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Pro Evolution Soccer's unforgivable roster problems leave diehard fans booing a champion

PES still hasn't fixed something the lowest-rated games get right.

Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 is rated 87 on Metacritic for the PlayStation 4, its dominant console. By that measure, it's neck-and-neck with NBA 2K16 as the best sports video game of this year. Having caught its rival last year, PES seems to have pulled away, at least in gameplay, from EA Sports' FIFA series. Yet many of PES's most ardent fans are tearing it to shreds.

Video gamers are sadly accustomed to split decisions on a game's quality, like Halo: The Master Chief Collection last year, or Batman: Arkham Knight this year. However, what's bothering PES's fans are not server failures or the terrible port of a landmark work on another platform. Gamers are furious at Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 because it didn't do — and still hasn't done — something even the laziest and lowest-rated sports titles make sure to get right: Update the rosters.

On Monday, Konami apologized for its handling of rosters for offline modes in PES, which went from its Sept. 15 launch to Oct. 29 unchanged. The rosters the game has used were already a month or more out of date when the game launched, and didn't reflect activity in the summer transfer windows across Europe, when big players change teams and join leagues already underway.

Then PES' Oct. 29 update missed the final few days of that transfer period, which like any sport with a trade deadline is usually when the most consequential movements happen. Indeed, Anthony Martial — September's player of the month in real life — remains on Monaco in France's Ligue 1, and not his current club, Manchester United. Man U is the only English Premier League team licensed to appear in PES 2016 and the game doesn't even have its proper roster for Master League two months in.

It's the highest-rated sports title of the year. Its fans are also furious.

Why is that a big deal? For starters, Master League (PES' franchise mode) is played by just about everyone who picks up the game. Career-mode players of any sports video game prefer to begin their careers with a roster that is real-world accurate, or reasonably close to it, on the day they start. Many Madden NFL players will wait until the preseason is over in real life (the game comes out two weeks before opening day) before beginning their Franchises. It's not just aesthetics. Players prepare for the league they play on a console with whatever they learn watching it in real life.

Even if a gamer starts mucking with that reality by loaning, transferring or otherwise moving players around on a console, fully accurate rosters are also an important starting point when trying to address your club's needs, liquidate its surpluses, or rig up a trade with another team having problems.

And the bottom line is, Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 launched two weeks after all of this information was in and still hasn't implemented it. Konami said back in September it would take a month to get the transfer information into the game, a bewildering explanation that left many wondering why something so basic should take that long — especially when the game's online rosters have been fully up-to-date since Oct. 2.

In its apology, Konami said the online and offline-mode rosters are kept separate "due to the process we need to go through, with patch data including lists that needs to be checked internally and externally and may take weeks before the distribution."

That's not an answer at all.

It explains that the two assets are kept separate, but not why that is necessary and, more importantly, not why the data from one can't be transferred to another, or why it should take 40 days to push out a roster that still would have been outdated at the game's launch.

Many point to PES 2015's November launch last year and wonder if this title maybe was hurried or should have waited as well. But with the rest of the product so strong it makes no sense that a database could or should hold it all up.

Updating the rosters is the PES team's top priority but as far when they'll be delivered, they say only that "will take some weeks unfortunately." They're holding off further updates to the game until this is complete. That's well and good, but it means other features and adjustments will have to wait until the roster mess is sorted out, too. A new stadium for the console editions was in the works, Konami said; construction, metaphorically anyway, has stopped.

The anemic reaction to such a basic expectation looks a lot worse coming from a publisher that has behaved like Konami.

"We assure everyone that we have learned from this situation," the PES development team said in its apology, "and confirm designs to improve situations like these are currently being considered for future products."

Future products? Oh? Is Konami still into that?

PES' anemic reaction to such a basic expectation of post-release support in a sports title looks a lot worse when it's coming from a publisher that has behaved like Konami since the spring.

Konami KGB'd the most recognizable person in its history, then spewed hair-splitting, Orwellian bullshit about him being on vacation when The New Yorker, of all publications, reported that he was done with the company. One of its executives told a Japanese financial publication about a "mobile first" reorganization, then its PR gave the old "that's out of context" cop-out when customers, not investors, noticed and asked what the hell is going on. It apologized for "causing anxiety," and made it sound as insincere as "if you were offended."

It has professed commitment to making future games with its longtime franchises but won't say what those games are. Then one turns up on a mobile phone in China. It says these series are "extremely important" to the company, too, but outright cancels the only project in active development and erases a playable introduction for it from PlayStation's online store, making sure no one ever re-downloads it, too.

Deeds, not words, describe corporate priorities and in Konami we see a video game company uninterested in making anything anyone would care about.

I think that is where the real anger comes from in the reaction to what is a very simple problem in Pro Evolution Soccer 2016. Because Konami has kicked the can down the road in all of its statements, gamers aware of that feel like this roster problem and its inexplicable delay is all part of the same corporate-speak jerk-around, and we won't learn Pro Evolution Soccer is gone until its next edition is a pachinko machine in Shibuya.

It's especially unfortunate for PES, a series with enormous nostalgic pull for sports fans, particularly those in Europe who grew up with it on the PlayStation 2. Sports gamers will root for a series just like they root for a team in real life. They adore comeback stories. They love head-to-head rivalries and crave a strong competition. They roar when the action delights. Pro Evolution Soccer 2016 fulfilled all of that.

But fans also scream at the manager when he doesn't put the proper players on the field.

Roster File is Polygon's news and opinion column on the intersection of sports and video games.

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