2014 Huddle Year in Review – An Obsessive Look At The Best and Worst Pt 1: Action Shots Move to Head Shots

Since September, I have been heavily involved in all aspects of Huddle. Trading, points chase, collecting, and writing this site has been a part of my daily life for the last months like never before. Football is my main jam, which is why I was so much more invested in Huddle over other apps.

This series is a review of some of MY major threads from 2014, and I will obsessively breakdown anything and everything I can muster.

Part 1 – Action Shots Move to Head Shots

Throughout the offseason, I had been pestering Chris Vaccaro, Topps Digital’s Editor in Chief, regarding a permanent move away from Head Shots to a more visually appealing appearance in Action Shots. About a week before the 2014 Huddle build launched, he gave me the good news. Little did I know how big that shift would be, as Huddle made it abundantly clear that they were playing 2014 for keeps.

Each base card would have a retouched action shot to avoid conflict with the lack of a full NFL license, and I was thoroughly impressed with what they were able to do. It was clearly a lot of work, but a labor of love none-the-less. Their art department did a great job making the 2014 Topps Football design into a compatible format for huddle, and the new harder pulls for the rarer cards made it look like we were in for a treat for the season.

Then it happened.

The week started off the best possible way. I had just been named fan of the week, and I was thinking that Huddle literally could not get any better. With the previous release of the Calvin Johnson black boost, I was already excited to see what was going to come down the pipeline. That Sunday started off weird. Insert set after insert set hit the feed like a gold rush, and everyone started to buy as many packs as they could. It was a mania like we hadnt seen before, as the Gunslingers, Endzone Marathon, and Inception set all were released in a matter of minutes.

Then a Jordy Nelson and a Jake Locker black boost hit the sheet in a time where boosts were not the norm. Something was up. I remember seeing one post in one article, where someone mentioned that this type of release schedule was not normal and probably not a good thing. That pit of doubt started to creep in, but I had no idea what I was in for.

People cite the release of the full uniform Kelvin Benjamin bowman card as the reason why Huddle did what they did, but I dont think that is even close to the real straw that broke the camel’s back.  It had to have been the general situation that action shots presented, as Topps was basically circumventing the need for a full license with the way the cards were being edited. Being that the photos purchased by Topps were full uniform and being retouched, Im pretty sure the NFL was pretty upset in general.

Either way, the shift was swift and without mercy. Seemingly overnight, my excitement over the huddle year was deflated, and I was left with an empty pit in my digital collecting existence. I wouldnt be completely honest if I said I didnt consider walking away, but I decided to stay the course, and this site had a lot to do with that feeling.

Within 2 weeks, and the release of the first black boost set, Huddle seemed to reroute to remain, changing a business plan on the fly and succeeding in spades. The advent of the Throwdown format really seemed to help a ton, and users forgot about the transition as fast as it happened.

Although some resentment still exists, you rarely see the “TRADING ALL HS FOR AS” types of posts on the feed anymore. There are reasons why that is the case, but overall, I have to give a ton of credit to TOPPSMARC for weathering the storm and being creative in the approach they had to take in a very quick manner.

I would also guess that the Huddle team was as bummed out as we are, as the marketing blitz associated with the 2014 build of the app showed a boat load of excitement over the new action shot direction of the app.

As I was writing this article, I started to think about what it might mean to the playoff chases if the cards were action shots instead of head shots. It would be insane. It would be so cool that we wouldnt know what to do with ourselves. The design work on the cards is so far superior to 2013 that it is a different game, and the head shots bring that down a peg or two. Its unfortunate.

In fact, I would say two things saved Huddle this year, and I know this might not be the most popular opinion.

Boosts

If you think this game would have remained as fun as it was without the shift to boosts, you are dead wrong. Although we can all argue until we are blue in the face about the WAY the boosts were released and the FREQUENCY of the releases, the concept saved Huddle.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series for more on this!

Design

Around November, there was a major change in the way Huddle looked. Not only did they start toying with the head shots, but they did it in a way that was really cool. The releases of the Street set and the Takedown set were the first to really use the head shot format in a way that was still visually appealing, and that is a victory in itself.  When you see the playoff cards as the culmination, it all starts to make sense.

Ill close with hope for the future. Topps has shown that they are making an investment in digital. They are hiring more people, organizing more within each app, and releasing a new game this year. That means there is a very bright light at the end of this tunnel. The question remains, will Huddle ever get full licensing?

The Future

Its a complicated and expensive question to ask. Apple’s licensing agreement means that 30 cents of every dollar we spend goes away. Huge hit. The NFLPA license is likely another 15% on top of that, and to add another 15 to 20 cents to pay to the NFL (if not more), can be a very difficult pill to swallow.

Bunt makes it work for a few reasons, many of which ONLY apply to the company’s history as a baseball card manufacturer. Similarly, with Panini obtaining a physical card NFL exclusive license, they might start wanting to implement their own programs in the digital world. In Baseball Cards, Topps owns a long term exclusive license already, which plays heavily into their favor.

That being said, there is still hope. There is hope that some how, some way, Huddle will find their own niche in a licensed world and make it work. If not, Im still going to be a fan regardless, and play with the same intensity next year as I did this one.

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