teaser trailer opened with background chants and floodlights revealing a striking Unreal Engine recreation of Lionel Messi clothed in the famous blue and deep red colors of FC Barcelona.

This recreation of the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner surrounded by pitch lights invited more than a thousand comments on the YouTube post. Former Pro Evolution Soccer series faithfuls had waited almost two years for the next generation football game.

“Messi walking out on Unreal Engine looking really amazing had me buzzing,” eFootball commentator Stewart “Wezza” Wesley said.

However, three months into the game’s launch, euphoria has mostly been replaced with complaints of poor graphics, slow player movements, average responsiveness, a bad passing system and underpowered shooting (and these issues have undoubtedly been followed by memes). From one bug to another, in gameplay and graphics, eFootball 2022 became the worst rated game on Steam just a day after its release. As of the time of this writing, it is the second worst rated game of all time.

Still in shock, many fans believed that Konami had mistakenly uploaded the game’s mobile version to other platforms.

“I just continued to tell myself that the real version for console will soon be out,” long time PES fan, Ezam John, said.

Pros stuck in limbo

After a disappointing launch and the promise of a new version of the game on Nov. 11, Konami postponed  Version 1.0.0 until Spring 2022.

“It’s just like you’re about to open a door but you don’t know what’s behind it,” Greek eFootball player Lazaros “Laza” Semertzidis said. “Yes absolutely, we have a game to play. They do give us content and rewards. But, in terms of pro or competitive tournaments, we don’t know what to do. Should we continue to train, should we not?”

Laza has, in fact, continued to train with his national and PES Universe teammates, albeit without the certainty of knowing whether all that effort will pay off. This uncertainty has only been made worse by the silence from Konami on next steps for the new season.

“I’ve been talking to other pro players and they are all saying the same,”  Arsenal’s Yos “INDOMINATOR” Sonneveld said. “Konami hasn’t really brought out the plan to the clubs when it comes to esports. The competitions usually start in December and, now, we have to wait until spring and don’t even know what version we have to play.”

The situation is even more complicated for players in the eFootball.Pro, a top 3v3 competition where players are signed to football clubs partnered with Konami. Here, some players are contractually bound to solely play eFootball competitively.

“Some players under contract for eFootball cannot play FIFA,” three-time world champion Walid “Usmakabyle” Teban said. “For the others, they are right to play something else because waiting months is a very long time in esports.”

Usmakabyle’s advice comes from experience, as he once played competitive FIFA from 2016 to 2018 for Dijon FC in the eLigue 1 and Neo eSports. However, he returned to PES in 2019 to win his third eFootball Open championship at the Emirates Stadium in London. Since then, he also won the eFootball.Pro competition twice with AS Monaco.

Additionally, a few players believe a move to a 1v1 format is on the horizon for the eFootball pro scene.

“AS Monaco let go of two players only keeping one. It looks like it might be a 1v1 composition,” INDOMINATOR said. “But everything is unclear. Terrible communication from Konami to their audience.”

There is also no clarification as to whether tournaments will continue to be held online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

All eggs in one basket

The hopes of many eFootball players are tied to the incoming spring update, which could signify a rebirth of the game they’ve played since its International Superstar Soccer days and a return to the competitive stage.

“I think eFootball will have a good impact next year,” Lazza said. “I’m still excited to play the game, but there are a lot of questions. If it comes out in spring, will we have time to compete in tournaments? Will there be an esports year at all?”

The countdown to Spring has also raised players’ expectation because the Version 1.0.0 could bring about improvement to visuals, animations, AI defending and several gameplay glitches.

“If I were to describe eFootball in one word, it would be ‘expectation,’” Wezza said.  “The game itself has been both written off and also kind of lauded over expectations.”

After player graphics and gameplay quickly became popular memes across various social media platforms, Lazza decided that 2022 would also be a time for Konami to prove the memers wrong.

A meme mocking eFootball 2022’s graphics. | Provided by @Warclimb via Twitter

“I’m not going to lie — it hurt me because it’s my childhood game,” Lazza said. “And for many players across the world, it is still our best game. It is my favorite game, but everyone can have an opinion and laugh.”

The update’s postponement has also put more pressure on Konami to deliver what it promised more than two years ago.

“I’m afraid if they bring out the same type of gameplay without any major changes,” INDOMINATOR said. “We have been waiting two years and now have to wait even longer. It’s hard to talk about.”

Failure to make major improvements in the game come spring 2022 could lead to a second wave of harsh criticism, as well as the loss of an already dwindling fan base on console. It could also see many top pro players hang up their controllers in search of a new challenge.

Despite the further delay of eFootball 2022, many players said they want to continue making memories while experiencing the unique football stadium events that eFootball esports has been known for throughout the years. Usmakabyle, for example, isn’t ready to call it quits.

“I remain committed to the game which has changed my life,” Usmakabyle said. “Winning the third World Cup in London symbolizes my career, and I want to still be competitive in 2022.”

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