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Return of EA Sports’ College Football Game Opens Esports to New Fans

Despite the team allegiances that can divide many college football fans, the one thing that’s united them all since 2014 is a desire to bring back EA Sports’ NCAA Football game. Last released in summer 2013, it was the only college football video game around and the only one since to feature team logos, stadiums and other marks.

The NCAA Football series is not the first or last game to be cancelled, but because of the passion displayed by fans of the sport, it’s been able to live on through social video and offseason team blog content. Data from Tubular Labs shows the series has generated nearly 33 million YouTube views (from user-created videos) since the start of 2019. While that may not sound like much, that’s also fueled by smaller creators making videos about an eight-year old game from two console generations ago. That number definitely surpasses expectations.

But the drought should soon be over. Just last week, EA Sports tweeted that the game, rebranded as “EA Sports College Football” will be returning. That timeline is likely still a couple years out, but there’s already palpable excitement there — as evidenced by over 90K retweets of the largely generic message:

The opportunities for the parties involved to make money here is obvious. EA, college teams and conferences all stand to benefit financially, and the actual players could soon as well. But quietly, the biggest business opportunity for the franchise could be esports — which hadn’t started hitting its stride yet when NCAA Football last hit shelves.

Esports is on track to grow to a $1.5 billion industry by 2023, and sports entries (like current titles Madden and NBA2K) are part of that explosion. A fan base for EA’s college football return may not necessarily be as large as that of either the NFL or NBA (and would be confined largely to the U.S.). However, the long layover between games likely leads to an energized player base that’s chomping at the bit to both share content and compete.

The college football video game fan base largely predates modern esports, which makes it hard to predict — but could also lead to (at least) thousands of new gamers entering the industry and spending within the ecosystem. Subnation co-founder and managing director  Ed Tomasi sees the chance for college football to tap into a completely new audience, and drive esports growth, among both younger (high school and college students) and older (alumni) audiences.

“Any esports initiatives associated with the forthcoming EA Sports College Football game will live or die based on EA Sports’ ability and willingness to develop and/or support a competitive ecosystem for the community, including the educational institutions and their respective conferences,” said Ed Tomasi, Co-Founder and Managing Director esports at Subnation, a company that helps brands, agencies, local sports authorities and government bureaus develop esports strategies.

“I can’t help to think that the recent resurgence in interest for this game is in some form a direct result of the accelerated circumstances that COVID-19 has had on the NCAA/conference /institution relationships. The NCAA has punted on esports for years. It could afford to pre-COVID. 

With conferences and institutions now taking certain initiatives into their own hands to survive the financial impacts of COVID, and with many long-standing NCAA ways and positions being challenged by those very conferences and institutions, I believe EA Sports and the community of gamers cheering for this title will have the benefit of creating a sustainable and entertaining ecosystem to add to the fandom that already exists around college sports.”

With this being the first “new” sports video game release in what will wind up being a decade, it provides an interesting test case for the return of other sunset sports titles as well. For college fans, next up on the list would be a college basketball game — something that neither 2KSports nor EA Sports have released since 2009.

Though a sample size of one, you can count your author among those jumping at the chance to play an updated version of either game in the near future.