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Video Gamechangers: The Best, Worst, and Most Overlooked Virtual Athletes of 2013

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Grady Sizemore is my favorite athlete of 2013. Forget the fact that he never took a swing in the majors this year—in MLB 13: The Show, Sizemore turned my mediocre Giants lineup into a run-scoring machine. I plugged Sizemore into left field for San Francisco and he started the season hitting a two doubles and a triple batting in the number two slot. By season's end, he was a 30/60 man, slugging 32 home runs and stealing 64 bases while leading the Giants back to the World Series in a rematch against the Tigers. Sizemore's production continued in the Fall Classic, where he smashed two bombs in Game 1, hit .425 for the Series, and threw out Torii Hunter at the plate in an instant classic 1-0 Game 7.

Cyber Sizemore serves as a nice reminder that virtual knees beat real ones any day—and that for all the realism of modern video games, the digital world can produce some pleasant surprises. That said, it can also produce unstoppable players like LeBron and Miguel Cabrera. Curious about who's the wheat and who's the chaff in the current crop of sports games, we asked five different producers and game designers to dole out superlatives. Eli Manning, you best look away.

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THE PANELISTS

Andrew Brown: Associate Producer, Madden NFL 25

Peter Sobczak: Development Director, NHL 14

Bryan Williams: Senior Game Designer, WWE 2K14

Garreth Reeder (Online Producer) and Santiago Jaramillo (Producer), FIFA 14

Ramone Russell: Community Manager of SCEA San Diego Studios, MLB 13: The Show

Zach Timmerman: Producer, NBA 2K14

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MOST VALUABLE PLAYER

Brown (NFL): RGIII, far and away. In the first week of next-gen release he had double the TDs of the next QB (Russell Wilson), and more TDs than Frank Gore and Calvin Johnson—who are the top RB and WR—combined.

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Sobczak (NHL): Just like in the real world, Sidney Crosby tops our charts with more than 1,100,000* goals scored since the launch of NHL 14.

Williams (WWE): I tend to use Goldberg more than any other Superstar. The guy is an absolute beast. It all boils down to his move set—he has, in my opinion, the most hard-hitting, impactful moves in the game. His offense is so visually satisfying that I find it hard to use anyone else with as much regularity.

Reeder (FIFA): Zlatan Ibrahimović. He's a beast physically, has incredible dribbling and control, a massive shot from distance, and great passing and finishing. He doesn't have the pace of other strikers, but he doesn't need it, either.

Russell (MLB): No player can come close to Miguel Cabrera from an offensive standpoint. He’s literally 99 across the board in every hitting attribute.

Timmerman (NBA): LeBron James, though I wouldn’t call this as clear an MVP as you might think. Most any 2K expert will tell you that it really comes down to knowing how to use the players in the game the way they’re supposed to be used. If you try to turn LeBron into something he’s not, like a three point shooter off the bounce, then you’re going to struggle. But if you generally focus on doing the things he excels at (passing, taking the ball coast to coast, initiating pick and rolls, chasing down players on the break, etc), he’s on a level that no other current player can touch. If I had to pick someone other than the obvious choice, I would go with James Harden or Kevin Durant. Most casual gamers trend towards two types of shots: threes and layups/dunks. Both of these guys excel at each and have some of the Signature Skills and Personality Badges required to get hot quickly and stay there.

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SLEEPER

Brown (NFL): Surprisingly, in the first week after the Madden 25 release, Sam Bradford averaged the most TDs per game of any QB. Also shocking, Tim Tebow averaged the 3rd most rushing TDs per game. Mike Wallace had the most TD catches per game, followed by DeSean Jackson.

Sobczak (NHL): Blackhawks center Michal Handzuš is ranked 449th* in points in the real world, but 63rd* in NHL 14. The reason is his team. The Blackhawks have the highest winning percentage in NHL 14, and individual players are more likely to do well on winning teams. Another way to look at this stat: Gamers playing as Handzus are better at scoring goals than Handzus himself.

darren_youngWilliams (WWE): Darren Young, who is half of the Prime Time Players. Young doesn’t have the best attributes in the game and an overall rating of just 84, but he has a nicely-balanced move set. Most of his offense targets the head and back, which complements his signature (Single Leg Camel Clutch submission) and finisher (Gut Check) nicely. I scored a nice win over Undertaker using Darren Young in the Streak Mode, which is a new addition in WWE 2K14 that pays homage to Undertaker’s illustrious winning streak at WrestleMania. Defeating Undertaker in this mode is no easy task, so it says a lot that I was able to score the 1-2-3 on the Deadman using Mr. Young.

