Madden Esports League Grows Alongside NFL


by in General | Dec, 31st 2019

The Madden Championship Series is not new; it’s been around for about a decade now. However, Madden Esports is growing, thanks to the NFL working alongside them. Strategic investments and work has been done to get more eyes on the digital football esports series.

In fact, more than $700,000 was handed out to the top Madden players in the Madden 20 Club Championship in December. They also get a pretty awesome championship belt, maybe that’s just the wrestling fan in me.

Working Together for Success

Over this last decade, Electronic Arts worked hard to get more eyes on Madden’s esports. The actual games are incredibly popular and sell plenty of units when the latest edition drops. There have been a whole host of strategic moves this year, thanks to the NFL.

The NFL has millions of eyes on it every week, so working together with their digital scene should be instinctive. In the past, this has not been done as much, but that seems to be changing. This year, for example, the Madden Esports League is capitalizing on NFL dates and times better.

The Madden Championship Series aligned with tentpole events during the NFL season, to work with the NFL’s opening weekend, playoffs, Super Bowl and the April draft. This is something the NFL should have been doing for years now, but perhaps they did not expect the popularity of esports.

The NFL is the most-watched sports league in North America. So, I don’t understand why this wasn’t the first thing to do when esports started taking off.

Not That Different from FIFA

Much like EA’s FIFA Global Series, Madden tournaments require players to qualify online and compete in live events as well. The Madden 20 Club Championship, one of the most prestigious Madden events, gave out more than $703,000 to the top 128 players.

The winner was Michael “Volterax” Bryant, who represented the Arizona Cardinals. This Madden player took home $100,000 for playing digital football!

Matt Marcou, EA’s Madden NFL competitive gaming commissioner discussed how the Club Championship came about:

“The Club Championship started as a trial with eight teams. We’ve since expanded the concept into a major where we have all 32 NFL teams represented as the number of players and sponsorship interest has grown. It takes about five months to resolve the competition. The top 512 players play in online tournaments. From there, 128 gamers are invited to our Redwood City, California studios to play in live tournaments where the champion is crowned.”

This was a pretty interesting system, even as someone who isn’t a football fan. Players created their own Madden Ultimate Team and picked one NFL franchise they represented during the Madden Esports League.

This differs slightly from EA’s Madden Classic major held in August, as an example, which permits gamers to compete with only players on a single team’s active roster. I appreciate that difference. I personally think, the Madden Club Championship requires more tactics and consideration to building a team.

Growth Is Coming

The Madden League pointed out that that viewership was similar for the Madden 20 Club Championship. However, they did not disclose numbers, since the tracking for the TV broadcast is not complete. The tournament was primarily viewed on Twitch, as a point.

The Madden 19 Bowl tournament had more than 2.5 million views, with a peak audience of 97,000 spectators. That’s not too shabby for watching digital football on Twitch! The peak number of viewers represented a six-fold increase year-over-year, according to EA.

Will Partin, director of research at Power Play, a video game and esports consulting agency discussed the viewership:

“In terms of viewership, most traditional sports esports are a fraction of what titles like League of Legends and Counter-Strike get. But it’s important to recognize that Madden is carefully integrated into the broader NFL ecosystem. Major sports leagues look at esports not necessarily as standalone money-making entities, but initiatives for deepening fans’ connection to football, basketball, etc. Esports is a hot topic right now, but keep in mind that the size of the entire esports industry is less than the value of the least valuable NFL franchise.”

However, esports doesn’t match the value of the NFL for now. The esports industry is expected to surpass $1 billion valuation for the first time. However, the Buffalo Bills are valued at $1.5 billion, and that’s just one team. If more NFL teams would invest in esports, it would be interesting to see what they could add to the industry.

The NFL has become instrumental in the growth of the Madden Esports League. In addition to offering financial support, the NFL also serves as an advisor to the game developer by helping forge marketing partnerships to grow revenue. I hope this continues though.

The NFL and other sports industries must understand that esports growth doesn’t happen overnight. It does typically take years to really see growth, so they must stick to it. But for now, it seems like things are looking up for Madden.

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