Updated: Jun 7, 2021
As an average college student in America, there are a few common things that we all look forward to when we go back to our hometown for winter break. Sleep, hang out with friends (and over the past year that has become pretty iffy), and play video games. According to the 2019 Evolution Entertainment Study, 73% of Americans aged 2 and older play video games, up 6% from 2018, and according to a poll conducted by Pew Research Center in 2003, 70% of college students play video games, with 65% of college students saying they are occasional or regular video game players. This shows how remarkable the video game industry truly is. Personally, I am in the minority among most of my friends, as I leave my gaming console at my house during the school year. Half of the reason I do this is to focus on my schoolwork, my podcast, and fish tanks- yes my fish tanks- and the other half is that I have such little confidence in my technical ability that I am afraid if I unplug my Xbox and re-hook it up somewhere else, I will find some way to mess it up.
Every week on my podcast, the MoeCast, we wrap up every episode with one of our recurring weekly segments, our Top 5 of the Week. We have done our top 5 pizza toppings, baseball uniforms, sandwiches, college mascots, TV shows, and the best sports video games of all time just to name a few. Every Saturday, we post a graphic of our Top 5 of the Week and let the people vote on our Twitter and Instagram (@MoeCastPod) for who had the best list for that week. After doing our Top 5 Sports Video Games Series of All Time a few weeks ago, I was inspired to write an article about what sports video games reign supreme and why they are so popular. Keep in mind I was born in November of 2000, but I will do my best to respect the classics. I often still play James Bond 007: Nightfire and MVP Baseball 2005 which was released in 2002 and 2005, respectively. I may be called an oldie for still playing and enjoying my GameCube, but at least the $199 console Santa Clause gave me on Christmas of 2004 has had a great return on his investment.
Here are the best sports video games of all time, ranked also including some games that just missed the cut.
10. FIFA 15
If you know anything about me, you know the passion that I have against the game of soccer. I would rather sleep on a bed of nails for a week than have to watch a soccer game. With FIFA 15 cracking this packed list, it shows how good the game truly was. Since I know only two soccer players in the world, Messi (don't even know his first name) and Cristiano Ronaldo, I had to reach out to some friends for which FIFA is the best and why. FIFA 15 was the overwhelming favorite after pointing out that FIFA 20 was not great, and FIFA 21 does not look too promising. In FIFA 15, you were able to buy coins that bought you player card packs. This would be used in Ultimate Team mode, which is one of the most popular game modes. Ultimate Team allows you to build up your soccer team and play against other online opponents. FIFA 15 was one of the last games on the old engine which makes FIFA 15 a classic. It was the last time that FIFA was casual, as in someone like me with no knowledge of soccer can play and be competitive against avid fans of the game online.
With sports video games like FIFA, fans become frustrated every year when a new version of the game comes out and is a carbon copy compared to the year before. The only glaring differences are some players moving to different teams. FIFA 15 was different. The animations were much improved from years prior, and everything in the game was animated. Real crowd noise was pumped in, players could display up to 600 different emotions, and every stadium in the game had a licensing agreement with FIFA. FIFA 15 was the best in the franchise so far and it was so good an anti-soccer fan like myself included it on the best sports video games of all time. It is even a stretch in my mind to call soccer or fútbol a "sport" in my mind.
9. NBA 2K18
The NBA has grown exponentially as a league over the past twenty years, and with major marketable stars like LeBron James, Giannis, Steph Curry, and James Harden, you would expect fans of the NBA to be more invested in 2K. News flash, NBA 2K still racks in great numbers, but there are so many problems with the game that NBA 2K21 is unplayable in my mind. The animations are subpar, and the gameplay has no flow. NBA 2K18 was the last time it has been well done. NBA 2K18 has a bevy of game modes, with the most popular being the My Team and My Career. My Career is a very interesting game mode, where you start as a high school player and work your way up to getting drafted into the NBA. NBA 2K18 broke from previous years, and instead of working your way through college and then to get drafted, your My Player pursues a career as a DJ but cracks an NBA roster after being scouted in a street basketball game. Yes, your player signs an NBA contract after performing well in amateur street basketball games. Shoutout to 2K for always being realistic.
NBA 2K18 is the best game out of the series solely based on the neighborhood being installed into My Career. Instead of your created player just sitting at his apartment and playing in NBA games, 2K18 had your player living in a neighborhood, where you can walk around a neighborhood and get your hair cut, work out, play street basketball, and work on brand deals. NBA2K18 generates a multitude of revenue by the My Career and the My Team modes, where you can buy coins to make your player and the ultimate team better. NBA 2K18 won the "Best Sports" game at the 2017 Game Awards, and it was the last 2K game that was enjoyable to play. It is also pretty funny to see Kyrie Irving in a Celtics uniform on the cover.
