I think we are seeing a growing focus on bringing strength back to the marathons in each of the main sports apps. Doubly so for the velvet rope version of the marathons, like Signature Series and Limited. I love both of these sets, and I feel like they get should get attention like none other in both Bunt and Huddle. From a design perspective, both have received that treatment, but for a number of different reasons, I havent been as impressed with some of the checklist choices.
This brings about the discussion of how important the management of these checklists needs to be explored through the entire run. Because of injuries and play on the field, there needs to be a ton of flexibility in direction. Its clear that the checklists are made well ahead of the season, and I have some reason to believe that they can be edited midstream. Either that, or there are just some lucky guesses on impact players that could emerge.
With that, is it better to reserve these two specific examples for the best of the best, even if it means that some players get repeat appearances year over year? I think the short answer is yes, with the longer answer being yes*. The asterisk recognizes that half of the top stars in the NFL are on injured reserve (not an exaggeration) and rookies in MLB stole the show in 2017. Factoring both of those in to edit checklists midstream should definitely be a factor.
The sports apps are the houses that signatures built. Regardless of any argument that some series of cards have attained similar or nicer value, the signature series marathon in a sports app is the steak, every other set is just a side dish. Some side dishes in real life can be life changing-ly good, but we go to a place to eat because of the main course. Signature Series has always been a top delivery mechanism in the apps, and for the most part, it worked out well in both Huddle and Bunt this year.
My only complaint has been some of the “B” tier guys who have made appearances – more so in Bunt than any other of the sports apps. The team wants to show deep cuts in every one of their marathons, but I dont think anyone complains when Kris Bryant and Mike Trout appear every year. When you have a premium marathon, in my opinion, the names are almost double the importance of the card counts. That doesnt happen frequently.
This is where I have some complaints, on both sides of the landscape. Because numbers can get extremely low for top position players in both the NFL and MLB, it can be detrimental to offer those cards in a set based atmosphere.
In previous years, Huddle has offered variant levels for the set collectors to chase, which have given opportunities to use some of the main center stage guys, even when their number is low.
This year, both apps chose a “no variant” approach, which forced the low number players to be almost disqualified in lieu of offering a set award, which I dont necessarily think is required when all is said and done. If the Bunt team and the Huddle team feel a set award needs to happen, then at some point they have to come up with a strategy that doesnt force all of us to stomach high number player after high number player, especially with what we are seeing in Huddle.
Considering that in Huddle you cant open packs of Limited without paying real money, it creates more resentment from the community when the checklist is jammed into a method that doesnt strike the right notes.
Adding fuel to the previous paragraph, Huddle has elected to use a pattern for their Limited release, that I really dont think is a great idea. There is a jersey number crisis in the NFL, and it doesnt bode well for a set based on that stat. For the first two releases in a marathon leg, they choose players whose numbers are either in the 80s or 90s. Because of NFL rules, that knocks out everyone who isnt a defensive lineman or a receiver/TE. Obviously there are some great players in that category, but historically defense doesnt matter in Huddle, and guys that deserve to be a part of a super premium marathon set are very limited – pardon the pun. So far, we have seen guys like Miles Garrett, Zach Ertz, and others that dont fit along side guys like Dez Bryant and Jordy Nelson at that level.
The next card is a player who is in the 40-50 range, which is even narrower of a scope. We are talking mostly linebackers, with some lineman mixed in. Unlike the receiver bunch, there are practically ZERO players that should have a place in this marathon.
The last card in the leg is a player in the 20-30 range, which has been a running back both times. This is the area they should START to look for their main cards, with a lot of players occupying this space, but having the smallest part of the marathon due to the pattern listed so far. Also, because of this, it means every single one of these players needs to be a home run, and Demarco Murray is definitely NOT that.
With most of the QBs, faces of the league and top guys being in the 25 range and below, all of a sudden, the conundrum is real. You cant have a limited set based on jersey number in football without ripping out the most important players on the field. I think this fact is slowly sinking in, and hopefully is corrected as the rest of the set plays out.
On the Bunt side, we have seen Limited used as what I am labeling as “just another marathon” with a level of player quality I just dont get. There were a few players released this year that I hadnt even heard of, and that’s a problem for a set as premium as Limited is in Bunt.
I get that the team wants to show off their roster knowledge and highlight underappreciated players in the game. My argument is that Limited Series is not the place for that to happen. This is the place where the Giancarlo Stantons of the world get their time in the sun, not Justin Bour.
Bottom line, I think the Topps Digital apps got a bit gun shy when building out a variant strategy after the last few years was almost 100% based on them to be successful. As a result, we have seen the pendulum swing almost the entire opposite direction on including parallels in a set release, and that is bad in its own right. The goal of all of our complaining was not to strip away the elements of the sets that made the apps fun. Card counts being displayed, fun variants to chase and trade for, etc. When you remove so much of that element that we are left with what we have right now, its just as bad as it was the other way.
The key is BALANCE.
The team cant use variants/parallels as a crutch, first and foremost. Thats when people get pissed. They also cant remove them completely, because some of the super premium bundles become a slot machine pull when that happens, and the apps arent fun when we are expected to gamble our hard earned money on cards with no tangible presence or functional usage.
Hopefully as both sports inch closer to the offseason, we see a strategy that can focus on bringing back the balance we all loved back in 2014 and before.