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The hardest thing about modern sports games? Navigating EA’s customer support
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The hardest thing about modern sports games? Navigating EA’s customer support

I am very grateful for my dual nationality right now. The horror of Scotland’s dour Euro 2024 performance has been tempered by a swashbuckling Canada in their first ever Copa América, and a Canadian hockey team in a Stanley Cup final for only the third time in 18 years: the Edmonton Oilers, a team so utterly Canadian they have a fossil fuel as a name.

Thank God for NHL 93 and 94 on the Mega Drive. Not only were they twin peaks of sports gaming perfection, they are also the reason why I can walk into any pub in Canada and bluff my way through conversations about Mario Lemieux, Steve Yzerman and Mark Messier. And make an argument as to why Jeremy Roenick is the most underrated hockey player of his generation based purely on the fact that he was all four horsemen of the apocalypse rolled into one in NHL94. He was up there with the likes of Barry Sanders in Madden, Kylian Mbappé in any Fifa and the Stockton/Malone Combo in NBA Jam – players so freakishly good that you can’t lose if they are on your team.

The Edmonton Oilers and the Florida Panthers playing in 3D.View image in fullscreen

I hadn’t played NHL for decades, but inspired by the Oilers’ almost-victory, I decided to fire up NHL 24 on the Xbox – and promptly had a nervous breakdown. What happened to that simple game on the Mega Drive, where you’d skate down one side, fire it to the back post and one-time it into the net four times out of five? Now it’s gone all hyper realistic with 50m control options and a hell of a lot of icy inertia. In my first games I feel like a Rebel soldier during the Empire’s attack on Hoth.

So I go back to the start. Get the basics down in Free Skate. Then up to wonderful a 1v1v1 mode where three of you shoot into the same goal in an assortment of conveniently snowbound locations. This is definitely the best place to start to learn individual skills, crucial in a game where it’s ludicrously easy to create scoring chances, but actually putting them away is like threading a needle. With a puck. While sliding. And getting hit.

Having mastered the basic individual skills, I move up to 3v3 NHL Threes matches. I score my first team goal and it feels wonderful. Then the action stops, and a Hawk mascot dances irritatingly on and starts playing for the Blackhawks. This should definitely happen in the Euros. Can you imagine poor beleaguered Gareth Southgate trying to explain why he played Hartlepool’s H’Angus the Monkey instead of Harry Kane? Or what Scotland could have achieved had Gunnersaurus replaced the injured Kieran Tierney?

I get too cocky and try my first trick deke move, lose possession, the Hawk takes the puck and a mascot scores on me. A mascot! And they get TWO POINTS! Why? Because apparently we were playing with the MONEY PUCK, which is rhyming slang for what I was shouting at the screen. But I put in the hours, and soon I am winning mascots to play on MY team too. And it’s fun!

I am ready for ONLINE PLAY. But things take a twist, for I am one of those people with an old EA account linked to an email I can no longer access. I travel the seven circles of hell that is EA online support and file a ticket asking to link a different account to my Xbox One. It tells me I have a six-minute wait. That doesn’t sound too bad. There is a number 6 on the screen, but it doesn’t change. For 10 minutes. Then finally it switches.

To 8.

Then 10.

Then 11.

OMG. EA has taken all that money they fleeced off people in Fifa Ultimate Team and used it to develop time travel. If I hang around for a few days I will eventually see how the dinosaurs died out. (Probably by starving to death whilst waiting for help from EA.)

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NHL 94 on the Mega Drive – ahh, the good old days.View image in fullscreen

Decades pass. I finally get through to a human being who says I need to answer six personal questions correctly to access my account. Six! I can’t do it. My Canadian citizenship test was easier than this. Six personal questions? That’s more than I asked my wife before we were married. I only need two questions to access my bank account. In a frustrated attempt to prove my identity, I offer to send them a finger, seeing as at this rate I will not need them to play NHL 24 online.

I go full Karen and ask to speak to a manager, explaining politely that I am writing an article on the game. My “helper” says she will raise a ticket with the team, and someone will get back to me. No one ever does. I later notice that there’s an old case, on my account from 2021. I click on the transcript. IT’S THE SAME PROBLEM, and they never fixed it then either.

I guess my virtual hockey escapades are over for another few decades. This would never have happened on the Mega Drive.

Source: theguardian.com