Why maintaining a 3-0 lead may be difficult at times

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Why are even significant leads difficult to maintain at times? Some people are convinced that it’s the famous momentum effect at play. In this article, I’m going to present another explanation based on hard data.

Many FIFA players have experienced that a 2-0 or even a 3-0 lead can be difficult to maintain:

“There is a pullback effect if you go up 2-0 3-0 early. That’s a fucking fact.”
(– Elvstroem on Reddit)

Some scripting believers have speculated that EA are trying to make matches more even by allowing the trailing player to pull back. While it is highly likely that career mode adjusts the difficulty if the human player gets too far ahead or behind, there is another and far more likely explanation when it comes to FUT Online seasons. I would like to line up a couple of facts, which I find essential to understand why it is possible to make the comeback of the century once in a while:

  • Goals are extremely frequent in FUT.
  • Most FUT matches are even in terms of skill.
  • FUT matches aren’t even.

Goals are scored all the time

We survey the number of goals on a regular basis via the web app’s game data section. Our latest sample from February ’16 shows a match average for FUT 16 Seasons of 3.78, whereas the season average in the five big, European leagues usually lands around 2.7. When considering that FUT matches only lasts 12 effective minutes, it immediately becomes clear that goals happen considerably more frequent in FUT. As a matter of fact, FUT matches contain 1.4 more goals per match, but they contain 10 times more goals per minute than real football matches.

These numbers tell us something quite fundamental about the relationship between attack and defense in FUT: You can think of an attack as a battle between a guy trying to score and a guy trying to prevent it. The probability that the guy trying to score is successful is about 10 times bigger in FUT than in real football. When it’s 10 times easier to score goal, it’s inevitably also ten times easier to score 2, 3 or 4 goals.

To remove any speculations, I would like to add that scoring not only becomes easier when you are trailing. In general, FUT matches are decided by larger margins than real matches, and the average goal difference per match between the winner and the loser is approximately 30 % higher in FUT than in real football. This difference becomes even more visible when we include the fact that FUT matches only last 12 minutes. The average margin generated by the winning team per minute is 10 .14 goal per minute in FUT – against .014 goals per minute in real football. The increase in goal difference per minute is in other words 10 times bigger in FUT than in real football.

Hence, the hard facts doesn’t support the claim assumption that goals are scored more frequently in FUT because the game appliers some sort of catch up logic. Rather, the game makes it easy to build a huge margin.

Goal difference FUT 16 Top 5 leagues
0 (draw) 18% 26%
1 34% 39%
2 20% 22%
3 20% 8%
4 5% 3%
>=5 3% 2%

However, the fact that scoring is easier not only applies to you but also to your opponents, and this is relevant when considering how the game matches you up.

Matchmaking is far from random

In one of our recent posts, we found that the game deliberately matches you up against opponents with similar skills. In as many as 8 in 10 matches, the lesser player has minimum 28 % chance of winning. This means that in most of your matches, there is a considerable chance that your opponent has a track record similar to yours. In other words, chances are that the guy, you just scored 2-3 easy goals against, didn’t concede all those goals because he was crap, but rather because goals just happen randomly in this game. Even more worrying, chances also are that he possesses the necessary skills to score the same amount of random goals against you that you just scored against him. After all, if you can score 3 random goals in 6 minutes, then chances unfortunately are that a similarly skilled opponent can do it too. Easy come, easy go.

These considerations does not only explain why “impossible” come backs occur, but also why some players have experienced winning and losing by considerable margins when playing against the same friend. FUT goal margins just doesn’t express the same level of superiority as corresponding, real life goal margins.

Another thing to note here is that when the overall goal ratio per match is increases by a factor 1.4, then there obviously will be an increased chance that even matches end 3-3 rather than 2-2. For the same reason, a 5-0 victory in FUT doesn’t necessarily imply that you out-skilled your opponent and should be able to win every time you play him.

Average rating of the opponents of our 110 base players.

The momentum effect…

The observations presented above do not rule out the presence of a “pullback effect” or “momentum effect” on their own, but they provide a different explanation to the very real experiences, which have lead some people to believe in a momentum effect of some sort.

When knowing (a) that it is 10 times easier to score in FUT and (b) that the game matches you up against equal opponents, the inevitable consequence will be an increasing chance of experiencing an opponent catching up with you despite that you lead by a considerable margin at one point in time. Thus, the facts above tell us that these catch-up situations will happen frequently – but organically. This leads to a couple of intriguing questions:

(1) Why would EA want to put something in, which already is there in large quantities? I simply can’t imagine a reasonable motive here.

(2) We now know that these catch up situation will happen frequently and organically. What should make us believe that there is a residual which isn’t explained by the natural causes presented above?

In addition to that, I would like to repeat what we stated in an earlier article: FUT matches may be extremely rich on goals, but these goals are not distributed particularly evenly between the players involved in a match. On contrary, large defeats happen significantly more often whereas even results are more rare in FUT than in real football. FUT lets you beat your opponent heavily.