For decades you had to be a professional football player to compete in EA Sports’ Madden Bowl during Super Bowl week. But that changed this year at the Pro Bowl at Disney World and in Houston, Texas as the Madden Bowl became one of four Majors in the Madden NFL Championships Series.

Chris “Dubby” McFarland defeated Eric “Problem” Wright in the championship game on February 3 in Houston to take home $75,000 and bragging rights in front of a live audience on the NFL Network. Wright earned $45,000, which was part of a $250,000 prize pool awarded to the top 16 Madden players. The top four players were flown to Houston for the semi-finals and finals after competing in the quarterfinals at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex during Pro Bowl weekend.

The Madden Bowl marked McDonald’s first foray into competitive gaming. The fast food giant served as presenting partner of the competition with Xbox powering the entire Championship Series.

Madden Championship Commissioner Matt Marcou told [a]listdaily that McDonald’s entered the competition in January and the brand has been integrated into the virtual field that competitors played on during the competition. EA’s Tiburon studio created a special tournament environment with the Madden Bowl logo in the center of the field and McDonald’s featured in the game. McDonald’s signage was also featured in the real world throughout the competition.

The championship game was broadcast across Twitch, YouTube Gaming, Facebook Live, Univision Digital, Univision and NFL Network. The semi-finals were also broadcast on Univision, which previously covered the Madden Classic. Madden Bowl was the second NFL Network broadcast, following the Madden Classic in December.

The Madden Bowl is one of four Majors held throughout the season, which includes the aforementioned Madden Classic in December, the Madden Challenge in April and the Madden Championship in May. There’s a total of $1 million spread across these events, including $500,000 for the Madden Championship. The Madden Bowl is the only Major that connects competitive gamers directly with NFL events.

Madden offering $1 million is like CS:GO offering $5 million,” Marcou said. “We think this prize pot is competitive outside of the big three (CS:GO, League of Legends and Dota 2). It’s one of the most incentivizing prize pools out there.”

Marcou explained that EA has no desire to get into a marketing money war with prize pools to compete with something like Valve’s The International, which awarded over $18 million last summer.

“We calculated our prize pool to create an ecosystem where 10 guys make $50,000 a year playing Madden, and some more guys can earn $20,000 or $30,000 annually—which is the league stipend for Riot Games’ LCS (League of Legends Championship Series). We’re hoping to see these competitors start to attract individual sponsorship deals, as well.”

At a time when NFL TV ratings are down and the league admits that it’s losing millennial viewers, EA Sports is targeting that elusive demographic with its Competitive Gaming Division.

“The NFL shares our vision of Madden as a competitive game,” Marcou said. “They advertise with us on broadcasts and on site. It’s a natural partnership.”

Having worked with ESPN in the past on a televised Madden Nation competitive gaming show and run the Madden Challenge for years, eSports is not new to EA.

Madden has been a popular game in the US for a long time,” Marcou said. “I describe this competitive gaming transformation as similar to what the NFL did when the AFC and NFC merged and joined together for the Super Bowl. There have been Madden competitions for a long time, and many underground tournaments similar to fighting competitive gaming scene. Now we’re acting as the official governing body and providing stability in scheduling and structure and awareness. We feel we’re the sport of Madden evolving into the modern era.”

As the very long NFL off-season officially kicks off, football fans have nothing but playing Madden and watching ESPN or the NFL Network to keep them engaged with the sport.

“If you can’t get enough football, Madden is another outlet,” Marcou said.

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