If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’m a die-hard New England Patriots fan. Fresh off the team’s 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII, I decided to fire up a game of Madden NFL 19 on my Xbox. I entered the Madden Ultimate Team (MUT) mode to see that there was a new Super Bowl-themed promotion. While my interest was initially piqued, I was quickly reminded of why this mode has been a point of frustration for me. With a new currency and comically-expensive players, I was immediately turned off. This underlined the disappointment that I have felt with Madden Ultimate Team for the past few months.

For the uninitiated, Madden Ultimate Team is basically Madden’s take on fantasy football. You build your Ultimate Team with past and present NFL players, which can be acquired via packs, purchased with coins via auction, or received by completing sets. Players are ranked at different tiers from Bronze through Elite and beyond. The higher a player’s overall rating, the higher their tier. You then use your team to compete in solo and online challenges for rewards that can be used to further improve your team.

Currency in MUT consists of coins (which can be earned through gameplay), points (which are purchased using real money), and training (earned by quickselling unwanted players and used to upgrade Power Up players). EA has included secondary currency during special events, such has Snow and Super Bowl Rings.

I started playing MUT when I first picked up Madden NFL 19 in August. This is the first year I have played the mode (typically I’m a Franchise mode guy), and initially I was hooked. There was an addictive quality in watching my low-level team transform into a powerhouse. It’s actually not that difficult to watch your team’s overall rating rise from the 70s into the 80s. The challenges enable you to amass the coins and players you need to improve your team through gameplay. The constant stream of rewards entices you to keep playing. It also helps that from an on-field perspective, this is the best Madden in years.

With enough playtime, your team hits an 85 overall, and this is where MUT falls apart. This is the proverbial wall, the point at which the grind becomes intense. My MUT team is currently at an 88 overall, and the process to increase my team’s overall rating a mere three points from 85 to 88 was nothing short of glacial.

Once you reach an 85 overall, it becomes clear that the best way to improve your team is to spend real money on packs. The game is seemingly structured to be pay-to-win once you reach this milestone. Rewards mostly yield dozens of players that are a sub-85 overall. While this is useful at lower levels, by this point these players become useless. Training points are no longer useful at this stage; eventually you’ll need an upgraded player card to increase a Power Up player’s overall rating. The amount of grinding it takes to earn the 90+ overall players needed to improve your team is extensive, as some sell at auction for 400,000 coins or more.

Madden Ultimate Team locks its best players behind and packs behind paywall.

The problem is further compounded by the inclusion of other currencies. During their Zero Chill event in December, the Snow currency was introduced. Challenges related to this promotion earned the player minuscule amounts of Snow as opposed to the usual coins. Quickselling Zero Chill players rewarded a small amount of Snow, not training points. This change essentially made training points irrelevant for a few weeks as gamers juggled four different types of currency. This made acquiring and upgrading players more difficult and resulted in needless frustration.

The MUT situation is so bad and there are so many variants of different players floating around that I had to rely on external sources like MUThead  just to keep track of what was going on. The calculations for which players provide the cheapest training is confusing. Auction prices for players fluctuate seemingly at random. Relying on an external source for this information is far more than any casual gamer should be expected to do.

The best solution to improving your team’s overall, then, is to break out the plastic. The best packs on offer can only be purchased via microtransactions, and that is where the best players drop far more commonly. Some level-up packs can only be had via spending real money as well. It is an incredibly insidious model.

Of course, professional Madden players that dedicate hundreds of hours playing the game may not experience these issues. The grind won’t affect them as much. However, for someone like me that plays multiple games, progression is extremely difficult. MUT is clearly geared to be pay-to-win, and the game suffers immensely as a result.

EA could mostly solve this problem in the next installment of Madden by simply increasing coin and training payouts. For me, though, it might be too little too late. EA’s implementation of the Ultimate Team mode can only be described as slimy. MUT 19 has left an incredibly sour taste in my mouth. For EA’s sake, I hope it doesn’t result in them pushing franchise veterans like myself away for good.

Did you play MUT this year, and if so, what did you think of the mode? Let us know in the comments.