eric berry super bowl

When NFL Players Go Virtual

Words: John Gaudiosi
Photo: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Electronic Arts matched NFL pros against pro Madden players for the first time. The outcome? Continued push to have pro Madden gamers and professional football players on the same stage in the future.

There was twice the drama at this year’s Madden Bowl XXII, which took place in San Francisco’s Masonic night club on Feb. 4. For the first time ever, EA Sports offered early attendees (and the live audience on Twitch and Xbox Live) a pair of football finals.

Electronic Arts also featured its new Madden NFL 16 game mode, Draft Champions Ranked, to both competitions. Randy Chase, senior director of North American marketing at EA Sports, said the mode blends Fantasy Football and video games to add more depth and strategy to the match-ups.

Before the annual Madden Bowl competition, which typically features four or more current NFL players, the finals for the new Madden Challenge Live competition offered an overtime nail-biter between Michael Skimbo and Zackary “Serious Moe” Lane. Lane emerged victorious as his customized Arizona Cardinals beat the Seattle Seahawks 27-24 with a game-winning overtime field goal. Lane walked away with $20,000 and a custom-etched Madden Bowl XXII Xbox One, while Skimbo received a check for $10,000 and the same Xbox One.

The finalists were decided at a competition on Feb. 2 at the NFL Experience Punt, Pass and Kick Field, which also featured Eric “The Problem” Wright and Derek “DJones” Jones. Those two players were awarded $10,000 each. Plus, everyone got the free trip to San Francisco. EA kicked off the nationwide competition Nov. 19 and these four players played their way through thousands of gamers to earn the top four slots on Xbox One.

“Having the talents, having the skill to play this game virtually is a talking point everywhere.”
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton

The main event at Madden Bowl XXII was a match-up between Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry and Washington Redskins tight end Jordan Reed. Both players used their strategies to assemble their custom draft teams - Berry’s Buffalo Bills and Reed’s New England Patriots. Berry got virtual payback in the game, winning 24-17. The real Patriots defeated Kansas City in the divisional round a few weeks back.

Berry takes his Madden very seriously. Chase said the safety petitioned for EA to allow him to compete in the Madden Bowl. And make no mistake about it, Berry puts in the time to strategize for this video game.

“The biggest thing with my team is I’m big on speed,” Berry said of his custom Draft Champions squad in Madden. “From the opening round I grab all the fast players because I love crossing routes and corner routes and things like that. They get big rewards and catch and run and things like that, but that’s the base of my whole team. I just try to find good players who are fast and who I can use to do what I need them to do.”

This victory is especially sweet for the die-hard gamer because it caps a year in which he returned to the NFL field after battling cancer in late 2014-early 2015. He’s a frontrunner for the NFL Honors Comeback Player of the Year Award on Feb. 6, as he helped his team to an 11-5 record and a shutout playoff victory.

super bowl madden nfl

Jordan Reed and Eric Berry prepare to face each other in Madden Bowl XXII.

© Miika Skaffari/Getty Images

In the past, all of the NFL competitions were held at the actual Madden Bowl, but Chase said the decision to integrate traditional eSports with pro gamers into the competition made sense this year. It’s likely the inaugural Madden Challenge Live will become more regular, especially with Peter Moore heading up the new EA Competitive Gaming Division.

“The feedback we saw when we introduced the new Madden Challenge has been incredible,” Chase said. “People are playing competitively online or with friends, or organizing these competitions, it’s second nature to what happens in sports video games. Peter and his team are looking at the role of sports video games and how that works into the overall EA eSports strategy. Madden has a long history of competitive gaming and both NFL players and gamers love it.”

Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was one of many NFL stars in attendance at Madden Bowl XXII. And he also competed in Madden Bowl XX.

“I grew up playing the Madden games – the game’s actually older than I am,” Bridgewater said. “I have great memories of playing against my brothers and cousins. It’s amazing how a video game can unite a group of people.”

Carolina Panthers cornerback Charles Tillman was too busy preparing to face off against Peyton Manning for the second time in a Super Bowl to attend the party, but he used to be a huge Madden gamer in high school. That was before having four kids.

“I buy all the Madden games just because I’m in them, and one day I want to be able to tell my kids that, ‘Hey, I was in this video game. I was a bad dude,’” Tillman said.

But Tillman’s teammate, Cam Newton, takes his Madden game very seriously. The Panthers quarterback came in second place on two Madden cover votes. And he normally attends Madden Bowl.

“Madden Bowl is a lot of bragging rights and you’d be shocked to see how many people wear that label with joy, having the talents, having the skill to play this game virtually is a talking point everywhere,” Newton said.

EA is banking on that. Look for more Madden in 2016 and beyond on the gaming front, and this continued elevation to have pro Madden gamers and professional football players on the same stage at future Madden Bowls.

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02 2016

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