Esports gains steam all the time in North America.
For example, Major League Soccer announced its eMLS esports venture last week. MLS franchises will draft esports players to represent them in a league structure, with the best player going on to represent the MLS at August’s FIFA eWorld Cup 2018.
Furthermore, the NBA 2K esports League will start later this year. Both these esports developments spin off an existing computer/console game with a large fan base into an esports event with the sports leagues’ participation.
With such a thriving market in North America, there is one sport surprisingly missing from the fold — American Football. That is especially surprising given the Madden series’ (another EA Sports product, along with FIFA and NBA2K) massive popularity.
However, change could be on the horizon. This week, the NFL posted a job advertisement for a “NFL Head of Gaming & eSports.”
Someone has a job to do
The job description gives plenty of clues as to what the role will entail.
“The NFL’s Head of Gaming & eSports will lead the strategic planning, partner management and execution of the League’s gaming efforts across all platforms, including console and mobile games, eSports/competitive gaming and new business development.
“This person will drive a number of the League’s key franchises, including NFL Madden, towards achieving commercial and fan engagement objectives.”
As for Madden, there is already a thriving and active online scene. For now, these games are unsanctioned by the NFL. By using a similar template to what the MLS and NBA have done with their forthcoming esports leagues, it appears relatively easy to set up an NFL-sanctioned esports league with each of the 32 football teams represented.
This new development would, of course, be in addition to any existing tournaments, such as the EA Sports-organized NFL Club Championship. This tournament has been in progress since the release of Madden 18 back in August. It culminates in the Pro Bowl Experience, which starts Jan. 24 in Orlando, Florida, ahead of the Pro Bowl itself on Jan. 28.
It seems certain the NFL will team up with EA Sports to use Madden as the vehicle for the league. However, I can foresee NFL teams following different paths. For example, West Ham United and Manchester City in England both employ an individual to represent them at various FIFA 18 tournaments.
Other pro sports teams, such as the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA, Paris Saint-Germain in France, Schalke 04 in Germany, Ajax and Feyenoord in Holland, and Fenerbahce 1904 in Turkey have backed entire esports teams to represent them in different esports games.
Now, if you’re wondering why the most lucrative sports league in America feels the need for this kind of expansion, well, there are always new financial horizons. Earlier this month, Business Insider reported the current value of the esports market as “approximately $900 million” and growing.
As we cover on this website all the time, esports is a booming industry encompassing gambling, live events, massive prize pools and more. That’s not lost on professional football figures. Recently, NFL owners Robert Kraft and Stan Kroenke invested in esports teams. By 2020, experts believe investment in esports will double from its current levels.
All this speaks to the NFL’s new Head of Gaming & eSports’ biggest task: satisfying the financial requirements of the 32 different franchises and figuring out how to represent these real-life teams in a competitive, digital space.
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