Team Fight Manager Review: Needs a Little Coaching

Team Fight Manager is available on PC

You can find a video version of this review here: Team Fight Manager Review: Bench Slapped (Simulation Game) – YouTube

Overview

Team Fight Manager is a wholesome take on the E-sports scene that puts you in the role of coaching a team in an arena-style hero game. I say wholesome because none of the toxicity or drama that follows titles such as Overwatch or League of Legends is present in Team Fight Manager. Even the streamer chat is hilariously polite when your players stream during downtime. The game focuses more on the mechanics than the drama, and that’s probably for the best.

A lot of the game is pretty hands-off. You don’t control or direct your players during a match. Your part is what happens beforehand, such as how they train and who focuses on what champion.

The games charm is undeniable

Most importantly is the prematch draft, where you and the other team ban and pick champions for your players. While player stats and traits do matter, team composition compared to the enemy is the biggest factor in deciding victory. Yet, each match is still unpredictable to a degree.

When and where players activate their ultimate’s can play a huge factor. More than once I was ready to pull my hair out as I watched my star player completely whiff it. I guess this is what it feels like to be a Cleveland Browns coach…

Putting Together a Team

Team Fight Manager is incredibly paradoxical. On one hand, a good portion of the game is simplistic to the degree that you barely have anything to actually engage with. On the other hand, its simple systems are obtuse with little information on what they actually do.

Flipping the script a third time, the drafting side of the game looks simple but can be headache-inducing since it relies on you to calculate a bunch of ever-changing factors.

This boils down to the games two modes of play. Managing the team before a tournament and then competing in them. During downtime, you recruit players, craft gear, and have your players train or stream for money.

If only real chats looked like this

The whole thing is simple to the degree that it hardly qualifies as any kind of management sim. You just tweak a couple of dials, and the rest is all passive over time.

Players only have two stats, attack, and defense, though they also train in their mastery with each champion. Anytime they get to play as those champions, both their attack and defense increase by the mastery level of that champion.

The biggest factor for players is probably traits. Some have a trait, and you can pay to try and gain others. These can affect how they target enemies in a match, allow them to gain health on a kill, and more. It also helps to get them trained in specific champions to fit the variety you want. But beyond that, each player can largely feel the same. I forgot their names most of the time.

It doesn’t help that training your team feels ineffective. New recruits you hire seem to be superior to them most of the time. During the first season, I had a player who liked to target enemies with the most remaining health, so she always dove straight into the backline. I built her to use tank champions, and she was my MVP every match.

I still have no idea how this works, the game never explains it.

During the next season, my new recruits had far higher stats, despite the fact I trained her all season. She went to the bench and stayed there until I eventually released her. That feels wrong, but a player that started higher than her would always be higher than her because they were training at the same time she was. She had become obsolete and I hated that. It meant that building players for roles was kind of pointless. The odds were good I was going to toss them at the end of the season anyway.

There are a few other mechanics, but the game gives you no indication of what they actually do. Your player’s morale can shift, and I could never guess how that actually affected the game. There is a weird crafting system where you use parts you earn to craft clothing, chairs, headsets, and electronics for your team that imparts team-wide stat increases. I still don’t know how it works.

The gear I got seemed to be random no matter what combination of ingredients I put into it. It’s not even entirely clear how the attack and defense stats function. I assume that they might be able to overcome a bad match-up. But the sheer complexity of the second half of the game can make it hard to tell. So, let’s talk about that.

Gameception

Playing tournaments is undeniably fun and will really flex that gray matter sloshing around in your skull. You and the other team take turns picking and banning champions. Each champion has its own stats in addition to the players, as well as attacks, skills, and an ultimate ability that can trigger once a match.

Ultimate abilities that turn a game around.

You can look at it as a giant game of rock paper scissors, but that’s not doing it justice. Just like a real game, each season introduces a patch that adds new champions and nerfs and buffs others based on how they were played by all the teams in the tourney. Additionally, the games start as 2v2 and then progress to 3v3 and 4v4 over time, and the dynamic is drastically different with each setup.

