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Back in 2019, Electronic Arts built a fancy broadcast center to host major esports events at its headquarters in Redwood City, California. Then the pandemic happened, and so it didn’t get much use.
But today, I was able to make my first trip to the broadcast center with a small group of family and friends to watch the finals of the Ultimate Madden Bowl, where two pro Madden NFL players competed for a $250,000 final prize.
Dez of Newport Beach won the Madden Bowl, which takes place just six days before the real-world Super Bowl. I was about 20 feet from the two players, though I was occasionally blinded by the roving strobe lights. Since they were looking straight at a big screen, I saw their faces on two big monitors on the sides. To my right were the “shoutcasters” who served as the commentators.
“This is Henry’s Jordan moment, man,” said one commentator.
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“It’s a historic game here from Redwood City,” said another commentator.
The bowl marked the season finish for the Madden NFL Championship Series (MCS) competition, which started with thousands of players competing with each other since the first real-world NFL game started last fall. While there were only 28 people in the studio including the camera crew, it was the first return to an in-person final even since the pandemic began.
I thought there would be a roaring crowd here. But the tiny crowd made it feel a bit more special as I watched the top-tier gameplay on the virtual gridiron for their share of a total season purse of $1 million.
During the season, EA logged an 86% increase in year-over-year growth in registered MCS competitors. EA also announced a multi-year renewal with the NFL, and its brand partners included Campbell’s, Dodge RAM, Turner/TBS, and Sony. In an interview, Andrew Echanique, Madden Championship Series Commissioner, said he was stoked to see the event come back live and in-person.
The finalists were young. Henry was a 19-year-old from Austin, Texas, who has had career winnings of $661,000. It was his fourth Madden Bowl appearance and he holds five championship belts. Henry is the GOAT of the Madden esports events, with a competitive record of 85 and 17.
Dez was very loud, but he is just 17. He has one championship belt and earned $157,000 prior to the event. He was the youngest-ever Madden Major winner when he won a $75,000 grand prize while winning the Madden Ultimate Thanksgiving tournament. Dez scored the first touchdown and let out a big victory shout. Then his Dallas Cowboys intercepted a pass from Henry’s Chicago Bears. Then he scored a second time in the first quarter.
After the first quarter, one commentator said, “Dez has made Henry very uncomfortable.”
Dez ran up a 17-0 lead by the third quarter, when Henry got on the scoreboard with a touchdown. But Dez came right back with another touchdown, making it 24-7 by the fourth quarter. Henry shot back with another touchdown, making it 24-14.
But Henry couldn’t make up for that first quarter. And Dez won the game and as horns went off and confetti blew down from the ceiling. And the crowd? Well, no one roared. But the shoutcasters got busy commentating again. Dez grabbed the belt and held it over his head.
They presented Dez with a $250,000 check and blew some gas-powered confetti cannon and it landed all over me, my glasses and my laptop. Hazards of the job.
The first Madden Bowl took place in 1995. The MCS 23 season is building on five years of Madden NFL esports growth, with a four-times broadcast increase for its average minute audience year-over-year. EA broadcast the finals on YouTube and Twitch.
The broadcast center was lively as the casters got up and moved around to do shoots in various parts of the 2,300-square-feet studio known as the Players’ Lounge. It has robotic cameras and directional microphones to capture intimate player interactions during events.
The studio is equipped with five Ikegami HDK-99 broadcast cameras (with Fujinon lenses), including a jib and an RF Steadicam, as well as three robos (two in the Players’ Lounge, one in the main studio), and 10 Marshall POV cameras. The place has 60 video monitors and 200 light fixtures and an AR green screen.
The Ultimate Madden Bowl Presented by PlayStation was the first live esports event for Madden, as well as the EA Broadcast Center, since February 2020. This time around, it took months of work to pull together the esports return to in-person events, Echanique said.
“For a lot of us, it was almost second nature going back into things and being onsite again, coordinating production staff and player travel and making sure all the onsite preparations were in a good place for us to be able to put the show on,” he said.
This time, the team decided not to do a large in-person event, as the focus was more on providing a great player environment for the pros and their guests.
In the future, he said that “We want to bring the Madden championship series to more players and provide that entertainment value.”
He said Henry has been good for the game as he has a following of fans who want him to move toward being the first Madden player to win over $1 million.
Meanwhile, he said, “Dez is the epitome of our couch-to-champion path. This is his first year competing and he broke onto the scene and showed he can play with the best.”
“Football has been my life,” Dez said. “What John Madden has meant to football, it means so much.”
As for what was going on in his head during the second half as Henry started coming back? “Don’t choke,” Dez said. “Henry is obviously the best player in the game.”
In just the past year, Dez became a top five earner in the MCS. His parents were there. His mother said, “I knew you were going to win. We are not going to charge you for the damage you did to the rage wall in your room.”
His father said, “Enjoy the moment.”
In an interview with GamesBeat, Dez said, “It’s indescribable. It hasn’t really sunk in yet. I’m in shock. It’s great. This is the biggest goal.”
He said he has only been playing Madden NFL for about three years and he focused on it because he loves football so much. He has been part of the esports community for a couple of years and he loves it. He said he didn’t know what he was going to do with the winnings. He acknowledged he was shouting a lot during the match, but he said, “I’m actually a pretty quiet person. I guess the number one Madden game, it just brings something out. It’s my first time playing in person.”
He said he would go out and celebrate with his parents.
“I haven’t really played video games before this,” he said. “I just played it because I like football a lot. I played a lot. And that’s how I really got better.”
As for his strategy coming into today’s match, he said, “I wanted to win the game.”
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