Depending on where you live, FIFA 17 either came out yesterday (for Americans), is coming out tomorrow (just about everywhere else), or will be available on October 4 (sorry, Brazil). The player ratings are a point of pride for both professional soccer players and fans alike, and the top of the pack shaped up about how most fans expected: Portugese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo has the highest rating, dethroning Argentina’s Lionel Messi, who is ranked second. Other familiar faces like Neymar, Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic populate the rest of the top ten.
Fans will argue about Ronaldo’s 94 rating vs. Messi’s 93, but what you can’t really doubt is how EA Sports came to these figures, because it is a rigorous process. ESPN recently ran a fascinating feature story that shows how EA is able to keep track of the 700 clubs, 18,000 players, and 5.4 MILLION data points that go into the game.
It essentially starts with guesswork, until EA’s 9000-member team of scouts, or “data reviewers,” who consist primarily of season ticket holders for various teams around the world, coaches, and scouts are able to provide feedback on a secure EA Sports website. The game does use advanced metrics do determine what skills each player will be assigned, but in a game that’s as large and ambitious as FIFA 17—remember, 18,000 players—these real-life scouts are essential.
There are so many factors to deal with—the strength of a player’s team and league, intangible skills or instincts that might not be reflected by his player rating, fresh-placed players nobody has really watched before—that it’s amazing they pull it off. Michael Mueller-Moehring, the person in charge of overseeing this part of the operation, spoke to ESPN about his complicated job, explaining how statistical analysis can still leave plenty of blindspots.
“The stats are, in most cases, not taking into account very specific circumstances,” said Mueller-Moehring in the interview. “When you look at passing completion, if you play for Bayern Munich or if you play for Manchester City or if you play for Pep Guardiola, if your system is based on possession, you will have more successful passes than other players, but this doesn’t necessarily make you a better passer.”
“And when you look at attributes like trapping and ball control, there is data, but the data never gives you the specific situations. Same for tackling,” he continued.
Eventually, though, the in-depth statistical data collated by EA’s 300 data editors and the feedback from the 9,000 data reviewers is combined to create 300 different data fields and 35 distinct attributes. These are then synthesized to create an individual player’s overall rating. Simple, huh?
So you can argue about the fairness of FIFA’s rankings until the cows come home, but in the meantime, you can check out this worthwhile read about how Mueller-Moehring and his team attempt to accomplish the impossible here.
Image: Electronic Arts