Look, I got nothing against Josh VanMeter. I hope the guy has a long, productive career as a professional baseball player. But man, did I groan when he got called up to the Cincinnati Reds the season after I did in MLB The Show 19.
That’s because I was using a custom roster file, created by a group of die-hard MLB The Show players and shared for free within the game, that took out all the ringers in the game’s minor league simulation and replaced them with real-life prospects. Overall, these fan editors did a colossal job entering and illustrating some 1,500 players with a DualShock 4 controller. But every time VanMeter came to the plate, announcer Matt Vasgersian would call him “Van Mehta,” and it was like dragging nails across a chalkboard. I thought I’d left that behind in Triple-A Indianapolis.
Well, whatever, I won’t have to worry about that in MLB The Show 20. Sony San Diego announced this week that, for the first time ever, the game will feature fully named, fully licensed minor league rosters. This is a big deal for a baseball video game where just about everyone plays Road to the Show, the single-player career mode that always starts you out in Double-A ball among a clone army.
Official minor league rosters, using the real players, under their real names, haven’t been possible in the past because of licensing restrictions. Sony Interactive Entertainment only had a group license to use the names, images, and likenesses of Major League Baseball Players Association members, and one only joins that club once he is called up to the big leagues. Hot prospects over the years whom everyone expected would make the majors by the summer were nonetheless represented by ringers in the video game, because everyone in the minor leagues was a ringer.
But the roster file was still editable, through a process similar to the editing and sharing of rosters in the NCAA Football franchise. So seamheads and other sports obsessives like myself would wait until after MLB The Show’s launch to start our “official” careers, the ones where we were really putting in the hours and demanding maximum immersion. Operation Sports usually got word out within two weeks after launch that user RidinRosters’ Full Minors file was now in the in-game Vault. It so happens that RidinRosters, real name Scott Spindler, and his cohort pitched in on the effort for MLB 20.
Here’s how RidinRosters described the workload for MLB The Show 18’s Operation Sports Full Minors rosters:
As most of you know the OSFM process was started years ago by our good friend Knight. … Due to changes made within the game and our ability to import and export players it has given us the ability to speed up the way we create this great roster. … Due to some of the great work done over the last few years the base we have compiled is based on years of work, faces are better than ever. …
We have a team of guys lined up so once [the] game is released, it will be a 24 hr round the clock system of teamwork. [...] You have to realize people have scheduled vacation time and taken days off to be able to do this because of their passion for this.
That is a ton of work to create a literal cast of hundreds, most of whom will play only a bit part in your created star’s athletic drama. Getting this kind of feature above board, with full development support from Sony San Diego, is a major quality-of-life benefit for a player base delighted by authenticity and realism.
It’ll impact the game in ways beyond a season or two in the bush leagues. Anyone who’s played a Road to the Show career longer than a few seasons instantly gets this. Every year, about a hundred real-life major leaguers retire from the game; someone has to replace them. And obviously, Road to the Show’s logic is still promoting and demoting players to the minors to address performance across all the teams. So, after three or four seasons, a player using standard rosters will have plenty of “wait, is that guy real or fake?” moments.
MLB The Show 20 will still have to generate ringers, but that should be less apparent now. And full rosters acquaint me with the sport and make me feel like a better fan, whether that’s FIFA’s Ultimate Team or the WNBA in NBA 2K20. I became familiar with the Reds’ best prospects last season, and I wouldn’t have for any reason other than they were my teammates in The Show.
It’ll also help another staple mode for which Sony San Diego has struggled to deliver new, big features in recent years: Franchise. (This is the classic mode where you manage an entire team, not just one player.) Having real-life prospects in the system makes would-be general managers’ decisions more intriguing. It’s a level of control I rarely strive for, but those who do should feel optimistic about what they’re getting this year. There’s also word that Franchise will feature a customization suite for the first time, allowing players to edit their club’s name, create a logo, and design its uniforms. It’s likely this is a carryover of the creation toolkit used in the Diamond Dynasty mode, but it’s still there, and it means I can bring the St. Louis Browns back to the American League.
All of this has me feeling even better about MLB The Show 20 than its predecessors, in the last year on this console generation. And mind you, this is a series that has delivered features like year-to-year save file importation and role-playing choices within its career modes. I’ll be thrilled to start over my minor league career on the day the game launches in March. And this time, when I get to Cincinnati, I’ll be delighted to see — and hear — Josh VanMeter.
Roster File is Polygon’s news and opinion column on the intersection of sports and video games.