The NFL is entrusting Mythical Games to develop the league’s first blockchain game called NFL Rivals, an arcade-style free-to-play football gameplay experience in which users can buy and sell player NFTs to improve their teams. While Mythical Games is not yet a household name for the sports industry—its financial backers are as A-list as it gets.
Andreessen Horowitz led funding for Mythical Games’ $150 million Series C round last November, which also included investments from:
- Michael Jordan
- The NFL’s investment arm 32 Equity
- New England Patriots owners’ Jonathan Kraft and The Kraft Group
- OneTeam Partners
- Michael Gordon of Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool FC
Other investors include cryptocurrency firms FTX and Binance, as well as RedBird Capital, D1 Capital and The Raine Group. The Series C round valued Mythical Games at $1.25 billion.
NFL Rivals will go into private beta mode later this year before its worldwide release for mobile and PC web gaming in early 2023. It will mark the first game from Mythical to be licensed by a major professional sports league, but the NFL was inclined to sign a multi-year contract with the company amid the success of Blankos Block Party, an open-world multi-player game from Mythical that recently became the first NFT game offered through the Epic Games store.
Ahead of NFL Rivals, Mythical Games is also launching Rarity League, a collection of officially licensed fan-inspired helmet NFTs for all 32 NFL teams. Each team’s helmet drop is limited to 2,500 NFTs that cost 0.14 ETH (Ethereum), currently equal to about $180 USD. Owners of Rarity League NFTs will get access to the private beta of NFL Rivals.
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Partnering with Mythical
“Part of the reason we like Mythical so much is what they’ve done with Blankos, they’ve created a really great game design at price points that consumers can participate in, like $9 and $10 purchases paid in fiat instead of having to pay in ETH. That’s the experience that I think you’re going to see in NFL Rivals,” said NFL VP of video gaming Ed Kiang. “As we look at Mythical and we look at Web3 gaming, it tends to be a younger skewing audience. But there’s also not necessarily the folks we’re trying to target— folks who are older, higher disposable income that are crypto enthusiasts—that isn’t really the segment we’re shooting for.”
SportTechie’s Joe Lemire recently spoke to Kiang about the NFL’s new virtual reality game, Pro Era. You can read more here.
Mythical’s deal with the NFL is a joint partnership with the NFLPA, with players expected help promote NFL Rivals. Typical head-to-head matches on NFL Rivals will last just two minutes and be a mix of simulated gameplay with some screen-tapping to control players. The gist is fans can act as general managers through collecting player NFTs to build their teams for competition against other teams. NFTs will be available in different tiers, with the rarer-tiered player tokens providing stronger in-game performances.
Part of the reason we like Mythical so much is what they’ve done with Blankos, they’ve created a really great game design at price points that consumers can participate in, like $9 and $10 purchases paid in fiat instead of having to pay in ETH. That’s the experience that I think you’re going to see in NFL Rivals.
Mythical Games CEO is John Linden, who previously was the head of studio for Activision and primarily worked on the Call of Duty franchise. Linden spoke Tuesday on a Twitter Spaces discussion hosted by NFT Lately, saying Mythical’s development of NFL Rivals has been nostalgia-themed and taken inspiration from 1990s arcade-style games NFL Blitz (first released in 1997) and NBA Jam (first released in 1993). He thinks the fast-paced NFL Rivals will serve a more casual gamer than the league’s signature Madden video game series from Electronic Arts.
“The crazy part about the Madden franchise is even though it’s in its 32nd year, it’s not a huge user base. And the reason for that is just not it’s not a super accessible game,” Linden said. “It takes a lot of skill, a lot of effort to really understand that game and be really skilled at that game. And what we’re doing with NFL Rivals is that the NFL’s kind of cleared a lane with us to build that fan favorite game,” he added during the Twitter Space. “You can pick up the game, play a couple rounds, set it down and do it again later. Our goal with the NFL is to get this in tens of millions of player’s hands.”
Target market for NFL Rivals
Linden painted the age of NFT gamers as generally older than Kiang’s target for NFL Rivals. “I’d say the average age is definitely in that group of 18 to 34 for Blancos,” Linden said. “We actually saw a lot of players have their kids play with them, we see a lot of videos where they’re playing with their kids. We think the age demographics will be similar on NFL, that 18 to 34, maybe even 18 to 45, especially with the collector aspects. We have a couple of things we’re going to be announcing with sports memorabilia later, traditional sports memorabilia companies we’ve been talking about, and I think that will really drive into that demographic as well.”
Linden added, “We see a lot of people that when they sell their Blancos [NFTs], they end up using that money and they buy more Blancos. So kind of getting liquidity in the game has a tendency for them to buy more,” he said. “I think that’s going to be a great trend of web3 of seeing—where does that money go? Are they just cashing it out and taking it, some of them are and that’s great. We’ve had people that have paid bills with the game and that’s great as well.”
A study released in July from National Research Group found that 67% of sports fans preferred physical memorabilia over digital memorabilia and that 72% of the 3,250 surveyed fans viewed NFTs as “a way to make money.” A separate recent study from MKTG Sports + Entertainment surveyed 350 professionals who work in sports and entertainment, with one in three respondents (30%) saying they “believe NFTs exploit fans.” The study also found that 73% of industry professionals admit to having “some or low knowledge” of non-fungible tokens.
Entering the blockchain game space
“What we want to avoid is creating an NFT project that comes across as a speculative NFT art kind of project,” Kiang said. “We’ve never looked at this as a major kind of speculative product, so we’re not as impacted by fluctuations in the crypto marketplace,” he added. “Our approach has always been to create great games for everyday fans. I think a lot of what we see in the crypto marketplace also just mirrors the stock market in general.”
NFL Rivals will let fans buy NFT players cards and packs using cryptocurrency, but Kiang expects most users will pay in fiat (such as USD) through linking their credit card. Linden estimated that 77% of NFT transactions on Blankos Block Party are paid with fiat currency. The entire cryptocurrency market has lost $2 trillion in market value since its peak in 2021.
Related: More on crypto will be covered at SportTechie’s upcoming webinar, “Vetting Crypto Partnerships: Spotting Perils and Building Long-Term Success in a Volatile Market.” Register for free here.
“When it comes to crypto as a payment method, we saw a lot of demand for our clients, let’s say up until six months ago,” JPMorgan Chase’s global head of payments Takis Georgakopoulos told Bloomberg this week. “We see very little right now.”
Kiang called mobile free-to-play games a “massive part” of the gaming industry, and that he expects the NFL to do more in the space. The league also has a partnership with mobile gaming developer Skillz.
“The value is what you perceive it to be,” Kiang said. “Our partnership with Mythical and what we’re doing with NFL Rivals, the ability for this to drive value is inherently built into the quality of the game,” he adds: “if we’re creating really great gameplay experiences in the same way that a free to play mobile game has people understand the value of the characters in the game, and the boosts available in the game, then I think that they’re going to want to spend to really express their fandom with the items they can purchase . And I think that’s the same with blockchain-based games.”