In late 2021, one of the NFL’s most prestigious personalities passed away, John Madden. While most gamers might know his name from the NFL’s video game series with developers EA Sports, Madden was actually one of the most influential professionals in the NFL.
In the late 1980s, Madden signed a contract with the NFL to allow them to use his name in the video game series. He event went on to provide in-game voiceovers for the series for a number of years—so, even if a gamer only knows Madden by name, they might be surprised at how familiar his voice is.
Aside from being a prolific head coach, Madden was known for his colorful commentary during live games. In fact, some of his most famous quotes come from Super Bowl broadcasts. At the moment, most NFL fans are busy hashing out Super Bowl betting odds to try to predict a winner, but others in the league are looking to build out a tribute to Madden for the February 14 match in Los Angeles.
In the world of virtual NFL events, gamers are also likely to see a tribute to Madden in the February 22nd Madden Bowl. Those who have played Madden since its earliest variations in the late 80s and early 90s are likely expecting a few classic voiceovers, while others might be looking to bring out a Madden-inspired playbook.
Regardless, this year’s NFL Madden Championship Series is set to be one of the most impactful to date. Not only are there more entrants than ever before, but there’s $1 million on the line for the NFL’s virtual GOAT.
One of the Most Popular Simulations
As mentioned above, EA Sports first partnered with the NFL in the late 80s to create a football simulation game. Since then, the football gaming world has diversified with many reputable football manager programs, fantasy sports, and video game simulations vying to steal the limelight from everyone’s old favorite.
While fantasy sports has become a huge business in the US, especially after the proliferation of legal betting since 2018, the most popular and common way still for NFL fans to get in on the action is through Madden NFL. According to Forbes, 10 million people played Madden back in 2013 on the game’s 25th anniversary.
This popularity stems from the game’s usage of actual player and team data. In fact, EA Sports was the first US-based developer to build out a video game by relying on stats from games, as well as plays from actual playbooks (in this case, from John Madden’s playbooks).
EA Sports started perfecting this model in 2004, at which point it started its long-term contracts with both the NFL and ESPN. However, the original football simulator actually covered soccer. Before the NFL simulation took off, FIFA and PES were looking to best Konami’s International Superstar Soccer Pro, which was released in 1997 for PlayStation.
Prior to these projects, a video game simulator was either looking to recreate the technical aspects of play, or else let players manage teams similar to a fantasy sports model. The modern sports simulations from EA Sports and 2K Sports offer both.
The Madden Bowl
The first Madden Bowl took place in 1995, which coincided with the NFL’s actual Super Bowl weekend. Since then, the event has seen multiple variations. At one point, the Madden Bowl was an in-person event that saw huge celebrities and NFL stars back into an arena to watch gamers compete.
From 2006-2008, ESPN even create a documentary series that followed the US’s top Madden gamers as they battled it out for a chance to compete in the Madden Bowl. Following a short change of format, which saw teams compete in groups of three, the popular gaming series jumped online.
Since 2011, the NFL Madden Championship Series has used a head-to-head format focused on finding the best Madden competitors and testing their skills in a four-part, year-long season.
A Four-Part eSport
Though today’s most popular video games tend to be eSports heavy-hitters such as League of Legends and Dota 2, the Madden Bowl was one of the first and remains one of the most successful gaming competitions. Today’s format sees remote competitors log on to compete via PlayStation and Xbox, starting with August/September kickoff events, a Thanksgiving event, and a Wild Card event.
These three tournaments allow players to accrue points, which are then used to create a ranked leaderboard. They can also earn cash; the kickoff tournament includes a cash prize pool of $150,000, while the Thanksgiving and Wild Card events have $250,000 prize pools.
From there, the twelve players at the top of the leaderboard will go on to compete in the Madden Bowl, which has a total prize pool of $1 million. There’s also a Last Chance Qualifier, which allocates two places for last-minute underdogs to nab a shot at the Madden Bowl.
Prior to the Madden Bowl, players compete in separate events via PlayStation and Xbox. However, the final seeding for the Madden Bowl takes gamers with the most points, regardless of console. The final series sees teams compete on both the the Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5.
The Simulation Bowl
Given each new rollout of Madden NFL includes actual player data from the live league, EA Sports has run a simulation via their latest installation since 2004. Throughout the world of sports, simulations are becoming an increasingly popular and reliable means of inputting data and projecting statistical outcome for player and team match-ups.
EA Sports’ Super Bowl simulation has been highly successful in its prediction model. Of the last 17 Super Bowl winners, the latest Madden game has correctly predicted 11 winners. In 2015, Madden NFL even correctly nailed the final score of the Seahawks vs. Patriots final, which ended in a 28-24 win for Seattle.
Though, over time, it seems that the simulation has become less reliable, it’s an interesting caveat for gamers with an interest in fantasy sports. Just like EA Sports relies on actual data from the NFL to recreate its players and teams, fantasy sports fans need to consult the latest in statistics from their players and teams in order to make informed decisions.