The coronavirus pandemic has posed a major problem for sports fans. With people around the country forced to practice social distancing, there just isn't much for fans to watch. Increasingly, Fox Sports 1 has started to lean on esports programming to fill in for professional sports. The latest such experiment is the Madden NFL Invitational. The broadcast pit eight NFL stars against one another in a two-hour tournament meant to raise awareness for CDC Foundation's COVID-19 relief efforts. Naturally, all eight of the competitors played remotely, with Fox Sports broadcasters Chris Myers and Rachel Bonnetta serving as the hosts for the show.
The evening's competitors included a mix of NFL players and analysts for Fox Sports: Michael Vick, Matt Leinart, Orlando Scandrick, T.J.Houshmandzadeh, Juju Smith-Schuster, Derwin James, Antonio Cromartie, and Ahman Green. Los Angeles Chargers strong safety Derwin James came out on top, defeating Michael Vick in an 80-16 championship win!
It will be interesting to see what impact esports programming has on ratings for the network. With many sports networks leaning on classic sports broadcasts to help flesh out their schedules, esports programming gives the networks an opportunity to air original content, even if it might not be the exact thing sports fans are looking for at the moment. Still, NASCAR fans seemed particularly pleased with the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, in which professional NASCAR racers competed in iRacing. That said, many viewers felt that the final product felt similar to the real thing. It seems unlikely that football fans will feel the same way about Madden 20.
Y’all, @DerwinJames is no joke at Madden…March 30, 2020
Of course, esports don't have to be a replacement for the "real thing" in order to be successful. They just have to give people something to watch on networks like Fox Sports 1. Famously, sports networks began airing professional poker during the NHL's hockey lockout season in 2005, and the former exploded in popularity, as a result. The popularity of esports has steadily risen over the last few years, but it seems increasingly likely that programming such as the Madden NFL Invitational will help similarly introduce esports to a wider audience.
Did you watch the Madden NFL Invitational? What did you think of the broadcast? Let us know in the comments or share your thoughts directly on Twitter at @Marcdachamp to talk all things gaming!