With EA Sports domination of the sports-based video game market it has stymied game production. Simply put, other producers cannot compete with the financial muscle of EA. As a result, the American company has near hegemony over the sector. Year on year EA titles dominate the charts, further reducing competition and innovation.
We are all familiar with successful franchises like FIFA, Madden, and Fight Night, all of which are EA titles, but which sports games, not franchises, are the best of all time? As is to be expected, most of these titles come from a time when competition was rife…a time before EA was the undisputed leader of the market.
Pro Evolution Soccer 3 
(Released as Winning Eleven 7 in Japan and World Soccer: Winning Eleven 7 in North America)
Nowadays, Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) trails behind EA’s FIFA considerably, and how much longevity the game has is currently coming under increasing scrutiny. However, there once was a time when PES was the “go to” football game, a time when FIFA wasn’t even fit to tie up PES’s boots, and that time was 2003.
Konami, the game’s manufacturers, had decided to stop using the Renderware engine and came up with their own. The results: the most realistic football game of its time ever to grace a video console. It gave gamers a level of on-pitch-control that we are now accustomed to but at the time was revolutionary, such as fluid dribbling and more realistic passing and shooting, something that EA and FIFA could not do.
Considering that PES did not have the licences for many clubs, the fact it managed to sell nearly 3 million copies on PS2 is incredible. Teams such as Liverpool were called Mersey Reds whilst sometimes whole countries, like Holland, had a team consisting of completely fabricated player names. Some were so funny they could have been the brainchild of Paddy Power rather than a Japanese game designer!
Despite its lack of licencing, PES 3 was a humdinger of a football game. The gameplay was something completely new and serves as a cornerstone for all modern football games today.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 
Sceptics may say that skateboarding is not a sport but the cold hard truth is that it is. Pro Skater not only holds its own in the sport games industry but as a game alone. Its Metacritic scoring of 97/100, alongside GTA III, makes it the highest ranked PS2 game of all time, whilst the official UK PlayStation Magazine named it the seventh best game of all time. There are few games that garnered as many accolades as Pro Skater 2.
How did it achieve near universal claim? The answer: a competent career mode, absorbing multiplayer mode, arguably the greatest soundtrack of any video game, and a whole host of new skaters, parks and tricks.
The beauty of the game lies in its simplicity. It is a game that any novice can play after a few minutes and, as we all know, the simple things in life often prove to be the better option.
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 expanded on its predecessor and effectively solidified the game as a major franchise. To this day its mark on pop culture is still clear, and if that isn’t a sign of a fantastic video game then what is?
NFL 2K1 
The NFL 2K series is a classic example of EA flexing their financial muscle. After six 2K games, all of which were considerably eating into Madden’s game sales, EA acquired all the licensing rights to the NFL, effectively killing NFL 2K.
However, before being killed off by EA, 2K studios did manage to give us NFL 2K1, which for its time was ground-breaking.
NFL 2K1 was only available on Dreamcast, the least said about that the better, but it had a plethora of graphics and animations, most notably the inclusion of fan reactions, which was something that nobody had really seen before.
But the games magnum opus has to be unearthing the power of online play. Considering NFL 2K1 was released in 2000, the fact that it could have any form of online gaming is gobsmacking. It was a game ahead of its time and a test dummy for online play, so those who are playing COD do owe a certain amount of servitude to NFL 2K1.
Who knows but if 2K had the money to compete with EA then the whole American Football video game sector could look completely different today and the Madden curse may never have existed.
NBA Street Vol. 2 
Its predecessor was good but the second volume raised the bar and then some. The reasons are plentiful for why NBA Street Vol.2 merits a place as one of the great sport games. One: there were three playable Michael Jordans. What’s not to like about three MJs? Two: it had the funkiest soundtrack of any game at the time – music coming from Nelly, Nate Dogg etc. Three: it was one of the silliest, but more importantly, enjoyable games ever made. Four: it garnered critical acclaim.
The basketball game really advanced on the original NBA Street and kick-started the EA “Street” revolution – EA Big released three NFL and four FIFA “Street” games and a further two basketball games.
Original and cool, NBA Street Vol. 2 is the “true” sporting equivalent of a Tony Hawk game.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 
It was recently announced that Woods and EA have amicably split – Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2014 being the last of the series.
In terms of importance, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 2003 was pivotal. It banished the arcade-style feel that most golf simulators had back then (just look at Hot Shots Golf), and added a significant layer of realism.
With a roster of 25 players, 12 courses and a tournament mode that replicates the PGA Tour, it was a game that golf aficionados could really sink their teeth into.
The “Tiger Challenge” and various other mini-games still allowed players that quick gaming fix, whilst the tournament gave gamers the best golfing story-mode.
It was the first really legitimate golf game and one that proved that not only are golf games enjoyable but they are hugely lucrative – to date, the franchise has sold over 25million copies.