FIFA 21 will not include VAR, or empty stadiums

(Image credit: EA)

FIFA 21 won't have VAR or fan-free stadiums, EA has confirmed. 

Despite being two of the most controversial aspects of the 2019-2020 season, EA's next football sim isn't looking to replicate them in-game. VAR, short for ‘video assistant referee’, has been met with mostly negative feedback from fans of the Premier League following a series of marginal offside calls being overturned, and its use in England is likely to be reviewed this summer. Fan-free stadiums are a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and expected to be the norm next season in most major football leagues.

(Image credit: EA)

“Every year we set out to make the most authentic football experience possible,” says line producer Ionel Stanescu. “But we want to make sure that we express football in its best, and purest, form. For us that means crowds in the stadium, because that’s what the sport is all about. To that end you will still get the full-on broadcast experience of a regular football match. Full-on crowds, authentic atmosphere and so on.”

“Regarding VAR, it’s a very good question, but the answer is no,” says lead gameplay producer Sam Rivera. “In a videogame, what it would be adding to the experience isn’t very important at this time – the system knows if a challenge is a foul or not, so we decided to focus on areas which we consider higher priority. That doesn’t mean it won’t arrive in the future, but there are no plans to include it in FIFA 21.”

The upside to this news is that instead of development resources being diverted to new off-field details, EA says it has focussed on three specific gameplay pillars: creativity, fluidity, and responsiveness. We’ve had a brief playtest in exhibition mode, and signs are promising – read more in our comprehensive rundown of FIFA 21 features.

(Image credit: EA)

Feeding into those pillars is community feedback, and EA says it’s made specific changes based on what it’s learned from users over the last 12 months. For instance, certain celebrations have been removed to reduce toxicity in the game’s online environment. “We’ve removed the ‘shhh’ and another one that is called the ‘ay-okay’,” says Rivera. “And we’ve changed the flow. After a goal the time to celebrate is reduced, there’s just one replay, and no more ‘walkback’ to the centre spot like in FIFA 20.”

Also included as a direct result of fan feedback is the option to super cancel almost any animation – dribble, pass, shot – by (on PS4) hitting L2 and R2 at the same time. Along similar lines, assisted headers make crossing more effective than last year, and defensive blocks are less random, with players adjusting their bodies as the ball travels towards them in the hope of getting a shoulder or hip or outstretched toe in the way of a pass or shot at goal.

FIFA 21 is released on PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC on 9 October, and PS5 and Xbox Series X to tie in with the Christmas release of those consoles.

Ben Wilson

I'm GamesRadar's sports editor, and obsessed with NFL, WWE, MLB, AEW, and occasionally things that don't have a three-letter acronym – such as Chvrches, Bill Bryson, and Streets Of Rage 4. (All the Streets Of Rage games, actually.) Even after three decades I still have a soft spot for Euro Boss on the Amstrad CPC 464+.