I like American Football quite a lot. Yet over here in Britain, people always look at me oddly when I say I like American Football. I always seem to receive the “That’s nice, dear” face, usually reserved for disinterested family members. Maybe because, here in Britain, the sport has only recently become more “mainstream” in popularity and thus more accepted. However I have in fact been a fan of the sport for quite a while. I didn’t start liking it because the annual “International Series” games which have taken place in England since 2007, having in recent years, started receiving major media coverage. Instead, I have to thank a video game demo and Lady Luck for making me a fan of American Football.
I’ve mentioned on a previous Room 633-K article that I was quite a fan of “video game demos disks”, and how I loved testing a game out before I bought a game. Well after receiving an Xbox 360 for my birthday many years ago, I found myself perusing the online marketplace for demos. I had only a handful of games for the Xbox 360 at the time and I wanted to try something new. As I scrolled through the games with available demos, I could feel myself subconsciously rolling my eyes at the lack of demos that interested me. I soon found a game that caught my attention, with an eye-catching name and logo; “Blitz: The League”.
“Blitz: The League” for the Xbox 360 is a 2006 HD re-release of “Blitz: The League”, a video game which was released by Midway Games for the Playstation 2 and Original Xbox in 2005. The game was inspired by the “NFL: Blitz” video game series which included hard-hitting and violent gameplay, which featured “tackles”, that were over the top and unrealistic. The game also was licensed by the NFL, meaning real players and teams could be used. However the “NFL: Blitz” games would eventually become less violent and have less exaggerated gameplay until the series was eventually cancelled as a result of the National Football League (NFL) signing an exclusive licensee deal with Electronic Arts (EA), this meant only EA Sports games could release American Football with the NFL properties of real life players, team names and likeness’ of teams and players. Midway Games who had originally made the original “NFL: Blitz” series, released “Blitz: The League” which featured similar gameplay to “NFL: Blitz”, but featured fictional players and teams in a fictional league which in itself was a parallel parody of the real NFL.
“Blitz: The League” also had gameplay features to make the game stand out to in comparison to EA’s ultra-realistic Madden football games by featuring exaggerated on field play made famous by the “NFL Blitz” games (but was slightly more realistic than the original “NFL: Blitz”) and a focus on the seedy- behind the scenes lives of players and their teams inspired by the controversial ESPN “Playmakers” TV show that aired in 2003. Midway Games even managed to get NFL Hall of Famer Defensive Linebacker Lawrence Taylor to voice “Quintin Sands” the antagonist of the in-game campaign story, whose on-field play and personality was clearly inspired by Taylor in his prime. The later Xbox 360 and the Playstation Portable releases of the game would also feature former NFL linebacker Bill Romanowski portraying a character inspired by his infamous antics.
I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the box art of the game which could be seen in the Xbox Live Marketplace instantly enthralled me. The cover was dark and gritty, which ironically caught my attention when compared to the other demo’s available which had brighter colour palettes. The main cover image of the game featured the two players portrayed by Taylor and Romanowski respectively, who to the younger me looked “cool” and “tough”, traits which every adolescent desires before teenage angst sets in.
I quickly became fascinated with “Blitz: The League” and American Football in general, soon after playing the short demo. The violent nature of the sport, which was amplified by the arcade style gameplay of “Blitz: The League” amazed the younger me. There were no referees or actions you could be penalized for. You would be rewarding for gaining yards, scoring and playing well defensively, which filled up a “Clash” meter. This meter could be drained to use improved moves such as better stiff arms, spins, jukes and more importantly “dirty hits”. Using the “Clash” meter would lower the stamina of the opposing players which would lessen their effectiveness, and make them susceptible to injury. Injuries would often feature a closeup of the brutal injury occurring in the body (usually caused by a dirty hit), such as an X-Ray closeup of a bone snapping. If you used enough “Clash” moves, you would you would be able to do an “Unleash” move which was an upgraded version of a “Clash” move. If both teams used enough clash moves in a match, brawls between both teams could occur. The brawl would consist of both teams being reward a “Clash” icon for every tackle made to an opposing team player. The brawl winner would be rewarded with a number of “Clash” icons to unlock his/her “Unleash” move, based on how many players he tackled during the brawl.
I tend to favour sports that can keep my attention by having action happen quite frequently, and American Football is all about the action. Even if “Blitz: The League” greatly exaggerated what happened on the field. Every time the ball is snapped something is happening. Sports that I had grown up with natively in England, such as Football, looked dull in comparison. For example, a Premier league football player looks pretty pathetic when he dives for a foul, whinging and whining all the way, in comparison to a American Football player in full gear, being hit by a tackle and having to walk it off and get back to his team’s huddle for the next snap.
