Ahead of E3 2018, EA has confirmed FIFA 19 for a release date of 28 September. Its most-anticipated new feature is the Champions League, which will appear in an EA football game for the first time since 2007 – rival PES has had exclusive use of the license throughout the intervening decade.
Still, EA’s footballing leviathan has never wanted for official teams and kits, so how exactly will the Champions League change FIFA 19? Earlier this week I sat down with the game’s executive producer, Aaron McHardy, for British football magazine FourFourTwo, and these were my five most important takeaways…
It’s fully customisable, as part of ‘tournament’ mode
As the richest competition in club football, the Champions League is a massive coup for EA – yet it’s not only supporters of the biggest teams who’ll benefit. To maximise interest from hardcore and casual fans alike, it’s being integrated into a new ‘tournament’ mode, to which you can sub in any European club in the game; and so set up an official Champions League featuring Crystal Palace, RC Lens, Frankfurt and Fiorentina, should you so wish.
One key thing to note, however, is that in this standalone mode the competition starts at the group stage. “We’re not going to dive into the complexities of the qualifying rounds,” McHardy tells FourFourTwo, “though some of that stuff is already baked into the way that career mode operates.”
We’re getting the Europa League and Super Cup too
There’s an element of buy-one-get-two-free to FIFA 19: the license EA has agreed with UEFA includes not only the Champions League, but its sister competitions too. The Europa League, made up of clubs who’ve finished just short of the elite places in their respective divisions, plus domestic cup winners, and certain sides knocked out of the CL at the group stage, also takes its FIFA bow, alongside the Super Cup - in which the winners of the Champions League and Europa League clash in a one-off curtain-raiser to each season.
Lee Dixon is headed to the commentary box
McHardy is keen to hammer home the focus EA is placing on Champions League presentation: “Authenticity is extremely important when bringing these iconic tournaments to life,” he says. That means a new commentary team specific to the CL, Europa League and Super Cup, in BT Sport play-by-play man Derek Rae and ITV analyst and former Arsenal defender Lee Dixon.
Also coming, according to the studio boss, are “unique atmospheres that look and feel like the real thing: overlay packages, match balls, Champions League badges on all the kits, the archway you walk through, the branding around the stadium, and so on”. Cool.
Expect new teams such as Viktoria Plzen and CFR Cluj
Even with the Champions League license confirmed, EA is still highly reluctant to confirm any new teams, stadia or player faces, although GamesRadar revealed that – while not a UEFA team – NYCFC’s squad was scanned back in February. A look at the group stage line-ups for next season, however, enables us to confidently predict some new clubs.
Viktoria Plzen, champions of the Czech league, are already guaranteed a Champions League group stage spot, while qualifiers BATE Borisov (Belarus) and CFR Cluj (Romania) must also warrant consideration. It’d be a shock if any of those squads were omitted.
2018-19’s Europa League, meanwhile, contains two group stage teams not in FIFA 18, in Vorskla Poltava (Ukraine) and Jablonec, again of the Czech Republic. Both seem certainties for FIFA 19.
Alex Hunter’s Journey ends in the Champions League
The Journey, fronted by Adetomiwa Edun’s alter-ego Alex Hunter, is back for a third season, with a heavy Champions League emphasis. McHardy reveals this will be Hunter’s last hurrah: “It was always planned to be a three-year trilogy,” he says, “and this is the final [instalment] in that trilogy.” You’ll surely start the season at the club where you finished up last time out – Atletico Madrid, Bayern, or PSG – and end it at the CL final. In between expect cut-scenes featuring returning cover star Cristiano Ronaldo, and his new front-of-box team-mate Neymar Jr, who’s been signed by EA just three years after he spearheaded PES 2016.
FIFA 19 is released for PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC on 28 September. For further reading, check out our rundown of lessons FIFA 19 can learn from EA’s official World Cup 2018 DLC.