Thursday June 30th, 2016

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Recently at the Electronic Entertainment Expo, the annual gaming conference in Los Angeles, EA finally unveiled their strategy on eSports. Not surprisingly, it will focus on Madden, FIFA, and Battlefield 1 (BF1) — and shockingly not Titanfall 2 ,  but that’s probably as the game was just revealed and EA is focusing on BF1 as the lead first-person shooter title.

The overall details were not announced but focused on the launch of the Madden 17 championship spanning four majors with a $1 million prize pool. That’s pretty significant for the first major foray into eSports, although these types of Madden events on smaller scale have happened for a while.

What’s interesting is the three-tier structure of EA eSports. Here’s how it’s made up:

  • Challenger: Community-focused competitions. EA will work with gamers to start their own tournaments.
  • Premier: Large-scale events that EA will host in partnership with other companies.
  • EA Majors: Highest level with regional and world champions

Here’s how to read this:

  • Challenger: All those companies that have been running Madden online tournaments to date? Don’t be surprised if that goes to one exclusive company — until EA is ready to handle it all themselves.
  • Premier: EA didn’t define “companies,” but I’m guessing event and production companies like ESL. Awesome for EA. Events are not a scalable long-term business.
  • EA Majors: Not many details, but imagine something similar to Call of Duty World League.

EA also announced that the Madden 16 championship during E3 would be broadcast on ESPN2.

I’ve covered a few of these areas already:

I don’t see a lot of inside perspective on the space, so I’m going to offer it. When you take a point of view, you hope that you’re more right than wrong. Wow, was I wrong. Let’s see how it did.

Considering the overall minimal marketing and announcement the day before the airing, that’s a pretty strong start. Not only did it beat E League significantly in Week 3, it almost equaled E League’s premiere viewers. (Viewers not specified will always be 18–49 as it’s the key demo for advertisers.)

I looked at the previous month’s data as to what aired at the same time on ESPN on Tuesday’s at 6 p.m.— a repeat of Around The Horn — so no good comparison. Just for fun, here’s how Madden performed head-to-head with SportsCenter:

Granted SportsCenter is live four hours a day, but that’s half the viewership. Then the biggest point: An average ESPN 30-second advertising spot was $55,000 in 2013. Even assuming no increase in three years and the premium for SportsCenter, the return on investment for eSports is higher.

What I’m still puzzled by is why the viewership was that high. Was it the off-season and reflects the passion of the NFL fan for content? Did the entire Madden Nation show up with little fanfare? I don’t have the answers.

Although EA made several eSports announcements, I expected most of those. What I’m most interested is what’s coming up next:

  • With Challenger and Xbox Arena, where do tournament platform companies go on Console? Everyone’s working together now but it makes sense to handle all of this at either the game and/or platform level.
  • What’s coming to TV next? You’ll definitely see more Madden, probably tied with the upcoming NFL season. The 2016 World Cup in Japan is a prime opportunity to start FIFA now.
  • New titles? Maybe because I’m one of the few that actually liked the first ithat I hope EA gives Titanfall 2 a chance. It’s perfect for eSports. Unfortunately the game has no groundwork built yet to blossom.

EA has a monstrous gap to close with Activision-Blizzard. Call of Duty is doing fine and Blizzard’s war chest of Starcraft, Heroes of the Storm and Hearthstone is rich, even without factoring in the massive potential of Overwatch.

Let the games begin.

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