8. NHL 94
For a game to be from 1994 and to still be playable, NHL had to hit a home run with this one. A hat trick, a 50-goal season, a shutout from a goalie, any positive hockey analogy you can think of to associate with this game would be correct. NHL '94 is still so popular that you can still buy this game for the Xbox X Series and PS5. Currently, for just an extra $4 on the Xbox Store, you can buy a bundle that includes NHL 21 and NHL '94. This bundle is the only new video game that I bought in all of 2020. Sure, I am more of a classic guy, but NHL '94 was one of the more popular games from the '90s and early 2000s. The animations were ahead of their time, and the simple controls allowed for a fun and relaxed gameplay. Obviously, technology has advanced drastically over the past 26 years, but a game like NHL '94 still works in today's market. NHL '94 was the first hockey video game to include one-timers, where your player can shoot the puck immediately off a pass. The camera angle was groundbreaking for sports video games, as an ariel view gave gamers a better playing experience. Another big deal regarding this game compared to previous ones was the ability to save your data and records.
NHL '94 impact on the gaming community has continued over the years. Many games like NBA 2K and all hockey games have switched to an aerial view compared to a side view. This gives players much more enhanced gameplay and they do not face the dangers of plays getting cut off out of the screen. Bleacher Report cited this game as "one of the best video games ever made" and IGN (the most popular video game media website) ranks NHL '94 as the 47th best video game ever made. NHL '94 is one of the only sports video games from the early ‘90s that is still played.
7. MLB The Show 20
There is nothing better as a baseball fan than being able to play such a realistic game like The Show 2020. The only reason that it is relatively low on this list is that it is only available on PlayStation, so as an Xbox user I rarely get to play. The bright side to this is the MLBPA and Sony announced that the franchise will be brought to "console platforms beyond PlayStation as soon as 2021." The Show 2020 is a must-have as a baseball fan, and the in-depth animations with sleek cutting camera action add an exciting element to the game. MLB The Show as a franchise is known for pleasing the gaming community every single year, unlike Madden and 2K especially. MLB The Show made numerous strides on their 2019 release, but MLB 20 tops the cake. The Franchise mode is simply addictive, as you can customize numerous parts of your own team in hopes to win a championship. Diamond Dynasty mode is similar to other game's ultimate team and is also very popular. It is also a very cool experience to customize your own player and work yourself up to the Major Leagues through the minors with the Road to the Show game mode. The biggest improvement from previous years is when you perfectly time up a baseball, you are more likely to be rewarded with a big hit.
MLB The Show 2020 took center stage when baseball was delayed almost four months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Players across the league played in a tournament against one another, which brought even more focus on how popular The Show 2020 was. Blake Snell and Amir Garrett were the stars of the Players League Tournament, and by hosting something like this MLB did a good job (for once) of marketing their stars. MLB The Show dominates the baseball video gaming community, and the franchise does a terrific job of making enhancements year to year to continually increase sales. I will be a very happy human when The Show officially comes to the Xbox.
6. Madden 2004
Two words to describe why Madden 2004 is one of the best and most entertaining video games of all time. Michael Vick. I will never forget coming home from school in kindergarten and first grade with the only thing on my mind is to play as Michael Vick in Madden 2004. What a time. Because of how fun and dominant Vick was in Madden, he and Jerome Bettis became two of my favorite NFL players of all time. Vick is arguable the most dominant player in video game history of all time. Not only was Vick a 95 overall as a player, he also had 95 speed. If you think those two stats are crazy, Vick also had a 97 overall throwing accuracy, 98 throwing power, and 92 elusiveness. So good luck trying to shut down Vick in the passing game and if he took off, Vick would use his 95 speed and 92 elusiveness to outrun and evade would-be tacklers. Not only is Madden 2004 on this list due to Mike Vick, but the game overall was also a smashing success. Owners Mode was introduced to the game which allowed users to own a mock NFL Franchise and control everything from the day to day operations to the gameday promotions. This Madden also introduced PlayMaker control which allowed users to change plays without doing an audible.
Madden has had some hits and misses over the years, but Madden 2004 is the best in the franchise in my mind. It was tough to leave off Madden 2006 after it introduced the truck stick, but Madden 2004 and Michael Vick put Madden on the sports gaming forefront. Madden 2004 is also interesting by including the NFL Europe roster. What a weird league that was. Believe it or not, even though Vick is ranked as the third most dominant player in sports video game history behind Mike Tyson in Mike Tyson Punchout and Bo Jackson in Tecmo Super Bowl by Bleacher Report, Rich Gannon had a better overall compared to Vick with a 97. Madden 2004 was an electric game that had major success in large part due to Michael Vick.
