The NFL and Electronic Arts on Monday announced the launch of an online tournament for “Madden NFL 18” gamers involving all 32 teams.
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It makes the NFL the first pro sports league in the U.S. to commit all of its teams to a competitive gaming program, and the first esports competition of this scale taking place this year.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell calls competitive gaming and esports "one of the most exciting ways to engage a larger, younger and digitally savvy NFL audience. EA CEO Andrew Wilson says his company and the NFL are taking their partnership "to an unprecedented level."
Chris Halpin, the NFL's chief strategy officer and senior vice president for consumer products, says esports competitors generally are young, digitally savvy and difficult to reach via traditional media.
"It's great that they have an affinity for football, but we've got to make sure we're engaging them on the new platforms," Halpin said.
The NFL isn’t the first professional sports league to attempt to tap into the growing Esports industry. The NBA announced last May that 17 of its teams would participate in an eSports league for the “NBA 2K” video game franchise. In addition, the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers are one of several teams to directly invest in Esports franchises.
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The Madden NFL Club Championship is open to any player with an online account and the game being released Tuesday on Xbox One and Playstation 4.
Players will pick their favorite team, then compete online against that team's other fans — New England Patriots fans will go up against other Patriots fans, for example — with an undetermined number of top players advancing out of that round.
Each NFL team then will hold a live event for the top gamers who advanced from the online round. That event could be at the team's stadium or another landmark in its area.
The field will be trimmed to 32 players — one from every NFL team — with those players moving on to the Madden NFL Club Championship Live Finals, a tournament at the Pro Bowl Experience.
Those top finishers then advance to play at the Super Bowl Experience in Minnesota, and the winner receives a cash prize and two tickets to the Super Bowl.
EA and the NFL ran a similar competition last year on a smaller scale. Halpin said the teams involved "loved it, loved the model," but one of the criticisms he heard was that "my favorite team's not in it.
"We need all 32 (teams), and for the fans, externally, it makes more sense if every team is represented," he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.