You turn your TV on and change the channel to ESPN just in time to catch your favorite teams facing off in the ultimate gridiron battle. Tom Brady and the Seahawks get to the line for the next play in the game, and it’s at this point you realize this is not your ordinary football broadcast.
This is the “Madden NFL 18” Championship Series, which is now on your small screen thanks to a new television deal, as announced by ESPN in January.
ESPN, Disney and the NFL have signed a multi-year contract to distribute and air competitive leagues surrounding the football video game franchise. While this isn’t the first instance of the esports community expanding to larger audiences, it is the first agreement of its kind for the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, according to the ESPN website.
The gaming franchise, which has been around since 1988, has been a famous source of competition between gamers of all types and even NFL players, with multiple championship leagues held from year to year in which players control their favorite teams with the roster they create to compete against other pros. However, with the release of “Madden NFL 10,” a new game mode was released in which the player can still control their team, but they have to purchase player cards with in-game currency to collect athletes from all across the league for their team.
This mode, Madden Ultimate Team, has spawned numerous competitive leagues since its release. Two of which, The Madden NFL 18 Club Championship and the Madden NFL 18 Ultimate League, are included in the broadcasting deal, according to ESPN.
The club’s championship began this past Friday during the Pro Bowl and ended Thursday with gamer GOS winning the finals.The game drew in nearly five million viewers on Twitch across the quarter, semifinals and finals.
After the conclusion of the Club Championship, the Ultimate League will begin their competition between the top 16 Madden players head-to-head, and the winner of the Ultimate League will take home an impressive purse of $1.153 million, the largest Madden prize pool to date, according to the Madden Championship Series website.
“We’re thrilled to continue and expand our relationship with EA and the NFL,” John Lasker, VP of ESPN digital media programming, said in a statement. “In not only showcasing to our audiences these world class esports competitions for multiple years, but using the myriad of ESPN and Disney global platforms to tell the incredible stories of these competitors.”
Andrew Rudin, third year journalism major and team coordinator for the CSULB Esports Association, sees the deal as a great moment in gaming history.
“A lot of the independent sites are dying out because this generation of internet users don’t want or watch ads, and that’s how websites make a lot of their money,” Rudin said, referencing the closing of Yahoo esports, which is shutting down a year after its inception.
“So these new websites don’t have anything to build off of besides those ads and die off after less than a decade.”“ESPN taking in all of these esports teams is really good because now all the esports are getting exposure through ‘Madden,’ which is really good, because football is a really popular sports in America,” Rudin said.
Rudin also noted the positive effects the deal would have on publisher EA Sports, whose parent company EA Games has been experiencing backlash for the numerous microtransactions contained in their latest release, “Star Wars Battlefront II,” citing the broadcasting partnership as a good way “to come back” in the gaming community.
The Madden Club Championship aired across various Internet streaming platforms, including Twitch, along with ESPNNEWS and ESPN2, while the Ultimate League Championship will be aired on ESPN2, ESPN Video on Demand and Disney XD, with reruns of the League regular season running across all platforms.