Your Highness Your Highness

This is Zigoni.In real life he is a Serie B striker for Venezia.

In PES life (the reallest life), my Zigoni looks happy because he has just scored a goal that won a tight match. The goal might even qualify as a long-ranger (just about). It’s the final goal on the brief compilation video at the end of this post.

The win gave me a shot at taking my Irregulars up to Top Player difficulty for the first time.

And I won that second match. The Irregulars are playing on Top Player now.

Finally, finally, finally. To the baffled bemusement of many readers, I have been patiently plugging away at single-player myClub for the past few weeks, trying to move my Z-squad – The Irregulars – up the only ladder of achievement that single-player myClub has to offer: getting to play at harder difficulty levels.

In single-player myClub, there are all the familiar levels of difficulty, up to and including Legend. But within each difficulty there are three sub-levels.

So Professional, for example is subdivided into:

  • Professional Weaker
  • Professional Medium
  • Professional Stronger

It works as you would expect it to work. Professional Weaker is close to Regular. Professional Stronger is more like Top Player. It’s a straightforward, and for me strangely compelling, idea. The main attraction for me is the sense of progression in and of itself. But you also earn more rewards – the mode’s currency, GP, plus better items – the further up the difficulty ladder you get.

I have spent most of the past few weeks bobbing up and down between Professional Medium and Professional Stronger. In the course of the struggle I have bonded with my no-hoper Irregulars in a way that doesn’t tend to happen outside the early seasons of Master League – and one of the older, classic Master Leagues at that.

You move up the levels (and sub-levels) by winning consecutive matches: 1 home, 1 away. Opponents are other user-created myClub teams (controlled by the AI). It is peculiarly hard to get back-to-back wins. It’s taken me this long to do it on Professional Stronger. (And back-to-back losses, of course, see you demoted the other way.)

I rarely feel I have the time or the energy for the ‘proper’ myClub experience, i.e. played online versus another player. The typical online player plays in the kind of way that drains my bloody stamina, never mind my players’ stamina. Single-player football gaming is still the king of modes.

It’s hard to appreciate just how hard it is to get anywhere in single-player myClub with a team like this:

Kramaric at 79OPR is the best player in the squad. That difference in quality shows.

Veldwijk and Zigoni are catching up fast, as are a few others.

The time is coming soon when PES2018’s myClub will be abandoned. This will probably be in a few weeks’ time, to give myself a nice cooling-off period before PES2019 hits.

Yes – the pre-order is in. There will be an Irregulars story in PES2019, this time starting from Day 1 (and at least half the time online). Maybe even a Master League dabble too.

Here is Hettich celebrating the win that finally got the Irregulars ‘promoted’ from Professional Stronger to Top Player Weaker:

The name of the other team interests me here. MAN RED. The player who made that team had to have called them MAN RED deliberately. That suggests some peculiar reverence for pre-Option File PES.

Finally a brief highlights video, 1m 30s long, featuring three notable goals. Zigoni’s possible long-ranger is last of the three (does it qualify, from 23 yards or so?).

First of the goals is a remarkable AI goal, from Liverpool. A free kick that Pogba(!) steps over to allow a strike that completely flummoxes my keeper. I loved seeing this. One of the replays shows the wicked swerve on the ball.

The goal sandwiched between the two is a direct, fast-breaking effort from an opposition corner that I don’t remember scoring many of with the Irregulars.

(*Bonus points to any reader who can ‘solve’ today’s post title.)

Football Damager

I have changed the name of my myClub team to The Irregulars, because that’s the squad I now play with almost all the time. I have also changed the kit to that of Velez Sarsfield from the Argentine league.

This pre-match screen below could be a common sort of sight in PES2019, if indeed there is a PES2019:

My Irregulars on the left. Somebody’s 5-star team of stars on the right. I’m back playing on Professional Medium difficulty (I got ‘relegated’ after losing a few on Professional Stronger).

