The NFL is entrusting Mythical Games to develop the league’s first blockchain game called NFL Rivals, a free-to-play, arcade-style football gaming experience that allows users to buy and sell player NFTs to fund their teams to enhance. While Mythical Games is not yet a household name in the sports industry, its financiers are A-list as can be.
Andreessen Horowitz led the funding of Mythical Games’ $150 million Series C round last November, which also included investments from:
- Michael Jordan
- The investment arm of NFL 32 Equity
- Jonathan Kraft and The Kraft Group, owners of the New England Patriots
- OneTeam Partner
- 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 enter private beta later this year before releasing worldwide for mobile and PC web gaming in early 2023. It will be Mythical’s first game to be licensed by a major professional sports league, but the NFL was inclined to sign a multi-year deal with the company amid the success of Blank’s Block Party, Mythical’s open-world multiplayer game, which recently became the first NFT game to be 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 capped at 2,500 NFTs costing 0.14 ETH (Ethereum), which is currently around $188. Rarity League NFTs owners get access to the NFL Rivals private beta.
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Partnership with Mythical
“One of the reasons we like Mythical so much is what they’ve done with blanks, they’ve created a really great game design at prizes that consumers can participate in, like ETH. That’s the experience I think you’re going to see in NFL Rivals,” said NFL VP of Video Games Ed Kiang. “If we look at Mythical and Web3 games, it tends to be a younger, more biased audience. But there’s also not necessarily the kind of people we’re trying to target — people who are older, have higher disposable income, and are crypto enthusiasts — that’s not really the segment we’re targeting.”
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 contract with the NFL is a joint partnership with the NFLPA where players are expected to help promote NFL Rivals. Typical NFL Rivals head-to-head matches last only two minutes and are a mix of simulated gameplay and some screen tapping to control the players. The gist is that fans can act as general managers, collecting player NFTs to build their teams to compete against other teams. NFTs will be available in different tiers, with the rarer tier Player Tokens offering stronger in-game performance.
Part of the reason we like Mythical so much is because of what they’ve done with blanks, they’ve created a really great game design at prizes that consumers can participate in, like ETH. That’s the experience I think you’ll see in NFL Rivals.
Mythical Games’ CEO is John Linden, who was previously the studio head for Activision and worked primarily on the Call of Duty franchise. Linden spoke in a Twitter Spaces discussion hosted by on Tuesday NFT lately, and said Mythical’s development of NFL Rivals was nostalgic and inspired by the 1990s arcade games NFL Blitz (first released in 1997) and NBA Jam (first released in 1993). He believes the fast-paced NFL Rivals will serve casual gamers more than Electronic Arts’ signature Madden video game series.
“The crazy thing about the Madden franchise is that despite being in its 32nd year, it doesn’t have a huge user base. And the reason for that is simply because it’s not a super accessible game,” Linden said. “It takes a lot of skill, a lot of effort, to really understand this game and to be really skilled at this game. And what we’re doing with NFL Rivals is that the NFL has cleared a lane with us to build this fan favorite game,” he added during the Twitter Space. “You can pick up the game, play a few rounds, discard it and do it again later. Our goal with the NFL is to get this into the hands of tens of millions of players.”
Target market for NFL rivals
Linden cited the age of NFT players as generally older than Kiang’s target for NFL rivals. “I would say that Los Blancos’ average age is definitely in that 18-34 group,” said Linden. “We’ve actually seen a lot of players letting their kids play with them, we see a lot of videos where they’re playing with their kids. We think the age demographics in NFL will be similar, so 18-34, maybe even 18-45, especially on the collectible aspects. We have a few things that we’re going to announce later with sports memorabilia, traditional sports memorabilia companies that we’ve talked about, and I think that’s going to really appeal to that demographic as well.
Linden added: “We see that with a lot of people when they sell Los Blancos [NFTs], they end up using that money and buying more Los Blancos. So when they bring liquidity into play, they tend to buy more,” he said. “I think this is going to be a great trend from web3 of seeing – where is the money going? Just cash it out and take it, some of them do and that’s great. We’ve had people paying 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 make money.” A separate recent study by MKTG Sports + Entertainment surveyed 350 professionals working in sports and entertainment, with one in three respondents (30%) saying they “believe NFTs take advantage of fans.” The study also found that 73% of industry professionals admit to having “some or little knowledge” of non-fungible tokens.
Entering the blockchain game space
“What we want to avoid is creating an NFT project that looks like a speculative NFT art project,” Kiang said. “We’ve never considered this as some kind of speculative product, so we’re not that affected by fluctuations in the crypto market,” he added. “Our approach has always been to make great games for everyday fans. I think a lot of what we see in the crypto marketplace also just reflects the stock market in general.”
NFL Rivals will allow fans to purchase NFT player cards and packs using cryptocurrency, but Kiang expects most users will pay in fiat by linking their credit card. Linden estimates that 77% of NFT transactions on Blanko’s Block Party are paid for 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 in SportTechie’s upcoming webinar, “Vetting Crypto Partnerships: Spotting Perils and Building Long-Term Success in a Volatile Market.” Register here for free.
“When it comes to crypto as a payment method, we saw a lot of demand from our customers up until, say, six months ago,” Takis Georgakopoulos, global head of payments at JPMorgan Chase, told Bloomberg this week. “We’re seeing very little at the moment.”
Kiang called mobile free-to-play games a “massive part” of the gaming industry and expects the NFL to do more in this area. The league also has a partnership with mobile gaming developer Skillz.
“Value is what you perceive,” Kiang said. “Our partnership with Mythical and what we’re doing with NFL Rivals, the ability to add value through that, is inherently built into the quality of the game,” he adds, “when we’re delivering really great gaming experiences in the same way create a free to play mobile game that lets people understand the value of the characters in the game and the boosts available in the game, then I think they want to spend to really express their fan base with the items they can buy. And I think it’s the same with blockchain-based games.”