Electronic Arts just announced a three-tiered strategy for esports in its blockbuster games. The company will make esports stars out of everyone with its Challenger Events, where it will become easier to set up esports tournaments.
It will also feature EA games in partner competitions, known as Premier Events. These will have big prizes but will be staged by other companies. And then there’s the EA Majors, which will feature the best players and the biggest players. EA will put on these events itself. EA will concentrate on integrating these events into its Battlefield 1, Madden NFL Football, and FIFA soccer games in the next year.
Peter Moore is in charge of the esports strategy as chief competition officer for EA, and he laid out the strategy at the EA Play event at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), the big game trade show in Los Angeles this week.
Moore will speak on what’s next for esports at our GamesBeat 2016 event in Los Angeles on August 1-3. Before the EA Play event, we caught up with Moore for an interview about the esports strategy.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
Peter Moore: EA Play has two arenas. We’re building out a smaller version in London. The show will be simulcast back on satellite. I’ll be on the stage in London while Andrew Wilson is on the stage in L.A. and we’ll pass it back and forth. I’ll be talking about competitive gaming as part of the show flow. But I’ll be back in Los Angeles Monday night.
GamesBeat: What news do you have for us?
Moore: Our vision for competitive gaming is pretty unique. We want to make stars out of all our players. Competitive gaming is a pyramid. At the very top of that there are several hundred players who make a full-time living playing games like DOTA 2, League of Legends, or Counter-Strike. In our case Madden and FIFA have full-time professional players, as well as a few Battlefield players. But our real focus is going to be further down that pyramid, not just the top professionals.
We’re doing a lot of work at a dev level on making sure we’re building competitive modes in games where it’s appropriate. We’re doing a lot of work at a platform level for matchmaking, anti-cheating, and all the stuff that concerns us in competitive gaming. We’re making sure we have all the right modes in our core franchises.
Our three focal points over the next 12 months are going to be FIFA, Battlefield, and Madden. I’ll be talking about Madden on Sunday. We’ll introduce three new ways for players to compete. Again, thinking of that pyramid, we’ll have challenger events, premier events, and EA Majors. That’s from the bottom to the top.
Challenger events—think of 20 guys in college playing a game in a dorm room on Saturday mornings. Or you go to these events with maybe 500, 600 people showing up to play on long tables—playing FIFA, Smash Bros., every stop in between. Our goal is to support those with web tools, kind of bring them into the 21st century. If you go to some of these, the administration can be pretty primitive. Someone might just be walking around with paper and pencil taking down who won and who lost.
We feel an obligation to help facilitate a smoother tournament structure. You can sign people up. The administrator can publish who’s playing who. You can log in and see where you are in the tournament. We’re building that. There are tens of thousands of events like this around the world. Our job, when our IP is involved, is to go help them out.
As you move up the pyramid, we have premier events. These are events that exist already. ESL, Gfinity, Dreamhack, these organizations put on a lot of events using our games. We’re very supportive of that. It provides aspiration to get up to the next level. They’re global in their nature. The ability for us to be able to work with these brands becomes a bit more sophisticated. We have brands committed at this point. Hypothetically, the Coca-Colas, the Mountain Dews, they come in and start looking at these tournaments. Of course there are lots of endemic sponsors — the Logitechs and Intels and Samsungs of the world – coming in at this level to facilitate, with sponsorship money, the growth of these events. That’ll be an important part of our mix as well.
Finally, the EA Majors, which I’ll talk about at some length on stage on Sunday, with Madden being first out the door. We’ll have more details down the road with FIFA and Battlefield as we get into the back end of calendar 2016. These are major events that we will put on, support, and execute against. We’ll put up the prize money. Combined, the four EA Majors in Madden will have a prize pool of $1 million at stake.
