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CW, EA Team on ‘Madden NFL 18’ eSports ‘Survivor’-Style Special for TV

While eSports fans are a large — and growing — rabidly engaged bunch, the genre hasn’t really crossed the divide into mainstream entertainment.

The CW believes eSports has appeal outside the hard-core base, and its latest bet is “EA Madden NFL 18 Challenge,” a one-hour primetime special produced by Electronic Arts that will air Dec. 27 on the network.

The special will chronicle the eight players competing in this month’s “Madden NFL” competition in L.A., promising a behind-the-scenes look at the popular title’s top stars. EA and the CW say it’s being produced like reality TV show, a la “Survivor,” rather than the play-by-play action of live tournament play typically found on Twitch.

“Television is a very different audience and medium than our digital channels,” said Todd Sitrin, SVP and GM of the competitive gaming division at EA. “In the past we’ve always presented eSports a traditional sporting event, but on TV we really need to move toward an entertainment focus – to highlight the players, who are the real stars.”

The eight competitors in the Madden NFL 18 Challenge (or, more precisely, their gamer handles) are: JoelCP, Spoto, Prodigy, Mattstergamer, Group B, Hollywood, Young Kiv, Drini and Dubby. Obviously, the CW’s broadcast also is intended to promote “Madden NFL 18,” the latest title in the best-selling game franchise, which is available for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

The 2018 Madden Challenge — in which the octet of competitors will vie for a share of the $150,000 prize pool — will actually run Dec. 18-22, live-streamed across digital platforms, concluding ahead of the CW’s broadcast. Because producers know who the eventual winner is, “we can tailor the show to the outcome,” Sitrin noted.

The CW’s research has shown its viewers, especially fans of superhero shows like the network’s “Arrow” and “The Flash,” overindex on interest in eSports, said Rick Haskins, the CW’s EVP of marketing and digital programs. “It’s not that we’re getting a new audience. We’re just giving them something different from what they’re used to,” Haskins said.

For the NFL, meanwhile, “the CW’s vibrant audience is a perfect match” in reaching a younger audience, said Christopher Halpin, the league’s chief strategy officer.

“EA Madden NFL 18 Challenge” is the fourth eSports special CW is bringing to television, after three from Machinima’s “Chasing the Cup” series that featured “Mortal Kombat,” “H1Z1: King of the Kill,” and “Injustice 2.”

“Of all the eSports games we’ve done, [‘Madden NFL’] is the biggest and most popular – that will be an advantage to get more people into the tent,” Haskins said.

The CW will air the special on Wednesday, Dec. 27, at 8 p.m. ET/PT and 7 p.m. CT/MT.

Shooting for the special will occur this weekend, Dec. 15-16. Live coverage of the Madden NFL 18 Challenge tournament will be distributed on Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, and Mixer from Dec. 18-22. The CW’s TV special will feature some content from the tournament play, but it mostly will focus on the narratives of the players.

Following the Dec. 27 broadcast, the hour-long “EA Madden NFL 18 Challenge” special will be available the watch on-demand on CWTV.com for three months.

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