The Madden Championship Series (MCS) season is coming down to the wire. The final eight players are set for the Ultimate Madden Bowl, the culmination of a season-long battle to become the best Madden NFL 23 player in the world. Ahead of the final event of the MCS season, I got to sit down with MCS commissioner, Andrew Echanique. We talked about the wonderful MCS season that we have had this year, as well as some of the big topics of conversation surrounding the league this year.
Andrew Echanique, Madden Championship Series Commissioner
Can you just start by telling me a little bit about your background and how you got involved with the MCS in the first place?
I’ve been at EA for six years now, all focused on building the Madden Championship Series. Prior to EA, I had experience in kind of the sports management and event space. I actually competed in some local tournaments, not anywhere near as good as the players that are playing today but won some local tournaments. I’m just excited to carry my passion for Madden into the MCS and continue to build this ecosystem and offer the experiences that I had years ago but at a much different level to the players today.
And it has been an extremely exciting MCS season. We just got through the first round of the Ultimate Madden Bowl Can I just get your general thoughts on how the season has gone this year?
Yeah it has been incredibly exciting for us. We have a multi-year commitment with the NFL where we’ve aligned the MCS across the tentpole moments of the NFL season and the brand moments as well. Obviously, as you know we’ve got Kickoff, Thanksgiving, Wild Card and now we’re here at (Ultimate Madden) Bowl. We had some incredible storylines from a player like Henry who continued to show his success at this stage and newcomers like Dez. We had the top 14 starting Monday and now we’re down to our final eight it has just been an incredible season to see newcomers emerge and really start to build themselves as some of the top players in the game.
I want to talk a little bit about that deal that you talked about with the NFL. We reported on that earlier this year when EA Sports and the NFL renewed this deal for the MCS. How important was that deal for the MCS in sort of giving you that security and support from the NFL to help grow this league?
Our partnership with the NFL is incredibly important to us. We believe the MCS really offers an opportunity for our players and fans to not only showcase their abilities in Madden but deliver content that can be consumed by so many fans not only of the game but of the NFL itself. So it’s really an extension of the NFL, of Madden, to be able to showcase these competitions and these experiences for our players throughout the entire season. The NFL has been a huge advocate of eSports and the MCS in being able to help us build this ecosystem in a way that we can continue to offer these experiences for our players and all of our fans.
Now heading into the top 8 in this Madden Bowl, you have your #1 seed Henry who many are saying is now the Tom Brady of the MCS. He just won his record-breaking 5 title belt in the Ultimate Wild Care tournament and many are calling him the greatest Madden player of all time. What does having a dominant player like Henry do for the MCS in terms of helping to grow the league?
I think what I really like about the MCS is that it is truly an open ecosystem. So anyone can pick up the sticks, start playing today, and showcase their ability. Someone like Henry has been able to adapt to all of the changes in gameplay throughout the year and really does that year after year. It’s a testament to his ability to compete at such a high level. But at the same time, you get a chance to see someone like Dez as a newcomer, all of the upsets we saw in the last two days were players who didn’t qualify in the Kickoff or Thanksgiving or Wild Card, but in the Last Chance, Qualifier is stating to make runs in the Madden Bowl.
It’s really cool to see obviously our top players returning, but newcomers coming in and really demonstrating their ability to player Madden at such a high level and do that throughout the year. So that’s what I think is really compelling around how we position our competition format and offer those opportunities for those players at each varying times of the year.
I also want to talk a little bit about the MCS as a whole and some of the topics of conversation around it this season. One of those leading into the Ultimate Madden Bowl was the lack of some players streaming their MCS qualifying games outside of the live events. You have a lot of players competing in these fun entertaining games, and unless you already know where you can go to see them you end up missing some of these great games that aren’t broadcasted like they are in these live events. Has there been any discussion behind the scenes about helping promote the players that do decide to broadcast their MCS games that aren’t in the live events?
I do believe strongly in offering our players opportunities to be able to use the platform that is the MCS in a way to help their brands and their channels. We believe in making stars of all of our players. Some of the things that we have done that I think is incredibly important to showcase that is we have created some of these unique player logos that a lot of the players have carried onto their respective channels and then have also built a power rankings system akin to what you see in the NFL that really drives a lot of the conversation throughout the year in between our events within our community and kind of showcases that competitive excellence throughout the year. So for us when I think about providing more opportunities for our players to be connected to the brand, we look at various times throughout the year to be able to deliver that. You might have saw when we announced John Madden as our cover we brought all of our players in to give them an opportunity to kind of share their feelings around what Madden has meant to them throughout the year and use that as a conversation around that announcement. So for us, we continue to look at more and more ways in which we can showcase our players’ success and support them throughout the year.
You mentioned the MCS helping create logos for players, I guess that was something I had never heard about before. How long has the MCS been doing that and how did that get started?