5. NBA Jam
The NBA Jam franchise has done an outstanding job over the years of continually developing great content and adapting to newer gameplay. NBA Jam was originally produced as an arcade game but found even more success when it transitioned to console gaming including the Wii, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3. I fell in love with NBA Jam as a young kid, and the game pulled me in with the over-the-top graphics and animations, the gameplay, and phrases such as "Boomshakalaka!" and "He's Heating Up!". I would spend hours and hours on my iPod touch playing this great game. The most popular game mode was the 2 on 2 versions, where you could play as the top two starts from every NBA franchise and compete against other teams. You can even unlock retired NBA superstars to play with after leveling up. In a time when sports video games were trying to become more realistic, NBA Jam allowed you to jump out of the gym and complete ludicrous dunks. The over-the-top animations and added incentives in-game when your player heats up also works well to keep the users in the game. There are plenty of games out there where the gameplay can get kind of stale and it is easy to quit mid-game. NBA Jam makes sure to keep your attention.
NBA Jam ranks so high on my list because of how well it has carried itself over the years. From going to an arcade game to the iPhone to gaming consoles, it has done a great job to keep adapting over time. The animations and outrageous phrases are what make it entertaining for the youth, but it also draws in an older audience because of how popular it was in the '90s. The gameplay is easy and fun to become good at, and there are many different in-game missions that you can complete to receive added game perks like a different color basketball. NBA Jam will always be an entertaining classic.
4. Wii Sports
What is the best way to get a party started? Food? Drinks? Music? Wrong. It's Wii Sports. To put it quite simply, Wii Sports is incredible. If I had a choice, I would call a friend and challenge him or her to a competitive Wii Sports tournament every single day for my exercise. Wii Sports was released with the Wii in 2006, and it was immediately labeled a "killer app" for the console. For people unfamiliar with the term "killer app", it is an application that is so desirable that it provides the true value for the console. This could not be more accurate with Wii Sports. People flocked to the stores to buy a Wii so they could get a chance to play Wii Sports. Wii Sports is the most popular Wii game of all time, beating Mario Cart in revenue by over 45 million dollars. Wii Sports is an active game that gave viewers a taste of future virtual reality games. Movements of the Wii remote allowed you to control players and you could play tennis, baseball, bowling, golf, and boxing. I am still convinced that I have never lost a baseball game, and with training, I could become a professional boxer based on my Wii Sports boxing skills. The more you play the game modes and the better you become at it, you gain points, and the CPU becomes more difficult. Regardless, I reached the professional level status with my Mii in every sport (no big deal).
Wii Sports will live on as long as we live, and it is still a game that is still very popular. One of the coolest parts of the game is that you can design your custom Mii player and play with them in any game. There are different game modes for all of the games as well, and my favorite is the home run derby for baseball. Wii Sports also inspired Wii Sports Resort, which is also one of my favorites with the basketball game mode being crafted to perfection. Wii Sports achieved this spot over Wii Sports Resort due to it being the original and the baseball, tennis, and bowling are more desirable to play. Even though I am a pro in every sport and that should not be overlooked, I think my biggest accomplishment is never letting the remote slip and break the TV. Wii Sports will always have a special place in my heart.
3. NFL Street 2
I will never forget when I was 6 years old when I visited a family friend's house in New Jersey. I saw NFL Street 2 being played, and from that point forward I spent every minute of that weekend playing this game. Sorry for being unsocial Aunt Janet but this game was simply too good to put down. NBA Street 2 allows you to play as NFL teams with their best players in a backyard setting. The 7 on 7 matchups include three lineman, one quarterback, one running back, and two tight end/receivers. On the defensive side of the ball, Sean Taylor was an absolute menace for Washington, and Michael Vick was one of the most dominant players in the game. NFL Street 2 has everything you can hope for in a backyard football game. You can lateral, use trick plays, showboat, and celebrate when on the way to scoring a touchdown. My favorite part of the game is that you can jump off of walls to throw passes and make catches. The better you do throughout the game, you can unlock a GameChanger, which allows your player for one play to be an unstoppable force by breaking tackles, and the play usually results in a touchdown. It was honestly pretty hard to not put this as my number 1 game of all time, but it is disappointing how NFL Street has never capitalized on their success and created more games. NFL Street 3 was released a few years after NFL Street 2, but it received average reviews and did not come out on the Xbox or GameCube.
NFL Street 2 has many game modes, and the replayability for this game might be the highest for any game on this list. You can create your team, with your creative name, logo, and jerseys. Your team improved after finishing 100's of fun game modes to become the best team on the block. Over time you can acquire NFL players, and customize anything from their whole wardrobe to their celebrations. The backyard fields are also very well done, with games being played on rooftops, back alleys, fenced in grass fields, and more. NFL Street 2 is one of the most entertaining and fun games I have ever played in my life. It is a shame the last Xbox and GameCube release was in 2004.
