The NFL Is Creating the League’s First Blockchain Game With Mythical

The NFL Is Creating the League’s First Blockchain Game With Mythical

The NFL entrusts Mythical Games to develop the league’s first blockchain game called NFL Rivals, an arcade-style free-to-play football gaming experience in which users can buy and sell NFTs for players to improve their teams. Although Mythical Games is not yet a household name in 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 saw 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 global release for mobile and desktop web games in early 2023. This will be Mythical’s first game licensed by a major professional sports league, but the NFL has been inclined to sign ‘ a multi-year contract with the company amid the success of Blankos Block Party, an open-world multiplayer game from Mythical that recently became the first NFT game offered through the Epic Games store.

Prior to NFL Rivals, Mythical Games is also introducing Rarity League, a collection of officially licensed fan-inspired helmet NFTs for all 32 NFL teams. Each team’s helmet is limited to 2,500 NFTs which cost 0.14 ETH (Ethereum), currently equivalent to around $188 USD. Owners of Rarity League NFTs will get access to the private beta of NFL Rivals.

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Working with Mythical

“Part of the reason we love Mythical so much is what they’ve done with Blankos, they’ve created really great game design at price points that consumers can participate in, like $9 and $10 purchases paid in fiat instead of of paying in ETH. That’s the experience I think you’re going to see in NFL Rivals,” said Ed Kiang, NFL VP of video games. “As we look at Mythical and we look at Web3 games, it tends to to be a younger audience that skews. But also not necessarily the people we’re trying to target – people who are older, higher disposable income who are crypto enthusiasts – that’s not really the segment we’re shooting for.”

SportTechie’s Joe Lemire recently spoke with 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 to promote NFL opponents. Typical head-to-head matches on NFL Rivals will last just two minutes and be a mix of simulated play with some screen tapping to control players. The gist is that fans can act as general managers by collecting player NFTs to build their teams for competition against other teams. NFTs will be available in different tiers, with the rarer player tokens offering stronger in-game performances.

Part of the reason we love Mythical so much is what they’ve done with Blankos, they’ve created really great game design at price points that consumers can participate in, like $9 and $10 purchases paid in fiat instead of to pay in ETH. That’s the experience I think you’re going to see in NFL Rivals.

Mythical Games CEO is John Linden, who was previously the head of studio for Activision and worked primarily on the Call of Duty franchise. Linden spoke on Tuesday on a Twitter Spaces discussion hosted by NFT lately, saying Mythical’s development of NFL Rivals is nostalgia-themed and took 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 because 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 the NFL has kind of cleared a course with us to build that fan favorite game,” he added during the Twitter Space. “You can pick up the game, play a few rounds, put it down and do it again later. Our goal with the NFL is to get it into tens of millions of players’ hands.”

Target market for NFL competitors

Linden painted the age of NFT players as usually older than Kiang’s target for NFL rivals. “I would say the average age is definitely in that group of 18 to 34 for Blancos,” says Linden. “We’ve actually seen a lot of players let their kids play with them, we see a lot of videos where they play with their kids. We think the age demographic will be similar on NFL, that 18 to 34, maybe even 18 to 45, especially with the collector aspects. We have some things that we’re going to announce later with sports memorabilia, traditional sports memorabilia companies that we’ve talked about, and I think that will really drive into that demographic as well.”

Linden added: “We see a lot of people when they sell their Blancos [NFTs], they end up using that money and they buy more Blancos. That kind of liquidity in the game has a tendency for them to buy more,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a great trend from web3 to see—where is that money going? Are they just to paying it out and taking it, some of them are and that’s great. We’ve had people pay bills with the game and that’s great too.”

A study released in July by the National Research Group found that 67% of sports fans preferred physical memorabilia over digital memorabilia and that 72% of the 3,250 fans surveyed viewed NFTs as “a way to spend money make” considered. A separate recent study from MKTG Sports + Entertainment surveyed 350 sports and entertainment professionals, 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 little knowledge” of non-swampable signs.

Enter the blockchain gaming space

“What we want to avoid is creating an NFT project that appears as a speculative NFT art project,” Kiang said. “We’ve never looked at this as a big kind of speculative product, so we’re not that affected by fluctuations in the crypto market,” 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 market is also just reflective of the stock market in general.”

NFL Rivals will allow fans to buy NFT player cards and packs using cryptocurrency, but Kiang expects most users to pay in fiat by 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 about 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 huge demand from our customers, let’s say until six months ago,” JPMorgan Chase’s global head of payments Takis Georgakopoulos told Bloomberg this week. “We see very little at the moment.”

Kiang calls 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 game developer Skillz.

“The value is what you see it is,” Kiang said. “Our partnership with Mythical and what we’re doing with NFL Rivals, the ability to drive value is inherently built into the quality of the game,” he adds, “if we create truly great gaming experiences in the same way that a free to to play mobile game makes people understand the value of the characters in the game, and the boosts available in the game, then I think they will want to spend to really express their fandom with the items they can buy. And I think it’s the same with blockchain-based games.”


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