While I thoroughly enjoyed “Blitz: The League” and I could even play it quite well on higher difficulties, despite the rubberband AI, I was aware the rendition of American Football in “Blitz: The League” was not the real way the sport was played. Even someone naive in the sport, knew there were referees on the field, and brawls between both teams were most certainly not allowed. However I was curious though, to what the real sport was actually like. Was the sport even remotely as gloriously violent as “Blitz: The League”? Would it be as interesting to me? At the time the UK did not have much coverage of American Football on TV, so I decided the best way to see the sport would be the way I learned the rules to Basketball; by playing a realistic video game of the sport. By chance whilst shopping one day, I saw a copy of “Madden 08” which featured various NFL related logos on the front cover, and by that point I had learned about EA’s licensing deal with the NFL regarding American Football games, meaning this game was the only NFL licensed game around. This assured me that the game would feature the proper rules and procedures of the sport to make the experience realistic enough to replicate the real sport and therefore, could teach me to how American Football was properly played.
I must admit how hard it was for me to get used to the slower, more realistic gameplay of the Madden series at first. This was especially apparent on the defensive side of the ball. “Blitz: The League’s” defense gameplay always favored “blitzing” funnily enough. The player is encouraged tosend everyone on defence towards the quarterback or running back and tackle them so they don’t get up. The easiest way to play defence on that game was to pick a player, move him onto the line of scrimmage where there was an invisible wall to prevent you going offside, which gave you an unfair advantage at getting past the blockers and into the backfield. The other type of defence “coverage” was discouraged because unless you controlled the defender, the AI would cut through the secondary with aerial assault that would make the Royal Air Force proud, or your players would react too slow to the running back. However in Madden, defence is completely different from a playing perspective. Blitzing every defensive play will lead to the AI throwing the ball down the field and scoring on you. You can and will be punished by even the easiest AI by playing like that. Instead you encouraged to feature a mixture of coverage and blitzes similar to how defenses work in the real sport; zone coverage with the occasional blitz to surprise the offense.
However despite my initial disappointment which I mentioned earlier, I can’t say that I was put off the realistic version of American Football. In fact I quickly became encouraged to see and learn how the proper sport was played when Madden 08’s “skill trainer” immediately appeared on my screen upon my first time playing. The skill trainer is a tutorial like mode that evaluates how good you are at the game, so it can automatically set a difficulty best for you. It’s also a very effective way of teaching the basic controls to a new player. Regardless of the complete differences in gameplay between the two games, I found myself learning and enjoying Madden 08 just by playing all the game modes available. One of the few flaws of “Blitz: The League” was the basic game modes available; an extremely linear campaign mode and a simple exhibition mode. Madden on the other hand, had numerous modes such as in-depth franchise modes and player based career modes. You could learn the entirety of the sport, both on and off the field simply by playing all the game modes available.
Madden 08 had left such an impression on me regarding the sport that I would buy the yearly renditions of these games. I just had to; I needed the updated team rosters and improved realistic gameplay. Also around the time that Madden 09 then the latest Madden game released, Blitz: The League received a sequel too in “Blitz: The league 2” for both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It intrigued me greatly when playing the two games how different they could be in terms of gameplay, yet despite having adjusted to the gameplay of Madden, I still loved the fast paced, brutal gameplay that was the Blitz: The League series. Even if “Blitz: The League 2” felt a little tamer compared to its predecessor, despite an increased age rating.
I would never have thought I would be such a big fan of American Football. I have teams I follow as well as players I like. Yet back in the day I hated Rugby, the sport in Britain closest to American Football. Maybe it was because my P.E. teachers wouldn’t stop pestering me to join the team, or my disinterest of sports at the time, but I was sure I never have an interest in sports especially Rugby or any sport like it. However “Blitz: The League” showed me a sport that interested me greatly. Yes it was wholly unrealistic; it was at times dark, excessively violent, and unapologetically crude but it made American Football interesting to me. The caricature that “Blitz: The League” was to the NFL made me want to know about the real NFL and how real American Football was played. Luckily my experience with Madden was so positive it kept me interested in American Football and made me an enthusiast in the sport. This was helped by a couple of friends I had in secondary school who also had an interest in American Football to “talk shop” with, which helped foster my interest in American Football. I fully recommend “Blitz: The League” not just to American Football fans or people wanting to get into the sport, but to anyone who just wants to have some fun in a arcade style sports game that has a surprisingly well written story for it’s campaign mode, and is genuinely entertaining and enjoyable. What more can you ask for?
Have you had a similar experience abut video games making you a fan of a sport? I’m interested to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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