EA Sports is doubling down on its annual Madden Bowl this year, in honor of Super Bowl 50 being played in its own backyard. Electronic Arts is headquartered in Redwood Shores, CA, just between San Francisco (home of the Super Bowl 50 Fan Experience and most parties) and Santa Clara, CA (home of Levi’s Stadium, host field of the Big Game).
For the first time, Madden Bowl XXII will feature two championship games and the big event will take place in the Masonic Center, which holds 3,000 people, double the size of last year’s venue. The top two NFL players, Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry and Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed, will face off on an Xbox One in Madden Draft Champions Ranked mode, all to win a trophy and a customized Xbox — and bragging rights, of course.
This year EA Sports is celebrating the new, and very popular, Draft Champions Ranked mode.
“It’s been pretty good competition, it’s just kind of difficult because of the 3-minute quarters,” Berry told Digital Trends. “You got to pick a good strategy, as far as perk management and understanding what you want to do and how you want to play. So it’s a little different from what I’m used to, but I make it work. I’ve been working with my friends just to get a feel for it, so it’s cool.”
And the top two amateur gamers, Michael Skimbo vs. Zack “Serious Moe” Lane, will also face off in the same mode for a piece of $50,000 in cash (the winner gets $20,000 and the loser gets $10,000). Eric “The Problem” Wright and Derek “DJones” Jones are also guaranteed $10,000 each. That’s part of the inaugural Madden Live Challenge competition.
As part of its re-entry into eSports, Electronic Arts flew the top eight players from a nationwide competition (which kicked off November 19) to San Francisco to compete at the NFL Experience at the Pass, Punt, and Kick Field on February 2 before the Madden Bowl Finals. That same field inside the San Francisco Moscone Center also served as the tournament location for the four NFL players to duke it out for the chance to compete in the finals.
Lately, EA Sports has been mixing things up with the Madden Bowl. Last year it introduced Madden Ultimate Team to the NFL player competition. And this year it’s celebrating the new, and very popular, Draft Champions Ranked mode, which allows gamers to assemble a team through a quick 15-round mock draft, featuring current and past NFL greats, and then take that team onto the field for a real game.
“Draft Champions adds another layer of strategy to the game before the game,” said Randy Chase, senior director of North American marketing at EA Sports. “It’s all about building your team specifically for the way you want to play the game. It creates a more level playing field for both eSports and competition among NFL players because the differences in ratings between these teams is a lot closer than if you’re picking between a team that’s a traditional Madden NFL team that’s between a 70 and 90. (Prior to last year’s Madden Bowl, each competitor would just select his or her favorite NFL team, which was always the top-ranked team, statistically, in the game.)
Chase said even before EA Sports added the ranked element to the Draft Champions mode for this competition, the mode became an instant hit with fans and the community. And it’s a mode that’s great for spectators because it’s quick and fun to watch, but also very deep for those with knowledge of the sport of football.
“Winning the Madden Bowl is a big deal, man” – Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry.
“Strategy is key to the draft, as players have to determine which positions and players they’re going to prioritize, while also tailoring their game plan to maximize their squad’s strengths and mitigate its weaknesses,” Chase said.
That means that knowledge of the real sport translates to the virtual gridiron. And it’s one reason that so many players, especially the younger players like the ones featured in this year’s Madden Bowl, are so good on the sticks.
Chase said Berry lobbied to be in this year’s competition. He’s an avid gamer who spends a lot of time at home playing the video game with his friends.
“Winning the Madden Bowl is a big deal, man,” said Berry. “We talk trash about it all the time in our locker room. Not just the locker room, but in my living room too, against my own boys back at the crib.”
Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller is a regular at the Madden Bowl. But this year was different because of his other commitments for Super Bowl 50. He said he had played in so many Super Bowls in Madden that he felt like he’d been here before. The last time the Broncos made it to the Big Game, he was injured and didn’t play. That year, the Seattle Seahawks blew the Broncos away.
"I've played so many Super Bowls on Madden I feel like I've been here before"- Von Miller
— EA SPORTS Madden NFL (@EAMaddenNFL) February 3, 2016
Even though the Madden Bowl is technically a party – and the first to kick off a weekend of non-stop partying in the Bay Area – it’s still more than just a video game to a lot of players. Sure, they’ll stay into the night listening to Ludacris and Fallout Boy, but they also respect the video game – whether it’s pro gamers competing or fellow NFL players.
“I still remember as a little boy just pressing buttons and making it do all these things,” said Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. “Now the game’s almost like real life, and it’s amazing all the things you can do, and the way it looks now, and the guy’s ratings. You can actually see a picture of yourself with accurate heads and skin and tattoos and everything.”
That level of detail continues to improve, but so does the game’s artificial intelligence. That’s how last year’s Madden Super Bowl simulation got the score precisely right for the first time ever. The game’s come a long way.
New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall used to only play Madden because of Michael Vick’s in-game character back in the day.
“We used to play with the Atlanta Falcons a lot so I think that was my favorite memory,” Marshall said. “He could throw it, but if anything broke up he’d just run the ball. That’s all you got to do.”
You can follow all the action from the Madden Bowl on Twitch and Xbox Live February 4 at 10:30 p.m. ET.