Madden NFL 19 Club Championship Production Heads to New Studio at EA Headquarters
In-house approach facilitates ‘consistent creative control’
This weekend isn’t just about the biggest game in the pro-football universe; it’s also the pinnacle for the Madden NFL esports scene. The Madden NFL 19 Club Championship features 32 competitors (one for each NFL team), who have been whittled down from hundreds of qualifiers, competing for a record $700,000 prize pool.
Last year’s edition of the marquee Madden NFL Championship Series (MCS) event was played as part of the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl LII festivities in Orlando and Minneapolis, respectively. This year, however, EA has brought the Madden NFL 19 Club Championship home to its Redwood City, CA, headquarters, having transformed a large basketball court inside its facility into a custom-designed esports studio.
“We built out the studio from scratch, and we’re really happy with how it came out,” says Joseph Lynch, head of broadcast, EA Sports. “Also, bringing it home is a big very deal for us. Being on campus so that EA employees — who may not have an understanding of exactly what we do on the competitive-gaming side — can come by and watch it the event has been great. This is our biggest Madden event, so we want to make sure it feels and looks special.”
EA’s Madden NFL Commissioner Matt Marcou seconds the sentiment: “It gives us a chance to do something in our backyard, as well as expose competitive gaming more to the company as a whole. Esports is one of those things where you can use all the sports analogies in the world, but, until you’re in the studio feeling the energy, it’s not going to hit you at the same level.”
All four days of Madden NFL 19 Club Championship (Jan. 30–Feb. 2) are streaming live on Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, and Mixer. The Grand Final Matchup on Saturday at 8 p.m. ET will be simulcast on ESPNews and re-air later on ESPN2.
Inside the Studio: Transforming a Gym Into a Studio
In addition to the primary competition stage, the newly erected studio features desks for announcers, as well as a players lounge where the competitors can watch the action. The studio design is heavy on wood, brick, and metal motifs intended to evoke a laid-back New York-loft–style look, according to Marcou.
The desk is manned by host/play-by-play caller Scott Cole and Madden NFL analyst/game designer RG.
“We really wanted to simplify things in terms of our talent,” says Lynch, “so we have Scott, who is uber-talented, as both our play-by-play guy and our host for postgame interviews and to keep moving things along. I think it’s really cleaned up the show a lot.”
Several 85- and 65-in. LED displays are scattered throughout the studio, which also features a touchscreen display on which RG (“The John Madden of Madden,” as Lynch calls him) can break down plays with a telestrator tool.
In terms of cameras, the studio is equipped with an 18-ft. jib, Steadicam, and four hard cameras, as well as four robos in the players lounge (one in each corner).
Besides the four robos, the players lounge is wired for full audio and has a dedicated producer to monitor player conversations and capture key moments.
“We are using this as a behind-the-scenes peek at these professionals and their reactions,” says Marcou. “One of our mantras is to make stars of all our players. Competitive gaming is about more than just the X’s and O’s of Madden football. These are competitors with amazing personalities, and they have a very deep bond and chemistry as community. We want to do everything we can to show that.”
Since the MCS launch, its events have taken place on the road, at venues ranging from Super Bowl and Pro Bowl locales to the HyperX Esports Arena in Las Vegas, where the Madden 19 NFL 19 Classic took place in December.
However, Lynch believes that Redwood City offers a significant home-field advantage: “I can definitely say that Day 1 was the best first-day production that we’ve ever done because we’re working with crews that know our shows well and everyone was just more relaxed and focused. The best part about doing this in-house is, we can [produce] this exactly like we want in our own style. And we’ve been really happy with the results.”
Inside the Truck: Balancing Traditional and Esports Workflows
EA has rolled out Gearhouse Broadcast’s Columbus mobile production unit to house the Club Championship production, with Coordinating/Lead Producer Alex Strand at the front bench.
The production team cuts between the in-game feeds of the Madden action and in-studio camera feeds of players, sometimes using a two-box format to show both or show players side-by-side. In addition, the in-game scorebug (graphics are driven by Ross Video Xpression) is constantly fixed at the top of the frame during the games, regardless of whether the in-game feed or in-studio camera feed is on-screen.
The in-game feed switches between Madden View (behind the line of scrimmage) and Spectator Mode (a more traditional third-person view of the game similar to an NFL television broadcast) during the live broadcast. As a result, an observer position has been added to the traditional front- and back-bench positions in the truck to monitor gameplay.
“We’re constantly evolving what this show is and always tinkering with our setup to try to make it better,” says Lynch. “But it all comes down to the storytelling aspect, and I think we do a good job of covering games and showing the action while also covering the players’ reactions and emotions. That’s one of the main reasons we added the players lounge: to capture those off-the-stick moments and build the characters so the audience has someone to invest in.”
More Home Games to Come: Building Broadcast Muscle in Redwood City
With more than three years of experience producing competitive Madden events, EA’s esports-production operation continues to mature. And the Club Championship looks be just the beginning for home-based MCS events: the Madden Challenge Finals are scheduled to be held at EA headquarters in March followed by the Madden Last Chance Qualifier Finals in April. Marcou says hosting events in its own backyard will enable more “consistent creative control” when it comes to technical and production operations.
“This is only getting bigger,” says Lynch, “so we are really focused on doing a lot more [events] in-house, and we’re starting to build that muscle in terms of broadcast staff and [infrastructure]. “Every time we go out to one of those [remote] events, we have to build up and break down the entire show, which is costly and time-consuming. [Instead], we want to leverage the assets we have and bring in the right people with the right expertise. That’s how I see the evolution of who we are as EA and what it is that we do.”