The NFL is teaming up with gaming giant Electronic Arts to give millions of football fans a chance to compete to represent their favorite football team.
The company’s EA Sports division, which makes popular game titles like the FIFA and Madden NFL franchises, and the NFL announced on Monday the launch of a new gaming tournament called the Madden NFL Club Championship. Starting today, gamers over the age of 16 can register for the first installment of the annual tournament, which pits Madden NFL players against one another in live and online elimination events. Eventually, the field will be whittled to 32 gamers—one for each NFL team—who will compete in the Madden NFL Club Championship Live Finals, which will be split between two events coinciding with the 2018 Pro Bowl and Super Bowl LII this winter.
The e-sports industry is growing quickly, with revenue from competitive gaming expected to double from its current estimates to roughly $1.5 billion by 2020. Several gaming companies have expanded their e-sports divisions in recent years, with big names like Activision Blizzard and Tencent-owned Riot Games creating full e-sports leagues featuring franchises and multi-million-dollar buy-ins for team owners. Meanwhile, Take-Two Interactive Software is also going the sports route through an e-sports partnership with the NBA.
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The NFL and EA are putting up the more than $400,000 in prize money for the new tournament. EA told Bloomberg that the company is on the lookout for corporate sponsors to get on board with the Madden NFL Club Championship (companies like McDonald’s and Progressive have sponsored past e-sports events hosted by EA), and there’s even the possibility of finding broadcast television partners to air some of the competitions.
The tournament’s announcement is tied to Tuesday’s debut of the latest edition of the popular NFL video game, Madden NFL 18. EA says the Madden NFL franchise has sold more than 100 million units over more than two decades, and the previous installment sold more than 1 million units in its first week of availability last year.
Given the franchise’s popularity, it’s no surprise that EA would want to make the push into e-sports, as the audience for competitive gaming continues to grow. EA rolled out its first e-sports competitions featuring Madden NFL games last year. The Madden NFL Club Championship is the third event of the company’s Madden NFL Championship Series EA Majors, and it is the first to involve the participation of all 32 NFL teams.
The move also makes sense for the NFL to get behind such an event, as the league sees royalties from the sales of NFL video games and related content. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement that partnering with EA “presents a unique opportunity to capture the excitement of NFL action and the passion of our fans with competition that anyone can participate in,” and he added that the tournament could help the NFL reach a younger, more digital, audience.