The analogy we’re using is tennis or golf, where you have these major events, each of which is a stand-alone event. The Madden Classic is this fall. The Madden Bowl will be played over the winter. The Madden Challenge will be played next spring. Next summer will be the Madden Championship. These will be high-end events, the type of thing we typically call esports now. We’ll be able to broadcast them, both on a streaming platform and a traditional media platform. We’ll bring sponsors in to allow the big brands to get a taste of what competitive gaming is about.
As well, we’ll provide a platform for making heroes of these players. We have a ton of Madden players who’ve been making a living out of this for many years. We’ll be able to propel them into the psyche of a more mass market with our traditional media and streaming partners.
GamesBeat: How far is this going to spread? You’re starting with three games, logical games, but they already have a life in esports. Do you think this can spread to more of the portfolio? Other sports or other kinds of games beyond the most popular ones?
Moore: Absolutely. At EA Play, if you stop by on industry day, you’ll not only see Madden played on the stage, but also Need for Speed and UFC 2. These will be very much testing and seeing and feeling how it plays out. We have great players from these games coming in to L.A. We think there’s a huge opportunity in the racing genre. UFC will be interesting. It’s one versus one. The UFC are great partners. They’re an entertainment company and they do their stuff well. We’ll be working with them to see what we can do as far as finding the best UFC players.
GamesBeat: For EA itself, does this mean you’ll be doing a lot of things differently? Or is it more like you’re fitting this into what’s already happening?
Moore: The difference is that these are the first real sports games in esports. Everyone calls it “esports.” We tend to call it “competitive gaming.” We haven’t seen a real sports simulation crack the code yet. We have the big franchises, obviously. You start off with the two codes of football, FIFA and NFL. FIFA has massive global reach, and the NFL has global reach as well. You start to bring real sports to esports and figure out how the equation works there. What do we need to do for broadcast rights? What modes do we need to put in the game?
The benefit is that, unlike a MOBA, a League of Legends or DOTA 2, everybody can watch a soccer game or an NFL game and understand what’s going on for the most part. I’ve spent enough time in arenas where League of Legends is being played, looking at the screen and really not knowing what’s going on. When the crowd erupts I erupt with them because I don’t want to look like a dork, but I don’t know why I’m erupting. But when a goal is scored in soccer or a touchdown in the NFL, I know exactly what’s happening. There’s an accessibility we have as an advantage, and we intend plumb the depths of where we can go with that.
GamesBeat: My guess might be that your usual competition there would be the broadcasts of the actual sport.
Moore: That’s exactly right. Good news is, everybody watches football and understands it. Bad news is, everybody watches football and understands it. The fact of the matter is, how do you bring it to life in a unique and compelling way? We think the answer to that is behind the players, bringing them to life. You’ll see some players on stage in L.A., gamers on the stage, and they’ll be interviewed. I don’t recall ever having players on the stage at one of our E3 shows. That in itself is a breakthrough.
I think that’s the key. Do you care about the players? We’ve seen teams start to build, personas like Evil Geniuses, Cloud 9, and Fnatic. The ability for us to rally behind different players and different teams, the same way we do in real sports—we’ve got work to do to build these guys up. They can’t just be faceless young men behind controllers. We have to want to root for them or root against them. We have to understand their style, their attitude, their personality, like we do in real sports. That’s on us as the publisher of the games.
GamesBeat: I talked to a startup that we wrote about yesterday, one of the companies coming up with different kinds of ways to instantly switch camera angles. You can do things like follow the most popular player in a shooter. There seems to be some technology involved here as well. You have to be able to control the camera in a way that’s different from what a player would want.
Moore: I’ve seen it in real sports. I don’t see it in this country, but when I go home to England and watch Sky Sports soccer, you can have a picture-in-picture where you pick a player to track and watch that player on the field at all times with the camera that’s on them. That technology exists. It sounds like picture-in-picture of there as well. It’s interesting tech, something we need to look at, and it’s going to be important to the viewing experience going forward. There are hundreds of companies trying to insert themselves in the space now.
GamesBeat: What else is on the list of things that have to happen to make this successful for you?