Jaramillo (FIFA): Julian Draxler from Schalke. He’s got a good shot, great dribbling and vision, and high potential, so he’s a good player to have in Career.

Timmerman (NBA): If you polled the public you’d probably hear Jamal Crawford than any other player because of his sick handles and shooting ability. Jamal has the potential to get hot immediately and can knock down just about any type of perimeter shot. However, I’d like to point out another 2K14 guy who plays above his real-life counterpart: Andre Iguodala of the Warriors. Iggy is one of those types of players who, in real life, can do most everything. Unfortunately, he doesn’t always apply all of those skills on a nightly basis, mostly because he often defers or doesn’t feel the need to take over. With users essentially able to play God in 2K14, Iguodala can be used to his max, which makes him an absolute monster. Dunks, threes, passing, defense—he has it all.

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LEAST VALUABLE PLAYER

Brown (NFL): Maybe we saw something coming, but Eli Manning has more INTs than any QB in Madden 25, and not by a small margin.

Sobczak (NHL): Alexander Steen from the St. Louis Blues has missed 3.4 million* shots on net; fortunately, they were all virtual misses. He’s no slouch in NHL 14, and still has a respectable shot percentage of 11%*, but it pales in comparison to his incredible real world 22%* shot percentage.

Williams (WWE): Ric Flair is a two-time inductee of the WWE Hall of Fame, having been inducted individually and as part of The Four Horsemen. Being the Legend that he is, one would assume that winning matches with him would come easy. Unfortunately, that's not the case. If you're a WWE 2K14 pro, you should have no problem racking up wins with him. However, if your game skills aren’t up to par, avoid using Flair until you’ve raised the level of your game. Flair’s finisher, The Figure Four Leglock, is famous, but in order to score wins with it you’ve got to deliberately attack the legs of your opponent. Wearing down the legs of your opponent takes time, and if you allow yourself to fall victim to a finisher, you could very well be staring up at the lights as the ref counts three. Therefore, Flair becomes LVP, but only in the hands of a novice player.

Timmerman (NBA): As I mentioned above, if you use a player the way he’s supposed to be used then you’re generally going to succeed. However, given the affinity our users have for shooting threes, and the likelihood of finding bad shooters open, Ricky Rubio can often be more of a nuisance than a benefit. Rubio is an awesome player in real life, but he’s not a shooter, and that means he’ll struggle with his shot in 2K14 as well. Of all of the starting guards in the game, his midrange and three point attributes are near the bottom. With guys like Kevin Love and Nikola Pekovic drawing all the attention you’re very often going to find Rubio open for three. Kick-outs are one of the top ways people are scoring in the game, so it can be frustrating to have a guy like Rubio wide open on the three point line but unable to trust that he’s going to knock it down.

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FROM THE STATS 'N FACTS DEPARTMENT

*Note: Stats for Madden 25 are from first week of release. Stats for other games are through the first week of December.

Brown (NFL): Seahawks vs. 49ers is by far the most common matchup in online head-to-head play. There isn’t even a close 2nd.

Sobczak (NHL): The team most played with or against is the Canucks. The top 3 most winning teams are:

  1. Blackhawks
  2. Kings
  3. Penguins

And the top rivalries are Blackhawks vs. Red Wings in the US, and Bruins vs Canadiens in Canada.

Williams (WWE): John Cena is used online more than any other Superstar. The top five is:

  1. Cena
  2. CM Punk
  3. Undertaker
  4. Randy Orton
  5. Ryback

Undertaker is played offline more than any other Superstar.

FIFA: Cristiano Ronaldo leads all online players with 35.2 million goals scored, followed by Karim Benzema (26.7 million) and Mario Mandžukić (20.2 million).

Russell (MLB): The Yankees, Braves, Blue Jays, Pirates, Dodgers, and Red Sox are the most-used teams online. The most popular pitcher is Clayton Kershaw.

Timmerman (NBA): The teams used most in 2K14 online are:

  1. Heat
  2. Thunder
  3. Knicks
  4. Lakers
  5. Pacers
  6. Warriors
  7. Rockets
  8. Clippers
  9. Bulls
  10. Spurs

EA got so caught up in all this geeking out that they also supplied us with a comprehensive infographic about FIFA 14. Take us home, pretty charts and numbers.

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