We started that last year and it was incredibly important for us when we think about building the power ranking system and helping elevate our players, how can we offer them opportunities to help carry that success beyond our platform? For a lot of our community, the one time you may see a player or a lot of times you might see some of our top players compete, if it isn’t on their channels, is through the MCS platform. But what happens next? What we wanted to do is think how can we help players showcase their unique styles not only on our broadcasts but carry that onto their own platform. When you see and tune into our various events you’ll see, not only the power rankings and the numbers associated with the players and how they rank, but you’ll also see their logos on the broadcast as well. A lot of players have taken that to their social channels and carried that through and I think that’s really cool to see.
Another topic of conversation that was going around the MCS circles at the beginning of this season was the fact that the first tournament was happening so soon after the game was released. The open ladder started on August 20th, just four days after the game launched worldwide. So a lot of people felt this was a bit too soon to be having a competitive tournament for your actual MCS season. Has there been any thought put toward maybe moving that first tournament back to give players more time with the game before competing for thousands of dollars?
For us, one value feedback from all of our players and really look closely at how we can take this into account as we think about our competition structure. We do conduct post-event surveys with all of our players and really look at things like that. I think for us, one thing that is incredibly important is when we think about our season as we mentioned before, we really look at those key moments throughout the schedule, obviously kickoff through Super Bowl, but the Ultimate Kickoff itself does provide an opportunity for all players as soon as they get their hands on Madden to be able to showcase those skills and be able to compete against the best in the world. For us when we look at both registration and participation for the Ultimate Kickoff this year in comparison to previous years, we saw tremendous growth and that I think is a testament to people wanting to engage early on and being able to showcase those skills really early. But with that said, we’re certainly open to feedback from our players and look to continue to explore ways always to improve the MCS.
Another reason that people had a problem with that first tournament being so soon was, after release, there were some pro players as well as other prominent Madden influencers talking about how some pros were hand selected to get the game early over other players and that they felt this gave some players an unfair competitive advantage. Can you speak to if it is true that there are some pro players that are chosen to get the game early over others?
So for us, fair play and competition integrity are incredibly important. We look closely at how we build out our competition formats and the opportunities that we offer our players throughout the year and make sure that we’re maintaining that integrity throughout. So the fortunate thing when you think about our open ecosystem, it truly does provide anyone the opportunity to participate, climb the ranks, showcase their ability throughout the year and our game does evolve.
From launch all the way to (Ultimate Madden) Bowl, there are new items inside of Madden Ultimate Team, there are new mechanics and things that I think players need to adapt to and showcase throughout the year and I think that that’s where you start to see your top players really stand out and you know see them ultimately at the Madden Bowl where they have been able to enhance their abilities throughout the year, adapt, and be able to take on their competition. So for us, that’s something that I think we do pride ourselves in how we create our competition structure to make sure that it is fair for everyone.
So definitely throughout the course of the year, with the new items coming out players adapt, but for that very first one where everyone is still kind of getting used to the game, do you feel like certain pros being selected to get the game early and have that extra time with a brand new game, does that give them some sort of unfair competitive advantage in your eyes?
One thing in particular that may have started some of those conversations, we did have a show match featuring TDBarrett and Cleff that did air on our YouTube channel that was intended to kind of showcase some of the new innovations that we had associated with our product. That’s done through the lens of making sure that those opportunities, while they are offered you know, in terms of the content itself, is open to everyone, we look very closely at how we deliver that experience to make sure that there isn’t any foul play at all. We look at how we make sure that, when the season starts, when we kickoff our first event, how do we make sure that our competition is fair for everyone and that includes what happens in and around launch as well for our first event.
To wrap up here, the Ultimate Madden Bowl of course is the final event on the MCS calendar for Madden 23, and that leaves sort of a hole between now once this event wraps up and then when Madden 24 eventually releases for MCS competitions and content. Has there been any discussion about having other events between the Madden Bowl and the release of the next game, like maybe a Pro Bowl event or something like that, to help keep fans engaged with the content that comes out later in the game’s life cycle?
As I might have mentioned earlier and you might have seen from our shows, we do have a partnership with Sony and are working closely with them to offer more competitions post-Madden Bowl. That I think is certainly a platform that we can continue to look at engaging players in different ways. But for us, the MCS is obviously focused on the kickoff to Super Bowl where we engage our fans throughout that season and we’re always looking for more opportunities to support competitions through license initiatives even beyond our season as well, and I think Sony is a great example of offering that opportunity for our players.
Ultimate Madden Bowl
Make sure to tune into the Ultimate Madden Bowl as the wild MCS season wraps up. Eight competitors will battle it out for their share of the $1,000,000 prize pool and the ultimate $250,000 grand prize. The competition returns February 1 on the MCS YouTube and Twitch channels.
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