While we still don’t know exactly what 2K will do with its “non-simulation” NFL license (its arcade-style game is delayed and won’t be released this year), the league is filling that void by announcing a partnership to build its first blockchain game, NFL Rivals. It’s hard to tell exactly what the game will be, but here’s the description:
Delivering on the fantasy of being a team General Manager, this fun, easy to play game will allow NFL fans and gamers alike to compete against other GMs with their assembled player rosters and teams, building, leveling up and improving their lineup. In addition, fans will be able to own, collect and trade non-fungible tokens (NFTs) of their favorite players through this play-and-own game experience.
There are no screenshots and no trailer available, but NFL Rivals has already announced “Rarity League” drops, which are 32 collections of “unique generative 3D NFL franchise-themed NFTs” that will be released before the game comes out.
Based on that description, it appears destined to fall somewhere on the scale between being a Football Manager for North American football fans and regular fantasy football, presumably without stepping on the Madden franchise’s Ultimate Team modes that already let people build rosters, earn rewards, and improve their lineup.
NFL Rivals will launch on the web and mobile web in early 2023 and, like any Web3 project, has a Discord available for people to stay updated, whether those updates come from the team or phishing attackers.
In a press release, Mythical Games chief creative officer Jamie Jackson says “NFTs with utility can add value to players in-game, and we can’t wait to bring these concepts to NFL Rivals to evolve the team management genre by adding the advantages of play-and-own games, offering the community new ways to engage with their favorite teams and players both in and outside this virtual world.”
The company says it “protects” gamers who are new to the blockchain by using a custodial wallet, which means you don’t have to dive into the intricacies of the blockchain to play. However, that kind of setup is a controversial one among many Web3 fans who argue that if you don’t own the keys to your wallet, then you don’t truly own what’s inside of it. Mythical allows “advanced” players to link their existing wallets via bridges between its Mythical Chain and public mainnets, but as we’ve seen with the NFT game Axie Infinity, which was hacked for over $600 million that no one noticed was missing for nearly a week — bridges can add another potential point of failure for security.
Like many of the companies we’ve heard about that are working on blockchain and Web3 projects, it’s supported financially by massive investments from Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) and other venture capitalists, who invested $150 million in the company late last year. Mythical Games, for its part, is led by gaming industry veterans with experience developing Call of Duty, World of Warcraft, Guitar Hero, and several other notable gaming franchises that we remember. In a blog post, a16z touted Mythical’s ability to build AAA titles like Blankos Block Party, which has been available in Early Access since June 2021 and has since expanded to add a very familiar-looking new mode.
Andreessen Horowitz leader Chris Dixon appeared on the Decoder podcast recently to describe why he thinks these platforms represent the future of the internet and said this about gaming:
Well, I think there are two things with NFTs. One, I do think architecturally it is very different from other objects on the internet, in the sense that most objects are controlled by an application and NFTs are controlled by users. It switches the polarity, and I think that is important. As we see the rise of Web3 gaming, you will see a whole different class of things where people own characters and other kinds of objects that they can take across different experiences. Instead of it being contained in an app, it is contained at the user level. There is an architectural aspect, and there is a social aspect. Why do people value wearing fashion — like Supreme T-shirts — or cars? A lot of value in the world is about showing that you are early to something, that you are high-status, and that you have great taste.
NFT culture is very familiar in the offline world, just applied to the online world. Instead of just saying you were a musician’s first fan, you can now prove you were the first fan by buying their NFT. It could be wrong, but we are making the bet that people value that. Early signs show that people do value these things, in the same way they value things in the offline world that convey status or taste. There is also a community aspect to these things, like with Discords. My wife has a CryptoPunk and she goes to CryptoPunk breakfasts and CryptoPunk meetups. It is a culture.
To me, there are two aspects that make NFTs different. One, you truly own it architecturally like you would a domain name. If you do not like how somebody is treating your NFT, you can just move it away. That is not true on the web today; everything is contained in an application or a website. Two, it allows you to have different social signals that people can see when you own something. This applies to everything from taste and status, to the fact that you are an early adopter, to whatever the particular design of the community NFT might be.
NFL senior vice president of consumer products Joe Ruggiero said in today’s release, “With the rise of blockchain technology, we are thrilled to partner with Mythical Games on a blockchain-enabled game that delivers new play-to-own NFT capabilities, creating a new adventure for fans who love to play football games. The interest in NFTs and video gaming amongst current and prospective fans continues to grow and combined have accelerated the NFL’s exploration of new gaming models that can deliver an unmatched experience to fans.”
Promises of digital ownership and exclusive releases that come before we see a second of gameplay footage help to highlight some of the reasons why NFTs have received such a negative response from gamers. The Madden games and fantasy football are popular among fans for social experiences that allow people to enjoy their favorite sport with their friends. Exactly how that might work on this platform is unclear, outside of the allure of ownership that comes off sounding a lot like an offer to become an entrepreneur by selling knives, leggings, or prepaid legal insurance.
There’s no game to speak of yet, just hype and a couple of JPGs, but the NFL and its crypto-invested partners are more than ready for you to buy in.