This article is part of our Madden series.
Fresh off the announcement that the Madden Championships Series would be returning for Madden 19, I got a chance to talk with Matt Marcou, Madden NFL Competitive Gaming Commissioner about the upcoming third season of the Madden esports initiative
JB: Is there anything from your background in competitive League of Legends that you’re using to help build the Madden esports initiative?
MM: Certainly, my time there was great, but actually what’s funny was first and foremost I was a sports fan. It was actually NFL football that had me asking “why couldn’t a video game be a professional sport?”. I feel like my life has kinda come full circle where I was inspired to do what I do in video games because of the NFL, and now Im helping the NFL build an extension of its product based on all those past experiences.
JB: Do we know which game modes will be played in conjunction with the respective tournaments?
MM: Each major has a different game mode, but we haven’t switch the affiliation of any of those. So the Madden Classic is in the head-to-head game mode, the Madden Challenge is still in MUT Draft and both the Club Championship and Madden Bowl will be MUT Salary Cap. That is the familiar part – there’s certain elements of sports that are meant to be stable and consistent year after year to really allow the competitors to find their stride and show their expertise.
JB: I know there had been some talk about using your regular MUT teams – no drafting or salary cap – and having that be a part of the tournament atmosphere, but to me that always sounded like a bad idea because you’d have to put an emphasis on acquiring coins to build your lineup. At least with these formats that’s not entirely the case.
MM: Correct, the integrity and fairness of the tournament is paramount. If you want to play that mode where you can use the full breath of your collection, there is a path to qualify for some of these majors. But at soon as the main event starts, we don’t use that type of qualification. We then go to the Salary Cap mode, which I think is more skillful because it makes you make strategic choices to go along with your stick skills.
JB: What was the most exciting thing about the esports Madden initiative that took place last year, in your mind?
MM: My head is always at the foundation of the tournaments. I think our championship match between Young Kiv and Drini – all the business stuff aside, seeing those exciting moments, so long as you have that, that’s the key indicator to success. When I look our program holistically, I think it was our broadcast success on linear channels like CW or ESPN – the Madden 18 Challenge was the most watched North American esports broadcast of 2017 – and I think Madden has paved the way for games like Overwatch to come out and be on a network like ESPN. Prior to Madden, I can’t think of a game that has shown consistent success on linear TV, and Madden proved event or event that we were building and audience with the product we were putting out there. And I think that’s an exciting concept.
JB: I’m sure you get this question asked all the time, but you talk about the broadcast numbers on ESPN and CW, but what about the (lack of) Twitch numbers? Do you have any concerns about those, or is that secondary given your growth in the TV market?
MM: It’s all about finding your audience. There’s a lot of assumptions about what an esports crowd should be, and I think that comes from the press releases from Twitch and the things you see with League of Legends. One, we have more of a shotgun approach. A lot of tournaments that curate those numbers are exclusive to one platform. But if you look at our numbers holistically across all our channels we are really happy with them and where they are going, which is up. I think what’s interesting in our audience is that we have unique opportunity because there is clearly a sports-connection crossover in fans of Madden. Whether those fans want to watch on ESPN or Twitch, you know that doesn’t matter to me. What I need to do is give them the contest they want to see where they want to see it. The fact of the matter is there is a very healthy appetite for Madden content and we are still evolving and learning how we can deliver it best we can.