I won this one 1-0 with an opportunistic strike from Zigoni, quietly out-Irregularing my principal striker, Veldwijk.

The great positive I have discovered about the accursed myClub mode is that it continues much of the appeal of Master League. Get a semi-random bunch of no-hopers, and mould them into a team. Grow them over time. Contest against progressively harder opponents (only some of which have to be human). Watch individuals come through unexpectedly.

I have big plans for the Irregulars in PES2019. Starting from day 1, could I take them up a few Divisions online? Will I get to enjoy victories, or even good performances, with my team of developed journeymen against the galacticos online?

A lot depends on what kind of game PES2019 will be. Will it be a PES that rewards footballing strategies, or a zero-fouls sprint-’em-up that ignores hyper-aggressive play? Somewhere between the two is most likely, but where between the two? A lot depends on a lot of things that we don’t yet know.

The other day I took my 4-star A Team out for a match. They must be close to being 5-star rated now. I got Dembélé and Ramsey from successive spins. The problem with big-name players in nuPES is always the same. Few of them feel like proper individuals, particularly against the AI, which is still where I am spending most of my time.

In other news I am back playing Football Manager regularly. Over the past month I have enjoyed an entire parallel FM life that has not been mentioned here. I am playing FM2012. I already had it on Steam, and it runs perfectly on all my hardware.

Football Manager remains one of my gaming white whales. I have never achieved anything of note on any edition of the series. I have tried, many times. A couple of successful promotions from lower divisions is all I have ever achieved. My FM careers end either in the sack, or in me drifting away from the game after losing interest.

I started as Coventry City in the Championship, which is where we were in season 2011-12. I was sacked before Christmas 2011 after a spectacularly bad run of results. I can never resist tinkering with a formation to rectify a bad run, and it tends to make things worse.

The key to making Football Manager part of your life is dipping into it for a match or two every day or two and having it be part of your life in the background. Big long sessions are peculiarly draining and not a great idea for me.

I have restarted in the Blue Square North with Hinckley. I have been reading about Lower League Management on the FM forums, and started watching an astoundingly good YouTube series ‘non-league to legend’.

In real life, Hinckley United were dissolved by court order in 2013. Can I change history? In many ways it’s the ultimate Default-style experience. Can I take a club with very poor players, even by Blue Square standards, to the Champions League?

The early signs are: no. But it’s enjoyable finding out.

Carlos the knack

I have been having an indecently great time in single-player myClub. Just me and my team of Irregulars. I am as attached to them as to a Season 3 Master League team at any time in the past.

I have been playing one-off Irregulars matches, over and over again, in the myClub mode. It’s not as empty and meaningless as it might sound. There is a sense of progression in a few concrete ways. First, you get to move up and down the difficulty levels. The quality of the opponents changes proportionally as you go along. And there is also the EXP-gathering nurturing of your own players to follow too.

I doubt I will play many more human-vs-human online matches until PES2019. It feels too late to get further into the multiplayer side of things on PES2018 right now. There are scant weeks of life remaining to the mode and the game.

I remain deeply suspicious as to whether the clinching feature of myClub in PES2018 – player development – will be in PES2019’s version of the mode. Every Master League aficionado knows all too well what Konami is capable of doing to their modes.

How to play and enjoy single-player myClub?

1) Set up a myClub club. The interface is straightforward. A bit of poking around and investigating will reveal everything. Multiple squads are possible. (Via Squad List, from the formation screen.)

2) You will be awarded basic Agents quite randomly. Use your starting GP and/or Agents to assemble a team of no-hopers. Roughly speaking, 16 players rated 71OPR or less make up a team of no-hopers.

3) Play against the COM. (It’s the box in the middle of the first screen that says VS COM.)

4) You start, rather disappointingly, on Regular, which even a low-level club should be able to handle. But watch what happens: win home and away, and you get ‘promoted’ to the next difficulty. In myClub, there are three difficulty levels within the difficulty levels. Regular, Regular Stronger, Professional Weaker, Professional, Professional Stronger… (I’m stuck fast on this last one.)

