Versus Sports Signs 5 EA NFL Madden Athletes


The Madden Championship Series will have paid out $1 million this year to players after the championship last May. (Photo: EA)

The Madden Championship Series will have paid out $1 million this year to players after the championship last May. (Photo: EA)

[Disclaimer: Versus Sports is part of the portfolio of companies associated with The Next Level]



Esports organization Versus Sports announced Wednesday it has signed four additional Madden pros, upping its stable of Madden players to five total. Joining is Taylor "SpotMePlzzz" Robertson, Lavar "Mr. Hollywood" Gayle, Mark "Schemin" Samuels Jr., and Ryan "Strafing" Danczak. Versus Sports had signed Madden 2016 champion Frank "Stiff" Sardoni Jr. in September of 2016.

"I made an early bet on EA Madden and was the first team to sign any Madden athlete with Stiff last year. Since then, EA has invested $1M into Madden esports via their Competitive Gaming Division" said Manny Anekal, CEO and founder of Versus Sports.

In 2016, the Madden Championship aired on ESPN2, and this year on the NFL Network. According to Nielsen, this year's Madden Championship ratings were down by 100,000 viewers, but EA is not deterred as the community continues to grow.

"If you have a day job like I do, then also qualifying, competing, streaming and promoting yourself via social media is another job in itself," said Schemin, who recently took second during the Madden 17 49ers Club Series Championship. Now that Schemin is a part of Versus Sports, much like a professional athlete, all the brand and sponsorship stuff is taken care of by his new team. "Being able to use 100% of my energy to practice, compete and promote myself via social media... that's hundreds of hours of time saved," he said.

SpotMePlzzz, who won the Madden 17 Classic, echoed the sentiment, saying with Anekal's 10-plus years on the business side of gaming, he's free to put his energy elsewhere. "I can focus on my game and trust someone to focus on the business side."

Players like Schemin and SpotMePlzzz are treating Madden like a traditional sport in the sense that training and practice, as well as mental conditioning, need to be honed before competition. EA, too, has been working on making the game more viewable for larger audiences.

The uniqueness of watching two players duke it out in Madden versus an actual NFL game is the metagame taking place. Instead of the New England Patriots vs the Houston Texans, it's custom teams made from players of all eras and teams. Think of Madden as a deck building game where players build their perfect team and are playing a game of football chess. 

And according to EA, the growth in popularity of Madden is fostering a new generation of fans of the NFL, and introducing kids to the greats of past generations.

"I love my new teammates. Each one works as hard as the next," said Stiff. While competitive Madden is a one-on-one affair, Stiff has plans to work with his new teammates to foster a spirit of cooperative growth. He isn't worried that scrimming together will give his teammates too much matchup experience against him. 

"There is no I in team," said Stiff. "Being part of a team means doing whatever you need to do in order for the team to prosper. We all want to win but we are a unified team and a win for Versus Sports is a win for all of us."

Versus Sports EA Madden NFL 18 Team (Graphic: Jordan Fragen)

Versus Sports EA Madden NFL 18 Team (Graphic: Jordan Fragen)

[Edit: European soccer teams have seen great value with eSports and sponsoring athletes. You also have the upcoming NBA2K ELEAGUE.  NYCFC was the first MLS team in eSports. The ROI is clear and there will be an upcoming The Next Level research report on the results of these investments.

The biggest thing Madden has going for it as an eSport: millions of people in this country already know football - you don’t need someone to explain to you what just happened or "why are these dragons more powerful than those dragons?". It's also not a First Person Shooter.

Whoever the first NFL teams are to make similar moves like the European pro teams will reap the same benefits.

I would also like to give a huge, huge thank you to the amazing Jordan Fragen for the team graphic and the rockstar [REDACTED] who worked tirelessly to get 3 of these deals completed this past weekend.

