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Electronic Arts Puts Up $1 Million Prize for Madden Gamers

  • Company sees Madden, FIFA, UFC titles as natural esports draw
  • Non-violent and accessible, sports games appeal to sponsors

It’s been 40 years since the National Football League made its best athletes rich. Now Electronic Arts Inc., maker of the Madden franchise of football video games, is going to do the same for its top players.

Eager to grow in competitive video gaming, Electronic Arts on Sunday announced plans to substantially expand competitions for its own titles, starting with Madden. That includes four “majors” -- EA-owned and operated tournaments, complete with corporate sponsors, broadcast partners and $1 million in prizes over the course of the series.

The effort puts it on par with some of the bigger events in professional video gaming, also known as e-sports. The 2015 Call of Duty world championships had a $1 million prize pool, as did a recent Major League Gaming event that featured some of the world’s best Counter-Strike players. While the biggest prize purse in e-sports history is more than $18 million, only a handful of events crack the million-dollar mark.

“Table stakes nowadays seem to be six figures, and if you want to catch somebody’s eye, really you need to get to seven figures,” said Peter Moore, head of EA Sports’s newly formed competitive gaming division. “We’re well aware of that.”

The company is betting that broadcasters, sponsors and consumers will be willing to turn to games like Madden or FIFA because they’re non-violent and relatively accessible. Only a small portion of the global population can comprehend what’s going on in a League of Legends battle; billions across the world can follow soccer players on a digital screen.

The combination is an attractive one for sponsors. The Electronic Arts titles are “less of a risk for brands wanting to make their first forays into e-sports,” said Haran Ramachandran, head of digital at M&C Saatchi Sport & Entertainment. the global sponsorship and partnerships agency.

Electronic Arts’ plan for Madden extends from its lowest-level competitions -- think 20 people in a dorm room, or a small tournament at a community rec center -- up to the majors. Smaller events will receive added resources to improve their record-keeping and participant experiences, while bigger events will see increased prize money and more professional production. The company also has existing relationships with the NFL sponsors such as PepsiCo Inc. and Visa Inc., which Moore said could lead to corporate support for their e-sports events.

Electronic Arts is looking for broadcast partners for the Madden events, Moore said. It also wants a streaming partner -- the audience for e-sports gathers almost exclusively Twitch, YouTube and other websites. The NFL is a part of those discussions because the Madden game is licensed with the league.

Madden has sold over 100 million copies since it was first introduced in 1988. Madden 17, which will be played at the next four majors, will be released in August.

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