A New Approach for the Future of Sports Video Games

In 2019, Playcrafting partnered with the Verizon 5G Lab and the NFL to build and execute the Verizon 5G NFL Mobile Gaming Challenge, in which developers pitched their ideas for a new sports video games. The Challenge tasked game developers from across the United States to create a mobile football game that celebrates the NFL’s 100th anniversary and is only playable on Verizon 5G. 

The catch? Games could not simulate a regulation football game. EA holds the exclusive license from the NFL for football simulation. That means developers needed to get creative with applying football to new kinds of games. With such a breadth of ideas and prototypes, developers were clearly up to the challenge.

Video game development requires a perfect balance of design, math, science, art, and sound to generate interactive experiences that immerse players. When you factor in two of the world’s biggest brands that challenge becomes even greater. 

A Developer-First Kickoff

The Challenge kicked off at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, an annual trade event and staple of the video game industry for over 20 years. Verizon joined the show floor for the first time with a 5G-focused booth. It’s one thing for gamers, creators, and press to hear about the future of games on 5G. It’s another thing to play it for themselves. The booth showcased three games made by independent developers in the New York area from our previous work with the Verizon 5G Lab. This gave developers, enthusiasts, and press a sneak peek at the future of 5G gaming. 

Flock Up by Stuido Studios, Island Hopper by iNK Stories and GUMBO, Knights on a Rocket by Angry Array.
Pictured above (left to right): Flock Up (Stuido Studios), Island Hopper (iNK Stories and GUMBO), Knights on a Rocket (Angry Array)

Flock Up, by Stuido Studios, gives players a beautiful endless skyscraper to scale. Island Hopper, developed by iNK Stories and GUMBO, is an AR adventure where players help villagers escape an active volcano on their way to a new island home. In Knights on a Rocket from Angry Array, two players take on the role of knights on a unicorn-headed rocket through space as they avoid an endless stream of falling objects.

These games demonstrated how Verizon 5G can elevate mobile gaming to console-level quality. A live panel featuring NFL Legend Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson and Esports champion Voyboy explored the intersection of sports and technology, formally opening up online submissions to the competition itself. The floodgates were open for game pitches to come in!

Boundless Creativity

In the two months following the E3 kickoff, we received an overwhelming response from developers across the United States who submitted game pitches encompassing more than 20 genres. The variety of ideas that studios put forth was astounding, from endless runners to real-time strategy, AR to VR, multiplayer to idle clicker games. Our high expectations were blown out of the water.

In August 2019, the five finalist teams descended upon New York City for a weekend-long game jam where they brought their pitches to life. Joined by Verizon’s 5G specialists and NFL representatives, each development team built a playable prototype of their games in only 48 hours.  

The Runners-Up

Prototype screenshots of NFL Quarterback Snap by Tigertron. Sports Video Games.
Prototype screenshots of NFL Quarterback Snap (Tigertron)

Tigertron‘s NFL Quarterback Snap featured geography-based mini-AR football plays inspired by Pokemon Go. The game pushed players to collect and play in the real world, with location-based events at real-world stadiums to coincide with NFL games.

FumbleDash by Frost Lab Studios. Sports Video Games.
Concept art for FumbleDash (Frost Lab Studios)

FumbleDash, from Frost Lab Studios, took the excitement of a fumble and added an insane twist. Play as the football itself, sprouting its own cartoonish arms and legs to run away from gargantuan NFL players!

NFL Halftime Blitz by Game Revenant. Sports Video Games.
Prototype screenshots for NFL Halftime Blitz (Game Revenant)

The main hook of Game Revenant‘s NFL Halftime Blitz elevated the in-stadium fan experience itself to a whole new level. At halftime, there’s a huge rush for refreshments, memorabilia, and more. Hundreds of fans race to collect items for points while granted special abilities to knock others out of the way based on their favorite NFL team.

