Picking over the matchmaking decisions. Projecting story arcs. Ranking the events among your friends. All of this meta-conversation is essential to pro wrestling fandom, particularly in a social media age. WWE 2K22, launching in March, will engage with it all by bringing back a familiar management mode, called MyGM, which puts players in the role of a promoter facing big expectations from WWE’s top management.
2K Sports on Wednesday gave Polygon a hands-on preview of MyGM, along with the game’s standard wrestling gameplay. It’s the first time the general manager’s role has been part of a video game career mode since THQ’s SmackDown vs. Raw 2008. The WWE 2K series already has analogues to sports video games’ team-based and single-player careers — MyCareer (now called MyRise) and Universe Mode. The GM career is more like a single-season mode, such as MLB The Show’s March to October package.
“Universe is like God Mode, right? Where you have full control over the entire show that you’re putting on,” creative director Lynell Jinks said in a media roundtable on Thursday. “MyGM is more goal-based. […] It’s very enthralled in the WWE Universe, rather than Universe [Mode], where it’s more like it’s your sandbox.”
In other words, players are working for “the Company” — the WWE itself — as one of five existing management personalities, or a created character. You’re answering to Triple H, a top WWE executive both behind the scenes and as a character. Triple H is overseeing a competition of subordinates, basically; players will go against an AI or another friend also managing one of the league’s four broadcast brands —SmackDown, Raw, NXT, or NXT UK. Your goal is to have the best-rated show. Triple H will, in the form of management emails, require specific outcomes from time-to-time. Players who don’t set them up are in big trouble.
In this light, the job isn’t to stage manage story beats and rivalry details, it’s to make sure that fan-pleasing pairings are developed and their bouts make for good TV. MyGM begins with a superstar draft (as the career did in SvR 2008) and a budget limiting you to hiring about a dozen wrestlers for the season’s run. The pool is randomized game to game. Jinks and art producer Christina Diem Pham said players need to develop a mix of weight classes, alignments, genders, and fighting styles, and a randomized pool supports that more than drafting from a full roster.
My number one pick was Drew McIntyre, the two-time WWE Champion, who had the highest popularity and stamina of any pick in my pool. The attributes are the most important to the background calculations MyGM is doing to simulate fan interest. Popularity means what it says; the fighter’s events will have more appeal. Stamina, likewise, affects their availability as well as the quality of their performance.
This goes for matches that are simulated in-menu as well as ones the user chooses to play themselves, or watch as a CPU-vs-CPU demonstration. In two MyGM bouts I took over and fought, neither dominating a match nor drawing it out with a wrestler’s full arsenal of moves seemed to affect the event’s overall rating, although Pham said it is possible to “gamify how you play your matches to get better ratings,” potentially extracting a little more momentum from a given match by actually laying hands on the controller.
“But then, also it comes down to how you’re building your matches from your superstars, and also the production value,” she said, expressed through things like the arena size and type, the road crew setting things up, and the pyrotechnics package you choose. “There’s a lot of math that’s going on,” Jinks said. “There’s a ton of things going on underneath the surface.”
Where a GM more directly affects a bout’s popularity, outside of putting two fan-favorite fighters together, is in things like scheduling a run-in, where a third wrestler interferes with a match to help one of the participants. But that kind of a match is automatically simulated in the background; you can’t observe it, nor can you participate and have a third AI fighter enter the ring mid-way, for example. The two promos you can schedule are likewise just a dice-roll for their effectiveness; you don’t get to see or hear Big E or Alexa Bliss calling someone out on-camera.
Not that watching a CPU-vs-CPU bout has much to offer. Although WWE 2K22 benefits from streamlined gameplay that gets big combinations and counters into the mix, along with more essential blocks and standard strikes, it isn’t on display when two AIs are fighting. A tables match was prolonged by the fact the table kept collapsing under incidental contact (instead of someone getting slammed through it, per the rules). A main event fight between title holder Mandy Rose (GMs get to choose their champions before the season begins) and Nikki A.S.H. dragged on forever, and Nikki never landed any of her eight top-rope attacks. GMs can opt to background simulate a match that’s dragging on, but it’s akin to starting the fight over.
The weakness of the AI-vs-AI combat, and the rather ho-hum payoff of background simulations, means MyGM will be the most engaging when users are fighting at least one of the matches, which is probably how most want to play the mode anyway. With a good amount of time spent in menus, or getting the results of background dice rolls, MyGM’s bigger use seems to be as a kind of contextual wrapper, or structure, serving what would otherwise be one-off matches I’d try for curiosity’s sake.
This isn’t to suggest there is no behind-the-scenes management of a show. It just seems to evolve slowly. The first event is always in a high school gym, for example, with no options to spend extra to upgrade its production values or marketing. Players start a MyGM career with about $2 million in the bank, allowing them to select as many as 12 or 13 stars; they can also end the draft after eight picks. The extra cash can be spent on a pool of undrafted free agents, for shorter contract terms, but you’re probably better off saving it up for when a WWE legend becomes available, whether that’s Goldberg putting an end to a surprise champion’s reign, or simply getting on the mic to hype the next broadcast. Timing your biggest moves to either coincide with or culminate in the next pay-per-view event is the fundamentally winning play. You can also goose your own metrics, or sabotage your rival’s show with single-use perk cards.
MyGM wasn’t necessarily as open-ended as I had first assumed; a lot of that depends on using created superstars either in the bouts or as the player-character showrunner. We didn’t have access to created players or that toolkit in the limited time with this build. I tend to build weird homages to 1980s-era rasslers, but I don’t really develop their characters with rivalries or goals beyond being the next champion.
MyGM appears to be a useful, if somewhat limited toolkit offering emergent narrative support and plenty of headcanon opportunities I haven’t considered. Both are critical to my long-term enjoyment of a sports video game, and they’re also the hardest to develop credibly.
WWE 2K22’s launch, on March 11 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X, will reveal more.