PES 2021: Konami's Jonas Lygaard on 'Season Update', pressures of working through COVID-19 and more

"PES has outstanding gameplay built over many years of refinement, so if you love football you will love PES," Jonas Lygaard, Senior Director of Brand and Business Development at Konami, told Tech2

There are very few industries that have not been impacted deeply by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and gaming is definitely one of those worst affected, with several major titles being delayed indefinitely. Amidst this chaos, gaming icon Konami has done well to ensure that a new edition of its flagship product Pro Evolution Soccer will see the light of day, albeit as a barely altered and slightly cheaper reincarnation of last year's PES 2020, with some updates.

The 2021 edition will not feature significant upgrades over its predecessor, and as such, has been given the moniker of 'Season Update' by Konami. It hits the shelves on 15 September, and ahead of its release, Tech2 spoke to Jonas Lygaard, Senior Director of Brand and Business Development at Konami to find out what exactly you can expect from PES 2021.

Edited excerpts from the interview follow:

This year marks the 25th anniversary of PES. So, over the past quarter of a century, what has been the key driving philosophy of the series?

In my opinion, it has to be the committed pursuit to delivering the most authentic football simulation game on the market. However, I would also call out PES’ support of young and emerging talent within real-world football since the very early days of Pro Evolution Soccer. For many people, their first exposure to today’s most talented footballers will have come from their Master League seasons.

PES 2021 has been dubbed as a 'season update' — that is to say it is not a 'new' game per se. How exactly will the season update work and can fans expect a significant improvement in graphics, gameplay etc?

We cannot share specific information, but as we made it clear in our first announcement, eFootball PES 2021 Season Update delivers all the critically acclaimed features and gameplay from PES 2020. It’s important to make it clear that PES 2021 is a standalone product and sold separately to PES 2020.

What are the major steps forward this time around?

We’ve been forthcoming that we wanted to give our developers as much time and resource as possible to focus on a truly ground-breaking next-gen debut. Our belief is that the ‘Season Update’ approach for PES 2021 is the right decision for the future of the franchise.

The effect of the coronavirus has been devastating for most industries. How have you coped with the pressures of having to develop a game in the midst of COVID-19?

While the ‘Season Update’ approach for PES 2021 was planned before the pandemic, it has certainly slowed down some internal processes, but overall the global teams have adapted quickly. The main impact has been the delays to the regular football season finish, which leads to delays for in-game metadata. However, we’ve addressed this and will deliver a day one patch to ensure that the majority of leagues, teams and players are up to date. That being said, there will be some licenses that we will need to update post-launch via Data Packs.

Last year was quite remarkable for PES, especially considering the Juventus license. How has the acquisition of the Juventus licensing rights affected the game, one year on?

We’re incredibly pleased with how PES 2020 performed, both critically and commercially, and a big reason for that was the new licenses, including Juventus’ exclusivity. As with all partners, we took great pride in authentically recreating Juventus’ players and stadium in-game. We highly value our relationships with partners and ensure that we’re doing these global institutions and their fans proud with each new game.

PES has steadily been adding teams to its lineup, including the likes of Manchester United, Barcelona and Arsenal. How does the presence of these teams contribute to making the game a better product?

PES has outstanding gameplay built over many years of refinement, so if you love football you will love PES. It is important for us to strike the right balance between gameplay experience and licenses. It remains true that there is a high demand for licenses from our fans and therefore we have licensing teams all over the world that are exploring new opportunities, but never at the expense of gameplay. The pursuit of this balance, in our opinion, makes the game a better product. Particularly as our close relationships with clubs gives us the opportunity to scan players and the stadium itself to uncannily recreate them in-game.

Three managers, namely Frank Lampard, Pep Guardiola and Ryan Giggs have been added to the game. What other changes can be expected in the Master League?

We cannot share specific information beyond what we’ve already announced, but it’s fair to say that there will not be significant upgrades in keeping with the 'Season Update' approach. However, we have been transparent about our aspirations for our next-gen title and how it’s effectively being rebuilt from the ground-up, including upgrades to Master League.

With the Euros being delayed, what can we expect in terms of a Euro 2020 patch?

The result of the real-world delay of the UEFA Euro 2020 tournament is that our exclusive Euro-themed content will be available in PES 2021 from day one. That being said, our players should expect a wide-ranging in-game campaign tied to the rescheduled tournament in 2021.

We're currently on the brink between generations in gaming. How have you planned for the transition that is to come?

Once we got a taste of the possibilities that the next-generation of consoles would bring to players, there was a palpable sense of excitement from the development team about what this could also mean for the future of PES. In order to present a next-generation debut that meets our own, plus our fans', expectations, we made the decision to release PES 2021 as a ‘Season Update’. Our belief is that this is the right decision for the future of the series.

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