The Winners

In the end, not one – but two – teams were chosen as winners of this challenge. Each received $400,000 and 4 months to build out their prototypes into full experiences alongside the NFL and Verizon with the help of Playcrafting.

 Endzone by Colorfiction

ENDZONE by Colorfiction

Imagine an NFL season 100 years from now. Stadiums have dynamic fields for Tron-like players to overcome. In Colorfiction‘s Endzone, your opponent is the field itself, taking the form of an ever-changing 3D obstacle maze with thousands of possible permutations. Pick your team and enter this futuristic season as you race to the endzone as fast as possible.

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The four month evolution of Endzone, from pitch to prototype to game

Endzone shows you what’s possible when a game developer receives the keys to a world-renowned brand. Colorfiction refined and iterated on the game’s original vision from the jam prototype to its debut at The Big Game. It was thrilling to see everything from the field itself to the application of individual team marks evolve across 4 months. 

NFL Ultra Toss by Juncture Media 

The trailer for NFL Ultra Toss, featuring final Super Bowl gameplay

NFL Ultra Toss, by Juncture Media, applied the NFL brand and Verizon 5G in an entirely different way. A flatbed truck parks in the middle of the field. And it’s up to you to aim and throw a football into the bed from the stands. With controls similar to those in golf games,  perfect your throw across 3 variables in Practice Mode before moving on to the Big Toss. In this signature live event, you compete simultaneously against thousands of other real-world players, all vying to hit the same target. Lock in your toss before watching how it stacks up amongst thousands of balls flying toward the truck, each representing a real-world player.

NFL Ultra Toss clearly demonstrates the potential for massive real-time gaming events when software leverages 5G. It’s breathtaking to watch your ball amongst thousands of others, knowing each represents a fellow fan. With all data processed quickly through Verizon 5G, a new kind of future for mobile multiplayer gaming comes into view. And for NFL fans, imagine that happening during halftime of one of the season’s biggest games – from your home or from inside the stadium itself.

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Endzone and NFL Ultra Toss were featured throughout Super Bowl LIV in Miami.

Both Endzone and NFL Ultra Toss debuted at Super Bowl LIV in Miami in early 2020. They were installed in Bayfront Park in a Verizon dome featuring live Verizon 5G throughout Super Bowl Week. The games were then brought to Hard Rock Stadium itself during the Big Game for thousands to experience for the first time anywhere. It was a thrill to watch each game go from ideas on a page to playable games at the biggest event in sports.

Lessons for the Future in Uncertain Times

Through the support of Verizon and the NFL, independent game studios made games that would not be otherwise possible. When global brands embrace innovative creators and give them an opportunity, incredible things happen.

From the out-of-this-world evolution of the NFL in Endzone to the massively-multiplayer implications of NFL Ultra Toss, one thing is clearer than ever: independent game developers are worth investing in. They offer the flexibility and efficiency that larger shops simply cannot offer. These developers also bring endless ingenuity and creativity to the table for emerging technologies. From Minecraft to Cuphead, many of today’s biggest games were built at least in part by independent developers or borrow ideas that came from their work.

Almost every industry – including sports and technology – is entering an uncertain future. With a pandemic that has quickly blurred the lines between our real and online worlds, independent game developers are uniquely equipped to help bridge the gap. They can solve some of the biggest challenges faced by brands, technologies, and consumers in our increasingly virtual world. Their creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, and ability to quickly adapt to changes are what needed in our new landscape.

As this landscape forms in our new COVID-19 society, staples of our culture – from sports to live music and so much more – will return. Alongside them, evolving technology will provide tools to help us adjust and grow in our new reality. The Verizon 5G NFL Mobile Gaming Challenge shows game developers as trusted problem-solvers who can make the impossible possible (and interactive) as we forge ahead in the months and years ahead.

As we rise to meet our latest Global Challenge, will more brands and technologies recruit the developer allies needed to shape the future? I hope so.

Want to see what Playcrafting can do for you? Let’s chat!