If you were looking for a sign that the times are changing, look no further than the latest deal between Electronic Arts, Disney XD, ESPN, and the NFL. As of January 26, 2018, the four companies have teamed up to broadcast the final rounds of the EA Sports Madden NFL 18 Club Championship Series and the brand new EA Sports Madden NFL Ultimate League. As the name suggests, both events are essentially the Madden version of the Overwatch League whereby 16 of the best Madden NFL 18 players in the world will face off against each other for two and half months of matches starting from February 2 until the NFL Draft on April 28.

“The Madden NFL Ultimate League is purposely designed to make superstars of our best players, allowing viewers to develop player loyalties and follow competitor rivalries,” said Todd Sitrin, SVP and GM of the Competitive Gaming Division at EA. “Through this collaboration with ESPN and Disney XD, we’ll provide ongoing coverage for fans worldwide across a variety of ESPN and Disney platforms, but also digitally through our own Madden streaming and social channels.”

ESPNEWS broadcasted the quarterfinals of the Madden NFL 18 Club Championship tournament on January 27. Disney XD and the ESPN App will also host the Madden NFL Ultimate League each week between Super Bowl LII and the 2018 NFL Draft, while ESPN2 will show the coronation of the Madden NFL Ultimate League champion.

In April, ESPN2 will broadcast an Ultimate League episodic series which showcases the best players in the League, focusing on “character and storylines through an exclusive entertainment style” until May 1; the ESPN App will also host these episodes on demand.

Madden NFL 18 players will eventually be able to watch the competitive matches in-game thanks to an upcoming “add-on.” EA Sports will also be selling a limited edition bundle of Madden Ultimate Team content and packs “tailored specifically to Madden Competitive Gaming fans” during the Madden NFL Ultimate League on the Xbox One and PS4.

The TV programming details for both Madden NFL 18 Club Championship and the Madden NFL Ultimate League are as follows:

  • Madden NFL 18 Club Championship Divisional Finals, Live from the Pro Bowl
    • January 27: 10pm ET ESPNEWS
    • Orlando, FL (Pro Bowl)
  • Madden NFL 18 Club Championship Final, Live from Super Bowl LII
    • February 1: 9pm ET ESPN2/Deportes
    • Minneapolis, MN (Super Bowl LII)
  • 12 one-hour episodes of the EA SPORTS Madden NFL 18 Ultimate League Regular Season
    • Thursdays
    • Feb – April
    • Exclusive to Disney XD
    • Available on ESPN VOD
  • Half-hour episodes of an Ultimate League Series
    • Tuesdays at 9pm ET
    • Weekly from April 3 – May 1
    • Exclusive to ESPN2/ESPN VOD, Disney XD and Deportes
  • Madden NFL 18 Ultimate League Championship Final, Live from the NFL Draft
    • April 28: 7pm ET ESPN2
    • Arlington, TX (NFL Draft)

Broadcasts will be available in the UK and Ireland via BT Sport, Canada via TSN and Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean and Latin America, including Brazil via ESPN International networks.

Quick Take

Needless to say, this deal between EA, Disney, ESPN, and the NFL seems awfully similar in concept to the Overwatch League, if not in practice, then in its intended goal to bring esports to the masses. Whether or not this attempt will prove to be successful is another issue altogether as the Madden games aren’t exactly as, shall we say, encompassing as Overwatch is. After all, football refers to an entirely different sport outside of the United States, and as it turns out (contrary to stereotypical American belief) the rest of the world has a lot of people who matter in terms of viewership and getting an experimental form of entertainment off the ground.

Anson Chan

Staff Writer

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