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In 2019, Electronic Arts built a fancy broadcast center to host major esports events at its headquarters in Redwood City, California. Then came the pandemic, and so it wasn’t used much.
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 Ultimate Madden Bowl Finals, where two professional Madden NFL players competed for a final prize of $250,000.
Dez from Newport Beach won the Madden Bowl, which takes place just six days before the actual Super Bowl. I was about 20 feet from the two players, though I was occasionally blinded by the wandering strobe lights. Because they were looking straight at a large screen, I saw their faces on two large monitors on the sides. To my right were the “shoutcasters” who served as commentators.
“This is Henry’s Jordan moment, man,” said one commenter.
“It’s a historic game here from Redwood City,” said another commenter.
The bowl marked the end of the season for the Madden NFL Championship Series (MCS) competition, which began with thousands of players competing since the first real-world NFL game began last fall. Although there were only 28 people in the studio, including the camera crew, it was the first return to a personal final since the pandemic began.
I thought there would be a roaring crowd here. But the small crowd made it feel a little more special as I watched the top-notch gameplay on the virtual roster for their share of a total $1 million seasonal purse.
During the season, EA recorded an 86% 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, Madden Championship Series Commissioner Andrew Echanique said he was excited to see the event return live and in person.
The finalists were young. Henry was a 19-year-old from Austin, Texas who won $661,000 in his career. It was his fourth Madden Bowl appearance and he has five championship belts. Henry is the GOAT of the Madden esports events, with a competitive record of 85 and 17.
Dez was very vocal, but he’s only 17. He has one championship belt and earned $157,000 prior to the event. He was the youngest ever Madden Major winner when he took home a $75,000 grand prize while winning the Madden Ultimate Thanksgiving tournament. Dez scored the first touchdown and gave a big shout of victory. Then his Dallas Cowboys intercepted a pass from Henry’s Chicago Bears. He then scored a second time in the first quarter.
After the first quarter, a commenter said, “Dez has made Henry very uncomfortable.”
Dez had a 17-0 lead in the third quarter, when Henry got on the scoreboard with a touchdown. But Dez came right back with another touchdown to make it 24-7 in the fourth quarter. Henry returned fire with another touchdown to make it 24-14.
But Henry couldn’t make up for that first quarter. And Dez won the game and as the horns went off and confetti blew down from the ceiling. And the crowd? Well, no one roared. But the shoutcasters got busy commenting again. Dez grabbed the leash and held it over his head.
They handed Dez a check for $250,000 and blew a gas powered confetti cannon and it landed all over me, my glasses and my laptop. Risks of work.
The first Madden Bowl took place in 1995. The MCS 23 season builds on five years of Madden NFL esports growth, with a four-fold increase in broadcasts to the average minute-over-year audience. EA broadcast the final on YouTube and Twitch.
The broadcast center was buzzing as the casters got up and moved around to shoot in different areas of the 2,300-square-foot 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 it took months of work to bring the esports return to in-person events, Echanique said.
“For many of us, it was almost second nature to get back to things and be back on site, coordinating production staff and player travel, and making sure all the on-site preparations were in a good place for us to put on the show. put,” he said.
This time, the team decided not to hold a large in-person event as the focus was more on providing a great playing environment for the pros and their guests.
Going forward, he said, “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 become the first Madden player to win over $1 million.
Meanwhile, he said: “Dez is the epitome of our path from bench to champion. This is his first year competing and he broke through on stage and showed that he can play with the best.
“Football has been my life,” said Dez. “What John Madden has done for football means so much.”
What was going on in his mind during the second half when Henry started to come back? “Don’t choke,” Dez said. “Henry is clearly the best player in the game.”
In the past year, Dez became a top five earner in the MCS. His parents were there. His mother said, ‘I knew you would win. We’re not going to sue 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’s not really sinking in yet. I’m in shock. It is awesome. 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 a part of the esports community for a few years now and he loves it. He said he didn’t know what he was going to do with the winnings. He admitted that he yelled a lot during the match, but he said: “I’m actually a pretty quiet person. I think the number one Madden game, it just brings something out. It’s my first time playing personally.”
He said he was going to celebrate with his parents.
“I haven’t really played video games before this,” he said. “I just played it because I love football a lot. I played a lot. And that’s how I really got better.”
As for his strategy in today’s game, he said, “I wanted to win the game.”
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