I don't hate sports video games, but I don't like them, either. They don't appeal to me whatsoever, so when publishers and developers are talking sports at #E3, I tend to look the other way and wait until they're done talking about #FIFA or whatever. During this year's EA conference, however, things played out a little differently. While EA was featuring Madden 18, I caught a glimpse of a CG version of Academy Award-winning Moonlight star Mahershala Ali out of the corner of my eye.
Okay, Madden. You have my attention. For posterity's sake, allow me to share my at-that-very-moment reaction:
Between Moonlight, Luke Cage, House of Cards, and Hidden Figures, Mahershala Ali has been an acting powerhouse in some of my favorite films and television of the last few years. For the first time in my life, I sat up and paid attention to the sports portion of an E3 presentation.
In most sports games, the career mode is usually little more than the occasional cutscene interspersed through regular gameplay. You play your games or matches as you usually would, except sometimes your coach or agent shows up to say something like you did good, kid. Madden 18's #Longshot, however, sounds less "career mode" and more "story mode."
Longshot writers Mike Young and Adrian Todd Zuniga describe something more focused than your typical "career mode." They've set out to tell a specific story based around the character Devin Wade and his journey to competing in the NFL. In an interview with Polygon, Young stated:
“All of the games within Longshot, none of them are the main character playing a 2017 NFL schedule [...] This is a story about getting to the NFL.”
He goes on to specifically say:
"Our philosophy was a playable movie, versus, like, a career mode with cutscenes."
To me, this all sounds like Longshot is walking the path of the RPG. Frankly, as someone who has never been interested in sports games, I'm in. A narrative-driven football RPG? That's far more up my alley than the usual sports game fare. RPGs don't need dragons and/or alien-kissing to excite me. Good stories come in many forms, and sometimes, that form includes Mahershala Ali playing the father of an NFL hopeful.
Enrolling star power to raise the profile of your game is often viewed as a cheap marketing trick. In this case, though, it totally worked. If I hadn't caught a glimpse of Mahershala Ali, I wouldn't have paid attention to this game at all. Despite usually ignoring the entire sports segment of any and all E3 presentations, I'm suddenly more excited for a Madden game than I am for BioWare's new IP or the next Battlefront from the same conference. By the power of Mahershala Ali alone, I might buy my first sports game since Madden NFL '94 on the SNES.
I hope the entertainment industry takes this as a lesson: If you want me to watch it, play it, or generally spend money on it, hire Mahershala Ali.