Who's the other person? Look out for more Versus Sports EA Madden NFL (and EA FIFA?) news next week? 😉


Exclusive: 4 Of WME-IMG's eSports Team Leave


4 Of WME-IMG eSports Team Leave (Photo: WME-IMG)

4 Of WME-IMG eSports Team Leave (Photo: WME-IMG)

TNL Take: For a while now, I've been hearing some rumblings about what's been going on at WME-IMG's eSports division, which they bought 2 1/2 years ago and most famously known for helping Turner create ELEAGUE.

Last Wednesday, I started hearing that major changes were taking place and 1/ To triple-verify this was true unlike other "sources" and 2/ out of respect for those potentially affected, I tweeted the following this past Thursday:

@mannyanekal Tweet On Thu Jul 20th (Photo: Twitter)

@mannyanekal Tweet On Thu Jul 20th (Photo: Twitter)

After speaking to multiple parties on Friday and Saturday morning, it was clear that this was true and I followed up with the following yesterday:

[Edit: Another reason why I wanted to triple-verify this is to avoid incorrect headlines like the one below. Notice any changes in the updated article?]

Bloomberg Article (Photo: Bloomberg Twitter/Bloomberg)

Bloomberg Article (Photo: Bloomberg Twitter/Bloomberg)

The list of those leaving: Tobias Sherman, Lillia Russo, Imari Oliver and Simon Abitbol.  First and foremost, I want to wish those leaving the best in their new endeavors.

[Edit: Just spoke with Tobias and more in depth next week.
"All positive vibes" - Tobias.  Let's just say this goes a whole lot deeper.] 

However, I also want to stress two very important factors:

  • This does NOT mean that WME-IMG is abandoning eSports. In fact, an upcoming The Next Level article talks about a recent major partnership that vastly increased that company's investment in the space. 


  • As I've mentioned a million times, the eSports "hype" is far from the reality of the current reality around infrastructure and more importantly that magic word, monetization. Every single "pure agent" type company I've spoken with usually begins with "So, how can I make my 10% fee?"


If you believe you can survive on that model within eSports currently, I wish you the best.

Everyone Is Off, eSports Is Not


NYC Fourth of July Fireworks (Photo: Getty Images)

NYC Fourth of July Fireworks (Photo: Getty Images)

The start of this holiday weekend, I sent 25+ emails to startups/companies valued/market cap with $100M+.

96% of the responses I received went something like this:

"Thanks for reaching out. I'll be on vacation till 7/10. For any urgent needs please reach out to [INSERT NAME]. Have a great holiday!"

I have 0 issue with taking time off and #FamilyTime and is absolutely critical, but I shouldn't have been surprised as most companies gave Mon/Wed off as well.

With everyone off this week, The Next Level will continue next Monday 7/10however there will be updates on and as always on twitter @mannyanekal

Few areas that The Next Level will cover:


  • 2017 Q2 Brand Deals - Did we hit 50?
  • 75M US eSports Investments in 2017
  • Pro Sports and eSports: Whats the real ROI?
  • And a peek into an upcoming research report

Have a great holiday week and see you next week!

PS For those wondering who that 4%/1 company was that responded over the weekend - let's say 1/ I've covered them many times and 2/ That's why they will continue to dominate.

The Next The Next Level


The Next Level (Graphic: Jordan Fragen)

The Next Level (Graphic: Jordan Fragen)

Last week was issue #201 of the The Next Level daily newsletter

What started as a late night random Medium post 13 months has turned into eSports business news with distribution across a variety of media.

Sorry for the awful pun but it's time to take The Next Level to the next level.

There won't be a Corporate Manifesto and will roll out slowly to avoid the usual copycats but I can say what it won't be:

  • The Next Level will not copy and paste press releases
  • The Next Level will not chase page views
  • The Next Level will not be littered with awful ads
  • The Next Level will not provide #HotTakes
  • The Next Level will not stray from showing the reality


As always, this would not be possible without you.  Thank you for the support and feedback. 

-Manny Anekal