That’s especially true if you choose to customize your experience at the beginning. You can change the difficulty, but you can also choose to have champions enter the roster at random. This can cause a massive shift that makes the game very replayable.

In each match, you have to factor in how champions relate to each other, the nerfs and buffs of each champion, and the stats and traits of both teams. That’s only on paper though. You also need to get to know and understand how each champion actually functions on the field.

You can check on things like the win percentage of any specific champion.

Two mages fulfill the same role but work entirely differently. Some ultimate abilities can be a gamechanger against some compositions and useless on others, even if the champion in question is technically a counter pick. You also unlock the ability to give a small plan to your team, such as stay together or spread out, which also affects how battles play out.

The game does give you some tools to try and decipher the puzzle. You can test combinations once per in-game week and you can check the stats and win percentage of each champion for any given season. But to be honest, this is the kind of game that it can be handy to break out a spreadsheet, or at least a pen and paper. The amount of factors to take in is massive, and your choices of who to pick and ban are by far the most impactful decisions you make in the game.

That kind of offhand strategy isn’t for everyone and I’m not usually a fan of it myself. But it’s undeniably entertaining and super satisfying. The AI is really good at making you stretch for good picks, countering you, and adjusting for buffs and nerfs, so each victory feels earned.

The battles themselves are fun to watch with charming old-school style, and you definitely feel like a stressed-out coach on the sidelines biting your nails. It gives you a very interesting perspective of games like Overwatch. Your decisions as a coach matter to a massive degree. Yet when the spells start slinging, you also feel powerless because the rest isn’t up to you.

The larger the roster, the higher the variables.

That said the tourneys do drag on at times. Each match is only a minute long, but it’s usually the first to two wins. Week by week you fight team after team with no changes to be made in between, since patches introducing buffs, nerfs, and new champions are sparsely introduced.

While important tournaments can be nail biters, others can begin to feel tedious. It’s those meta-changing moments that really put you on the edge of your seat on how the hell you can adjust your team and strategies after your favorite picks get beat with the nerf bat. That ever-changing unpredictable nature is what makes it fun. Anytime that a tournament feels predictable, it loses that magic.

Verdict

While the ban and pick side of the game feels strategical to the point of being overwhelming, the other half is too lightweight, with very little to actually manage in a meaningful way. It’s a bummer that players generally feel the same, and training has such a little impact.

Since most of Team Fight Manager is hands-off, this really puts pressure on the ban and pick side of it, since that’s practically the entire game. While it’s fun, I also can’t shake the feeling that the entirety of the game consists of drafting four champions in a character select menu, and…that’s it.

The in game patch mechanic is brilliant.

Now that choice is so packed full of modifiers that you’re asking for a headache if you try to think about it solely from memory. Writing stuff down takes some pressure off your noggin. But still, the entire game does boil down to that mechanic, for better or worse.

It does ooze with charm though. The old-school visuals look great, the battles are fun to watch, and I love the little off-brand pokes. Each team and Sponsor is a parody of the real world, and it’s hilarious.

In the end, Team Fight Manager is a tough sell. The simulation and management elements are almost non-existent. The few that are present tend to be obtuse and poorly explained. Yet, the game within a game is brilliant and will really test your ability to think about strategy in a different way. The fact that champions get nerfed and buffed based on how tournaments play out is clever beyond description. I just wish the rest of the game received the same loving attention.

You might also enjoy my review of Mortal Glory.

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Pros

  • A unique and family friendly take on the Esports theme
  • The ban and pick draft system is incredibly tactical, seriously, you may need a spread sheet
  • Adding champions while nerfing and buffing others shakes up the meta and keeps the game fresh
  • Difficulty settings present
  • The visuals are charming and the tongue in cheek brand parodies is amusing

Cons

  • The management side of the game is barebones
  • Despite being light weight, many aspects are never explained at all
  • Training seems to have little impact compared to just recruiting higher skilled players
  • Tournaments can drag on and feel repetitive
  • The entire game really boils down to selecting four characters in a menu