The Best Sports Video Games of All Time

Sports and video games have been inseparable since before the first dedicated gaming machine was even invented. In 1958, American physicist William Higinbotham created and exhibited Tennis for Two, which could be played on an oscilloscope.

In the late 1960s, Crown Soccer Special and Grand Prix were created as arcade games by Taito and Sega respectively. Then, in 1972, the “tennis” game Pong by Atari was instrumental in kickstarting the video gaming industry we know today.

In the 50 years since, sports games have become infinitely more complex, realistic, and compelling. Today, video games have been created to replicate or represent almost every sport on the planet, and even some beyond.

We can play sports games on traditional PCs and consoles, on our phones, or through a completely immersive VR headset. In 2022, sports gaming was estimated to be worth almost $10 billion and predicted to reach $16 billion by 2027.

When it comes to global gaming, sports are up there with the phenomenon that is online casinos and slots. While excellent platforms like Jackpotjoy attract millions with incentives such as free daily spins, sports games offer a different appeal.

Of course, not every sports game is a hit, but when one hits the mark it can become a sensation. In celebration of these incredible games, we’re taking a look at some of the best sports games ever released.


Content Summery

When it comes to 21st-century football games – or soccer games for those reading in the US – two have stood out. One is Pro Evolution Soccer, often shortened to PES, and the other is the FIFA franchise developed by EA Sports.

Realistic gameplay, strategy, crowds, and multi-million dollar deals for the rights to use real player information helped both stand out. Competing versions of each are released every year, but 2009’s FIFA 10 was regarded by many as a watershed moment.

NBA 2K17

Similar to FIFA, Visual Concepts have been regularly releasing versions of their basketball game, NBA 2K, since 1999. Fluid and intuitive gameplay, immersive manager modes, and licensing of player information have helped NBA 2K rise to the top.

2017 is considered by many to be the peak of the franchise, as it represents the perfect balance in complexity. Future versions are more developed, but reliance on in-game purchases and overwhelmingly complicated options have put some players off.


Visual Concepts’ contribution to sports gaming hasn’t been restricted to NBA simulations, 2005’s ESPN NFL 2K5 is also extremely popular. Styled to appear as an ESPN broadcast, it places fans in a world they are already absorbed in every Sunday.

The game’s use of real player information was trailblazing, even going so far as to give digital players realistic faces. It also introduced the possibility of playing from a first-person “in-helmet” perspective in an effective way for the first time.


Accurate reproduction and slick graphics are not the only way to replicate the appeal of a sport in game form. Nintendo, more than many others, has understood this from the outset – just look at Mario Kart, for one example.

The boxing game Punch-Out!!, in any of its incarnations, will never be accused of too much realism. Instead, it taps directly into the energy, precision, and outlandish personalities which are at the core of the sport’s appeal.

 NBA Jam Tournament Edition

Another Nintendo game that opted to leave hyper-realism behind and go for a more classic gaming style is NBA Jam. When developing this game Midway, Acclaim, and Electronic Arts looked more closely at the emotions and imaginings attached to playing.

When you make a slam dunk in real life, the crowd cheers and the game continues. When you make one in NBA Jam, the incredible excitement you feel inside is represented on screen by flaming basketballs.

Madden NFL 2005

When it comes to games that are officially affiliated with sporting legends, the Madden franchise is unsurpassed. When the original John Madden Football was released in 1988, it helped introduce NFL to the world outside America.

The 2005 edition of Madden revolutionized the game by introducing a feature that made defending as appealing as attacking. Thanks to the “Hit Stick”, players could compete for the biggest defensive hit, an option that captivated gamers worldwide.

Through these games and many more, we can all enjoy the thrill of sports, regardless of our physical abilities. They also allow passionate fans to feel closer to the world, and the players they regularly watch and admire.

Only a few can become great real-life athletes but, thanks to gaming, we can all enjoy competing in some way. Sports gaming has also created its own champions and stars, with today’s best Esports players earning millions each year.

Real challenges, absorbing strategy, and the chance to step into the shoes of legends are all part of the appeal. Whether hyper-realistic reproductions or something boiled down to its key elements, sports games continue to captivate and thrill millions.

So, which is your favorite sports game of all time, or is it too hard to choose?

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