The last time the NFL and 2K teamed up, the end result was ESPN NFL 2K5 - still considered by many to be the greatest Gridiron sim of all time. So here’s some genuinely exciting news where digital helmet-smashing is concerned: that partnership is getting back together for the first time in 17 years. From 2021, the NFL and 2K will be collaborating on videogames once more.
The pair already have multiple projects in the early stages of development, although there is a catch for those hoping to see a genuine rival to Madden 21. NFL/2K co-creations will be “non-simulation football game experiences”, meaning EA retains on-pitch exclusivity, and instantly quashing any hopes of seeing 2K5 brought up to date for a PS5 and Xbox Series X audience.
Instead, expect 2K’s first wave of NFL games to take inspiration from its other sports-based properties. WWE SuperCard meshes Ultimate Team style card collection with Top Trumps like gameplay, and at this point is considered a far more fulfilling time sink than the sim-based WWE 2K20. Similarly, NBA 2K Mobile enables the building of a dream team from more than 400 cards, which can be boosted via daily bonuses. Matches in that game do include sim elements, but it’s easy to see the best bits of 2K Mobile and SuperCard being fused to create a bespoke NFL experience.
“Expanding the NFL’s presence in the world of gaming has become a focus for the League as we look to grow the next generation of our fanbase, and reviving our partnership with 2K was a natural step in that effort,” says Joe Ruggiero, vice president of consumer products at the NFL. “2K is a worldwide leader in sports video games, with a proven track record of creating best-in-class and award-winning games and we look forward to sharing more about the projects we are working on with them in the future.”
The NFL previously worked with 2K from 1999 to 2004, initially on an exclusive Dreamcast offering, simply called NFL 2K. The series debuted on PS2 and Xbox in 2001, and quickly became the critics’ choice of NFL sim - much like UK football purists preferred PES to FIFA. However, EA signed an exclusivity deal with the NFL in December 2004, bringing the rivalry to an end following ESPN NFL 2K5.
A spiritual successor, All-Pro Football 2K8, emerged on PS3 and Xbox 360. Built on legendary players rather than licensed current ones, it provided a strong alternative to Madden 08, but didn’t sell strongly enough to justify future editions.