Of the fandoms smothered by the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, sports suffered at least as much as the movies, if not more. Since sports depend on live performance before thousands of spectators, social distancing and quarantine measures decimated the sports experience. And particularly in the U.S., the games are still being played to mostly empty arenas and artificial crowd noise.
Unfortunate as it is, it has also been a unique opportunity for the video games supporting these leagues to shine. Everything went indoors this past spring, and sports fans could be found nesting with their favorite games on their couches, along with cinephiles bingeing Netflix, and gamers immersing themselves in their open worlds.
This year, Polygon’s Samit Sarkar and Owen Good opted out of nominating and determining a sports video game of the year, which, in the last year of a console generation, would be drawn from largely incremental updates to established titles. Instead, we’ve written essays about the four titles where we spent the most of our playing time — and the service those games provided to sports fans deprived of something that is taken for granted, if not ubiquitous, in popular culture: the human drama of athletic competition.
MLB THE SHOW 20 AND NHL 21
At the start of June, I wrote about the baseball-shaped hole in my life that the coronavirus pandemic had created, and how I had attempted to fill it with MLB The Show 20. Back then, the possibility of there being any real-life baseball season in 2020 was still an open question. It wasn’t until later in June that MLB owners forced the players into a 60-game season that would run from late July to the end of October.
F1 2020 AND NBA 2K21
The reality of the global pandemic finally landed with me on March 12. That day, the NBA suspended its season, and Formula One announced the postponement of two more races, wiping the first four events off its 2020 calendar. When I read the news on my phone that the brand-new Vietnam Grand Prix was canceled, my first thought was, “The only place we’ll see that course is in F1 2020.”
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