ATLANTIC CITY — Hundreds of players descended on the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City on Saturday to compete for $9,000 in prize money in a two-day Madden NFL ’22 tournament hosted by Esports Entertainment Group.
The event was the first-ever esports skill-based betting event in the United States and launched the new esports betting platform LANDuel.
Players were allowed to bet on themselves in each round of the event. The New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement allowed each player to receive $25 free credit to bet on themselves.
The start of the tournament was delayed by around 45 minutes, but the players were just as excited when the matches started. Hordes of players waited their turn, hunched over the few computers whose games had started first, watching the competition intently and cheering on other players.
Grant Johnson, CEO of Esports Entertainment Group, said the LANDuel platform is the first of its kind due to a “handicap” system that matches players against opponents of similar skill level. The system allows for more security and accuracy, especially when it comes to betting, Johnson said.
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Johnson said the launch of LANDuel and the partnership with Hard Rock will help bring more esports to casinos in the future, enabling a new generation of players and gamers to participate. Streamers with collective thousands of subscribers were in attendance, leading to an increase in their subscribers also signing up for the tournament, to compete or just to watch.
“What we are presenting here to casino owners is a new product to attract a different audience to the casino. this moment,” Johnson said.
For the event, which ends on Sunday, players could get virtual chips to bet on their games after logging into LANDuel, where they would find $25 in their account and then redeem their money if they won.
“Hard Rock and the DGE wanted to monitor things closely. It will be up to the casino operators as we move forward,” Johnson said.
The tournament brought together 256 players of varying skill levels. Some participants were simply looking to play for fun, while others took the tournament more seriously.
Chris McFarland, better known by his gamer tag Dub Dot Dubby, is a Madden streamer from Philadelphia with thousands of followers on Twitch and YouTube.
“I’ve been playing since Madden ’06. I have been around for a long time and have been to many events,” he said.
McFarland made a career out of playing and streaming video games.
“Once someone told me there was an opportunity to make some money, I figured I might as well do it, since I’m going to be sitting here playing the game for hours. anyway,” McFarland said. “I figured I might as well build a brand, and the success I’ve had in Madden tournaments over the years has kind of catapulted me into the career that I have.”
As someone familiar with the gaming and sports betting scene, McFarland was excited to bet on the tournament.
“Bets are a big deal in esports, especially Madden, because they come from the grassroots of real sports. People like to bet on their games,” he said.
Ken Harry came from Metuchen, County of Middlesex to compete and meet other players from across the country.
“Tournaments are getting really fun. It’s a very tight-knit community. It’s great fun meeting people in person from all over the country,” said Harry.
He said he had faced some of the players in the tournament before and talked to many other players before coming to the event.
“In-person events don’t really happen often, so we all communicated online, chatting in Discord chats until 2 a.m.,” Harry said.
Other players were less experienced but just as excited.
“It’s the first time I’ve done this, and I can’t wait,” Atlantic City’s Rahkim Brownlow said. “I grew up playing Madden and competing with other people. Someone told me it was like playing online at home, but it’s different.