The use of a video assistant referee, or VAR, has been adopted by most top-flight soccer competitions and leagues around the world over the last five years. But would EA, the developer of the massively popular FIFA gaming franchise, ever be so bold that they'd add the rules tweak to FIFA 21?
VAR has remained a controversial addition to the leagues around the world, especially in the UK, where it often dominates discussion in the Premier League, which has used it for the past two seasons. In some cases, VAR has done its job too well, like when it resulted in goals being disallowed because a player's armpit was offside. In other cases, it hasn't done its job at all, like when clear and obvious errors by the on-field referee were not reviewed by VAR. It's kind of a mess, but it's also part of the sport.
Anyone who's played FIFA will tell you that the offside flag never goes up incorrectly, so why would VAR be introduced if the ref always gets it right the first time? (It is a video game, after all.) But EA's dedication to realism and hyper-focus on the latest data that reflects the real world — its player ratings are a prime example — could make some sort of VAR detail too good to resist.
Sam Rivera, lead gameplay producer for FIFA, explained the how and why of EA's decision on VAR like this:
"We know that VAR is very popular right now in football; It happens with pretty much every goal, which can be sometimes interesting," Rivera said, hinting at its controversial status. "Anyway, this year we decided to focus on other features that the community was requesting. We think that VAR, in terms of a video game, may not be adding as much as we wished."
Rivera says they focused on adding features to the fundamentals of the game — improving dribbling and how to be creative.
"The answer is there no VAR in FIFA 21," he says. "However, we are very aware that this is a big part of football right now, and obviously, it could happen in the future."
What about Covid-19's effect on player ratings in FIFA 21?
Another real-world dynamic that (thankfully) won't be in FIFA 21 is how Covid-19 affected play. In FIFA, it's as if it never happened at all.
For example, the top football league in France, Ligue 1, halted its season over the pandemic and chose not to restart it, as other leagues eventually did in the UK, Germany, Spain, and Italy.
Since the FIFA franchise relies on the up-to-date ratings of players in areas like speed, stamina, defense, and shooting, Ligue 1 players will seemingly have the same ratings as they did when the country's prime minister declared the season was over on April 28. Players' skill ratings will be frozen in time from April 28 to August 22, when the new Ligue 1 season begins.
Ionel Stanescu, a line producer for EA, told reporters during a press event in July that EA will update the ratings, and they will be timely again when FIFA 21 is released on October 9, 2020.
"Given the already solid foundation we have in the game now when it comes to [football player] data collection and the player ratings, we're still able to do updates with the pandemic," Stanescu told reporters. "We also have the ability to release squad updates as leagues resume play."
FIFA 21 will be released October 9, 2020.