Moore: From EA’s perspective, we have to continue to work on the dev side and platform side. We have to continue to build competitive gaming modes into console games that are built for a premium experience at $60 retail. We have to build live services so you and I can play together for hours. We need quicker interactions, smaller maps, tighter environments, the kind of things that CS: GO has done well.
There’s nobody better than EA, ultimately, to bring this into the mainstream. We need to get away from people scratching their heads and saying, “What do you mean, people watch people playing video games?” Getting brands involved is going to be important. My global media solutions team has been good at this for years within our regular game experiences. They have brand engagement with our consumers by adding value. “Watch this 15-second video and you’ll get some coins.” That’s key as well.
It’s still blue ocean. There’s a ton of stuff to do. We’ve been doing this for years, but not at scale. That’s my job and my team’s job over the coming year, to scale up. We believe that the more we build into this, the more engaging it becomes. The more engaging it becomes, the longer gamers play. From a business model perspective, the longer and more often our gamers play, the more engaged they get and the better chance we have monetizing even further than we currently do.
GamesBeat: Do you need to have a large team yourself in your job? Or are you almost like the Bing Gordon of old, going to all the teams and reminding them to remember this stuff?
Moore: It’s a combination. I have a team, a relatively small team by EA standards, that are dedicated to me. The global media solutions team still reports to me as they have for many years. They do all of our advertising in and around games, our partnership marketing. They’re coming with me. Todd Citron, who I’m sure you’ve met over the years, is my SVP and general manager. He used to be head of marketing for EA Sports. More recently he was SVP of all global marketing. We have a few dozen people that are directly part of this.
On top of that, there’s 8,500 EA employees who all want to help. That’s the power we have. I don’t need to build a massively expensive vertical. The key is my ability to navigate the company, as I’ve done for close to nine years here now. I know everyone and they all know me. It’s not hard. Everybody at every dev studio understands how important this is. It’s not difficult to say, “We need you to do this in next year’s games. Get this on the milestones. Get this in the plan for FY18 and FY19.” Those are not hard discussions.
GamesBeat: When you go to these events, what about them are you noticing? What might you like to see change about esports events as they are?
Moore: The first thing you notice is the intensity of the action. I was at the Intel Extreme Masters down in San Jose. League of Legends was on. I could sense when something big was about to happen, but between my sensing it and the crowd knowing it, there was a gulf between those. These explosions reminded me, having attended a thousand soccer games in my lifetime—it was like the explosion that follows a goal in soccer. It doesn’t happen very often.
No disrespect to all the American sports I love, where you have this bonanza of points all the time, but when a goal is scored in soccer it’s usually the result of hard work. The crowd senses something about to happen. I felt that same electricity down there. I couldn’t see, because I don’t know the game as well. It’s one of those games that you only know if you play, typically. But when something happened it was an explosion that felt like a goal had just been scored. I totally got it.
We’re all used to idolizing athletes who are tall, great shape, working out every day. Again, no disrespect to our competitive gaming teams. But these are normal-looking young men. That’s the beauty of it. Everybody in that arena can see themselves wearing one of those shirts. I’m never going to play in the NBA or NFL. I’m never playing in anything anymore. But those kids in that arena, when those teams came out, they saw themselves. The only thing that stood between them and being in one of those shirts is practice, practice, practice.
My ability to play in the NBA was genetically defined before I was born. I was always going to be a white guy at about five foot ten. In esports there’s a sense of aspiration, a sense of “I could do this,” which doesn’t quite work in real sports.
GamesBeat: You seem like the right choice as an evangelist for this.
Moore: My roots are in traditional sports, so I understand passion, emotion, structure. My days at Reebok taught me about sponsorship and promotions around these things. I still carry a lot of those contacts from 10 or 15 years ago when I joined Sega. I’m an avid sports fan at so many levels, both international sports and American sports. And I understand video games. I understand the emotion of sports and I apply that to what I see in competitive gaming going forward here.