4) Eventually you end up meeting teams like the one in the screenshot above. That is Roberto Carlos staring across the divide at my hapless Giorza.

In Master League, a Roberto Carlos would be just a good left-back. In myClub, he is markedly more of a Roberto Carlos.

Why? I’ve mused on this many times. My feeling is that in myClub, every slight edge counts, so the Roberto Carlosness of Roberto Carlos shows through that little bit more, and that little bit makes the difference.

I cannot get my Irregulars out of Professional Stronger. I take the lead, I get pegged back. I can draw, but more often lose.

I haven’t been more addicted to a throwaway single-player mode since I used to play International Tournaments in the pre-Master League days on ISS.

It’s about identification with the players, and growing the players. Even after a bad defeat my Irregulars pick up lots of EXP. Slowly, slowly. slowly, they are growing.

Zigoni was a no-hoper 67OPR a week ago. Today he is a 70OPR, with commensurate stats to support that – and it’s starting to show up in games.

These are times in PES when Master League has been deliberately diluted to nudge us towards the very mode that I’m dabbling in. By playing myClub, am I enabling that process? Collaborating with it?

Yes, of course I am – but the question is, if I wasn’t doing so, would there be a chance of the policy being reversed?

Absolutely not. No chance whatsoever.

No matter how many Master League lovers boycotted myClub, the seething multitudes would continue to throng the virtual playrooms of online football, and PES would continue to be made with their needs and expectations uppermost in mind. Nothing I do, or do not do, will ever alter that.

Development curve

I have been playing nothing but offline matches vs the AI in myClub over the past few days. Somehow, if I’ve got a spare 40 minutes to get a match or two in before work, it feels wrong to spend any of that time on finding a human opponent. The good old traditional single-player routine still applies.

I have progressed offline to the Professional Stronger level. I just cannot seem to get the back-to-back wins required to ascend to Top Player Weaker.

I exclusively use my 1-star Irregulars offline. As you progress, you come up against progressively stronger teams, and my Irregulars have now run into a brick wall. No matter how I try, the Irregulars just cannot seem to break down the AI-controlled user teams that are stuffed with stars.

I went for my B Team instead, which I rarely use. This is a mixture of my Irregulars and my better players. 3 stars on a good day.

I met a team called Brasil. They only had one Brazilian player: classic Romario. The mode’s World Cup bonus thing is still going on. Earn more GP for re-skinning your club as a national team for the duration of the tournament. I haven’t dabbled, but I’ve played against plenty who have.

I won this with a David Silva hat trick plus one from Castledine.

Below is the Silva hat-trick. Goal 1 is a bit special. I didn’t really capture the best angles to see it. It’s a finessed left-foot curler from about 25 yards. The second is an easy header. The third is a great free kick that I thought I’d put too much power on at the time.

Player Development is 99% of myClub for me. I converted a raft of my top players into Trainers – including Bale, which was a wrench. He was my first big-name Black Ball signing, but he turned out to be as anonymous and Everyman-like in myClub as he was in Master League. Perhaps with persistence Bale would have emerged, as David Silva has now seemed to emerge. And to be fair Bale has never fit in with any of my manager formations (there is no WF position in any of them).

But there is no time left to persist with Bale. Time is a-crackin’. PES2018’s myClub has scant weeks to live… Unless PES2019 turns out to have ditched player development, in which case, PES2018’s myClub may have several months to live.

Bale converted into around 4500 EXP as a Trainer. That, combined with a fair few other players, was enough to slingshot Veldwijk up 11 whole Levels in one go:

The story of Veldwijk in PES2018 is soon to be interrupted, if all goes to plan with PES2019. Maybe.

Turns out that player development is the secret sauce required to make myClub palatable.

Will Konami now swipe this sauce off the table? We all know they could very easily do so and it would not be at all surprising. It’s really quite tense waiting to find out.

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