It has been over a year since the launch of the EA Competitive Gaming Division, which has focused on building out the burgeoning esports scenes within a handful of its high-profile titles, including FIFA, Madden and Battlefield. And with the conclusion of the Madden 17 Championship Series this weekend, which will have awarded $1 million to participants throughout the better part of the last five months, it's fair to say the company's slow-growth formula to competitive gaming has been a success in the minds of the people in charge, particularly in the popular football title.
Championing the idea of a "pyramid of competition," which focuses on the development of competition from the top tier of players all the way down to the newcomers to the competitive scene, players competed in a variety of Madden 17's competitive ladders, including Draft Champions, Salary Cap and classic head-to-head.
Salary Cap and Draft Champions have both been featured promptly throughout the Madden 17 Championship Series, with each major tournament switching between the two game modes. Salary Cap mode, true to its name, forces competitors to select players based on predetermined cap numbers while staying beneath a small cap total, allowing a player to highlight certain schemes and players they deem the most successful.
Draft Champions, on the other hand, allows competitors to "draft" their team from a series of different options, highlighting a competitor's versatility when it comes to adapting and molding to different playstyles.
The multiple competitive game modes have allowed for a variety of different players and personalities to emerge from the competitive fabric, which is all a part of the plan, according to Matt Marcou, the Madden Competitive Gaming Commissioner.
"There's a couple of popular ways to play Madden, and we think they are all valid and balance them accordingly," Marcou said. "In this first year, we wanted to test the competitive construct. As part of the Championship Series, we wanted anyone who plays Madden -- no matter what your flavor is -- to have an accessible path to the Madden Championship."
It's an interesting concept in an esports universe that is increasingly content with a one-size-fits-all approach to the competitive landscape. Adhering to the consumer as opposed to forcing a player to play "their" game is one of the unique things that comes with a "competitive game," a term that Todd Sitrin, senior vice president of the Competitive Gaming Division, suggests is what makes Madden a unique esport.
"EA and the CGD [Competitive Gaming Division] is about celebrating the player's passion for competition," Sitrin said. "Whether they are just a normal player or whether they are a superstar player, we believe that celebrating that passion is really important."
It's funny how a turn of phrase such as "competitive gaming" can develop an entire mindset, but whether it's a variety of different game modes or acknowledging even the smallest, most fledgling competitor, the Competitive Gaming Division has already succeeded in developing the core of its esports plan: to cater and cultivate a community.
Even when talking about the successes of the new division, Marcou couldn't help but gush about the positives for the community.
"Having the structure in place that breeds confidence in both the competitors and the viewers that there's a solid ground for them to show their passion is incredible," he said. "Having a foundation is amazing and allows us to build more things off of it."
Where it can go from here, with the Competitive Gaming Division now integrated into the yearly development cycle, is anyone's guess.
There will always be things to tweak, fix and develop, as with any other gaming community. Cries from fans and spectators of competitors manipulating the CPU, or repeatedly using the same plays and formations haven't gone unheard. Whether those concerns will be answered in the future remains to be seen.
And while the executive minds of the CGD were reserved in regard to a possible foray into franchising, a concept that has gained steam with the recent announcement surrounding the 2K League and Overwatch League, they weren't dismissive of the notion either.
It's all part of an ever-developing focus that continues to evolve and progress each and every day.