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The NFL will host a digital Professional Bowl this yr, with gamers taking part in the Madden online game

EA Sports M21 Madden 21 video game

Source: EA Sports

It was supposed to be a star-studded event in Las Vegas. Instead, the 2021 Pro Bowl will take place virtually, with players competing against each other in the Electronic Arts Madden NFL & # 39; 21 video game, the league announced on Tuesday.

In the sign of the times, EA Sports and the National Football League have teamed up to create a week-long series of virtual match-ups featuring celebrities, soccer legends and current players who lead to the main event – a game of madness between the best players on the League. The exact date of the game is still to be determined.

"We're excited to be able to virtually bring this to life and be the first to do so," Peter O'Reilly, executive vice president of club business and league events for the NFL, told CNBC. "It's an opportunity to connect with young fans in a way that is really accessible."

In the Pro Bowl, the best players from the two NFL conferences – the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference – usually compete against each other in a game that takes place the week before the Super Bowl. But last month the NFL announced it would cancel the 2021 Pro Bowl game because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The game, which typically draws around 8.5 million viewers, was due to be played at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on January 31st.

Instead, the group of elite gamers will be tapping their game consoles and screaming trash talk as they compete against each other in the Madden game. The league says the format of AFC versus NFC will stay the same.

"You can imagine Patrick Mahomes playing as AFC quarterback against Aaron Donald on the NFC side, so bring those players in and let celebrities and others be part of this virtual game and obviously let the fans see that and be part of it, "said O & # 39; Reilly.

The NFL is working out the details of the broadcast agreement with ABC and ESPN, which is owned by Disney. However, the event will be broadcast on all major social media channels.

"We're not going to deploy all that focus and energy on a massive scale without making sure it's really spread across prominent streaming platforms, and we hope there will be meaningful integration with ESPN and ABC," said O & # 39 ; Reilly.

EA Sports M21 Madden 21 video game

Source: EA Sports

O & # 39; Reilly said EA Sports was the most natural way to host this virtual event as it would reach the main audience the NFL is targeting – Millennials. For EA Sports, this is an opportunity to evolve Madden from a video game to a more interactive way of consuming sports.

"As the sport continues to change, we're in the game with partners like the NFL to find out what the next generation of fans of interactive sports and entertainment will expect. This is tailored just for that," said Chris Bruzzo, director of marketing at EA Sports .

Bruzzo said the experience will look similar to the real Pro Bowl game, with a virtual version of Allegiant Stadium and prominent placement for sponsors like Verizon. (The Pro Bowl 2022 will be held at Allegiant Stadium to miss this year's Pro Bowl.)

The voting process is the same as with the previous Pro Bowls. Starting Tuesday, fans will be able to vote for the players they believe deserve Pro Bowl honors through, their Madden consoles, and on Twitter. NFL players and coaches will cast their votes on December 18th. The selection of the Pro Bowl is determined by the consensus votes of fans, players and coaches.

Selected players will continue to receive an incentive bonus based on their contracts as well as a gift package with a customized Pro Bowl jersey.

The pandemic has given the video game industry an unexpected boost. With people stuck at home, they are turning to video games as a way of tackling cabin fever. Total consumer spending on video games in the United States was $ 11.2 billion in the third quarter of 2020, up 24% from the same period last year, according to the NPD Group.

According to EA, 20 million players joined its network between April and August.

"Madden had the highest single year in terms of number of players this year," said Bruzzo. "We see people playing weekdays and noon and all week long, as opposed to the strong spikes we'd get on weekends," he added.

EA's Madden NFL 21 was among the top performing titles of the quarter, ranking second in the NPD's top 20 games in October 2020. The only title before that was FIFA 21, also an Electronic Arts title.

Clarification: The NFL says the collective agreement between the league and the players does not include any compensation or incentives for playing in the Pro Bowl, contrary to what was implied for this story in an earlier interview.

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