2. NCAA Football 2014
Sigh. If you think I was sad about NFL Street 2 not making a game for my console since 2004, get ready for how sad this is going to be. EA Sports you have done America a disservice and you should be ashamed of yourself for not producing a game beyond NCAA 14. I would personally drop out of school and drop everything else I was doing if I could play some part in helping to develop a new game. Athletes now being allowed to benefit from their image and likeness opens a door for NCAA Football to return, and EA Sports I am begging you to please not mess this up. NCAA Football 14 was the last game of the franchise, and it was done to perfection. Every Division 1 program was included, and even though there were no real names for the players, the Texas A&M quarterback #2 (Johnny Football Manziel) was the most fun player to play with in the game. And when I mean no real names for players, guys like Johnny Manziel's name listed on the game would be a surname like "Victor Arnold". NCAA 14's worst team was Georgia State with a 60 overall team, and the best was Alabama at 99 overall. One of the better parts about this game is you can click a button to even the playing field for both teams, so you can play as Georgia State vs Alabama and it could be competitive.
In the peak of quarantine in early June, Barstool Sports blogger Big Cat streamed NCAA 14 on twitch with no other sports on. He started out tweeting about it on Twitter, which led to Twitch, and then viewership skyrocketed after he brought Tennessee to the National Championship on season mode. NCAA 14 and the stream was so popular, nearly 127,000 people tuned in to watch him play in the championship. That is how powerful this game is. My favorite part about this game is the mascot mode. For every single team, you can play as the mascot, so all of the players on the field are a Cincinnati Bearcat, a Stanford Tree, etc. NCAA 14 would generate a ton of hype if it were to ever come back, and the NCAA 14 video game was so good itself that it is still wildly popular seven years later.
1. MVP Baseball 2005
MVP Baseball, 2005. That intro phrase will be etched into my brain till the day I die. Even if I live until I am 100 years old in 2100, there will never be a baseball video game that can surpass this one. Right of the top, the intro video to the game is something that I can never skip through. The flashes of gameplay and intro song can be watched on repeat. The graphics and gameplay are very good for 2005, and the controls are simple enough for a first-time user to be successful. The new Owner Mode was the most popular game mode, where you can play in all the games and act as a manager while also controlling ticket prices, building a new stadium, and buying home run fireworks. MVP Baseball 2005 was the last game of the series, and it was the first and only time the Washington Nationals were featured in this game. RFK Stadium is not the most enjoyable stadium to play at, so I normally play as the St. Louis Cardinals or Cleveland Indians. The game controls also make it easy for the hitter to achieve different goals. You can use the joystick to try and directional hit, and you can also use it to hit for power. My favorite part about the game has to be how polished it is. It is like real baseball. In one game the score could be a back and forth 6-5 final score, and the next can be 2-0. MVP Baseball did a great job of making it as realistic as possible.
MVP Baseball 2005 is still the video game I play the most. I usually customize a player to sign him and play with him on Owner Mode, but since my playing days are over personally I also had my player retire after an illustrious career. The best part about Owners Mode in my mind is free agency. You can make offers to players during the first week, but negotiations can last up to six weeks. You can also put players on a trading block, and you can trade your aging stars for minor league prospects that can develop into MLB players. Like I said, this game is extremely realistic. Whatever team I own in Owner's Mode, I always trade for as many ex-Nationals players as possible. Currently, I have Livan Hernandez, Jason Marquis, Oliver Perez, Sean Burnett, Rick Ankiel (as a relief pitcher), Brad Lidge, Fernando Rodney, Rafael Soriano, Christian Guzman, Jose Vidro, Jerry Hairston Jr, Cesar Izturiz (who played in 5 games with the Nats in 2012 and went 2-4 at the plate), Adam LaRoche, Nick Johnson, Chad Tracy, Adam Dunn (as a speedy left fielder), Jayson Werth, Scott Hairston (as a second baseman), Endy Chavez, and Reed Johnson. Too bad Ryan Zimmerman was not on the Nationals 2005 Opening Day Roster, so he was not in the game. Every year I construct these teams to include as many major league players as possible, but sadly since it is now 2021 only five active players remain. Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Miguel Cabrera, Oliver Perez, and Zack Greinke. There are currently more managers: Dave Roberts, Rocco Baldelli, Alex Cora, Aaron Boone, AJ Hinch, Kevin Cash, Gabe Kapler, and Craig Counsell (8) who were players in 2005 then active players who still play now (5). MLB 2005 was labeled revolutionary for the hitters eye, and the realistic gameplay. Not only is MLB 2005 the best baseball video game of all time, but it is also the best sports video game of all time.