The intersection of “sports nut” and “PC gamer” has been rather bleak lately. Since the rise of the console, most action-oriented sports games (Madden and its equivalents) have migrated to the living room, leaving those of us who prefer the mouse and keyboard without a way to satisfy our simulation urges. Sure, there’s Football Manager and other team management sims, but nothing to replicate the life athletic. And good luck if you want to, you know, make use of the internet’s connective tissue to play with or against your friends – that’s strictly console-only.
But that’s slowly changing. A friend of mine, whose job it is to find gaming treasures and lay them before me, clued me in to Goal Line Blitz, a browser-based football MMOG that simulates not just playing football, but playing with a team of real players and eventually owning your own franchise.
Here’s how it works: Once you create your account, you receive Flex Points (you can buy more, or earn them by referring new players to the game), which you can spend to create players, buy a team or create special items that boost your player’s stats. I opted to create a player, because learning how to run a football team and how to play a new game at the same time seemed daunting. Plus, I had an awesome player name in mind.
Positions on the field act like your player’s class in a traditional MMOG, and they really do offer every position – from offensive tackle to quarterback to punter. Players begin with seven physical attributes and seven football skills, which are modified depending on which class the player is. Additionally, as you gain levels (you earn experience based on playing time in games), you can build up any attribute or skill you like. Each class has its own special abilities you can buy as you level up, too.
I chose to create YA Spittle, future Hall of Fame fullback. The computer boosted my strength, speed, blocking and carrying stats. Then, I got a few points to distribute across the other stats, which I heaped into agility and more speed, strength and carrying. I also spent a point to raise Cover Up, an ability that helps you hang onto the ball when you get hit, to reduce my fumble rate. YA Spittle is a running machine.
After I got YA all set, the San Francisco Football Mustangs, a computer-controlled team, came knocking with an offer to play in the D-League for $12,800/year. And so was born YA Spittle’s illustrious career.
I came onto the team between games – they run every 48 hours – so I was able to choose how I’d spend my time in practice. You can choose a single attribute to work on once per day, which is how often the game “ticks.” There are three levels of training: Relaxed, Normal and Intense. The more intense your training, the more it costs, and the less it replenishes your Energy for the next game. I opted to work on my strength and then set off to buy some equipment.
You have the option of buying normal equipment for in-game money, or spending your Flex Points on custom equipment. Since YA Spittle spares no expense on his gear, I went for broke. With each piece of equipment you buy, you can boost one attribute or skill by one. There are five slots to fill – feet, hands, body, head and “custom.” I bought a pair of black shoes and opted to boost my strength, white gloves to boost my carrying, eye black to help my vision and a shirt to further reinforce strength.
The custom slot works a bit differently. You can spend your Flex Points to make a special custom item, and even upload an image to represent what it is. YA Spittle is really concerned about the Hall of Fame, so he’s resorted to pharmaceutical performance enhancers to give him a competitive edge. I created BALCO’s Special Sports Cream (+1 strength/speed) and adorned it with an image of Barry Bonds. After YA walked out of the practice complex, he was dressed to kill and had enough steroids in him to euthanize a horse.
Now, it was time to meet his teammates.
Each team has its own forum on which human players can meet and joke around. Once you’re on a player-owned team, the forums play a more interesting part, because the owner, who determines who starts and the team’s overall strategy, can listen to suggestions on the team or settle arguments between players. However, on computer-owned newbie teams, the forums are there mostly to make friends. I saw it as a good chance to roleplay.
I have an admittedly strange view on roleplaying, and the role I chose to take on in GLB was no different. YA Spittle would play the role every coach hates and every member of the media dreams of interviewing: the clubhouse cancer.
I drew inspiration from Rickey Henderson, Reggie Jackson and Gary Sheffield, all outspoken baseball players with a knack of overestimating their role on the team and speaking in the third person. And so I decided to introduce myself to my new teammates with the following memo, entitled “YA Spittle does NOT play special teams”:
YA Spittle has a career to think about and will not be risking injury at the beginning of his promising career by setting blocks for sissy cornerbacks afraid of getting bowled over by some fat, third-string lineman on the return.
See you in the history books!
Even though it caught the other players unaware, they originally came around to YA’s way of thinking, and before I knew it the San Francisco Mustangs had someone to hate.
I’d like to think it galvanized the team a bit, even if the games occur without any player’s input. Each play is basically random, though some teams opt for different offensive and defensive styles, and players can only view the games after their outcomes have already been tabulated. Truly, most of Goal Line Blitz occurs between games, when you can learn from your player’s performance to make him better in the future. But still, as soon as YA Spittle made it onto the team, they went on a three-game winning streak.
But no one appreciated YA Spittle’s contribution. Ten or so posts into my introduction thread, I ended up having to defend not just YA Spittle’s prodigious football abilities, but his very manhood:
These terrible rumors follow YA Spittle wherever he goes, and it’s always up to him to clarify. To drop some knowledge on his teammates. You see, YA Spittle was romantically involved with one of the girls that played football at that junior college while he played for a D-1 school in the area. The only “tackling drills” YA Spittle did with this girl were strictly off the practice regimen, if you catch YA Spittle’s drift.
Unfortunately, like so many young romances, this one ended ugly, and since then, this harlot has been smearing YA Spittle whenever she can, telling stories about his inability to score the minimum on the SAT or some catastrophic testicular accident. But YA Spittle doesn’t let it get him down. He proves his manhood and worth ON THE FIELD. Already management seems appreciative of his promise. Each game he’s been given the ball in more key situations and has delivered time and time again. It won’t be long before YA Spittle runs his way into the record books. His back will be to you, just so you remember what it’s like to get dusted by the best fullback y’all ever played with.
At the time of this writing, my teammates have taken to calling him YAK Spittle. But he’s also averaging 3.5 yards per carry and breaks tackles like Brandon Jacobs.
Goal Line Blitz is still in beta, but anyone can play. It’s currently in its second 40-day “season,” and it’s grown so popular the developers had to curtail new player-owned teams to slow growth. YA Spittle is now San Francisco’s leading third down man and hasn’t lost yards yet. While it’s a far cry from Madden on the PC, Goal Line Blitz definitely satisfies the stat head’s urge to work a page full of numbers into something tangible. And the best part is there’s other people there who love that aspect of the game, too.
Joe Blancato is an Associate Editor for The Escapist. He plays a pretty mean strong safety.