Why Madden 16’s ‘Draft Champions’ Mode Matters
Madden NFL 16 showed up at E3 2015 this past month with a renewed focus on some of the finer gameplay aspects of the game, and while most people were excited about the new WR/DB interactions, the reveal that most intrigued me was actually one that hasn’t gotten nearly the fanfare I think it deserves: Draft Champions.
Draft Champions is a new mode in Madden 16 designed to bring the experience of the draft over to Madden Ultimate Team, and in fact it’s exactly the mode we suggested to EA this offseason. While it would probably be naive to think that the developers included such an idea just because we suggested it (more likely just convergent thoughts), it does illustrate well my initial position that it would be a great addition to the franchise, and now is as good a time as any to bring it in.
What is Madden 16 Draft Champions?
So, first of all, how exactly does Draft Champions work? Well, if you’ve played Hearthstone’s Arena before, then you pretty much have the core idea internalized. Clearly inspired by the Arena, Draft Champions allows players to participate in a pseudo-random draft of 15 cards to create a core roster that they will then use to take on fellow Draft competitors.
Watch as Shopmaster takes you through a new draft, or read EA’s deep dive on the mode.
Unlike Draft Duels before it, Champions involves an independent draft that carries over for multiple games — giving you a true, short-term sense of ownership — and crystallizes the decision making process of choosing each card. Rather than giving you an entire pool of cards to select from, you as a player are limited to choosing one card out of three possible options each round. Cards are roughly similar in value from round-to-round, which helps introduce a new strategy to the selection process that involves some foresight. Players will regularly have to decide whether or not they want to take that solid slot receiver now, or lock up their RB position instead and hope to find another good slot receiver later.
It’s all those position-based decisions that will really make Draft Champions a fun experience before you ever even step onto the field. By the end of the draft, you will really feel like you hand-crafted your team. Then, once on the field, you will have to quickly learn and diagnose the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent’s rosters and problem solve on the fly.
In Draft Champions, it’s all about those on-the-fly adjustments. The draft is a game in itself as you adjust your strategy from round to round to build the core of your team, and you will be able to lock in the core direction of your roster by choosing one of three Legend cards for each game as well as one of three head coaches (sort of like your team captain and the foundation for the type of team you want). From the very beginning of the draft until the final game on your run to become Draft Champion, you will be problem solving one way or another in more ways than players are typically asked to do in a Madden game.
Why Does Draft Champions Matter?
Whenever a new feature is introduced in Madden, the first question both hardcore and casual fans alike ask is a simple one: Why do I care about this thing? Which is why it wasn’t surprising to me when I looked around various websites for fan responses on the newly-announced mode, only to see a lukewarm response outside of the MUT community. That response, I think, will prove to be misguided because with Draft Champions I think some very important issues are resolved and some very new and unique experiences are added to the game.
Here are a few core reasons why I think you shouldn’t be afraid to join the draft, so to speak.
• Madden Ultimate Team becomes a game for everyone: MUT is known for having its own die-hard fanbase within the Madden community, but there are a lot of people that have never taken to the mode for one reason or another. Last season, EA attempted to streamline its menu system in hopes of making it easier to get in and around MUT, but Draft Champions solves a problem on an entirely different level. The experience of having unique teams is fun, but keeping up with cards and managing rosters isn’t for everyone. With Champions, players can get the same core MUT experience of unique and ever-changing teams without actually having to play MUT regularly.
• Parity is the name of the game: While draft options are random and therefore true parity isn’t happening, you still end up with teams that possess roughly similar assets, and it’s your job as a drafter to determine where you want to distribute those assets on your roster to give you the best chance to play out your on-field strategy. This is actually really important to Madden, because online ranked games are often just a battle of the highest-rated teams, while the card-collecting nature of MUT makes it very much a pay-to-win system. With Champions, it’s really a fresh, roughly balanced experience for players and believe it or not, that really doesn’t exist in the game right now with the same level of roster uniqueness that Champions provides.
• A long-term fixture: So often the Madden franchise has been criticized for adding new features only to take them out and even add them back later in some form. Usually, these decisions are based on the adoption rate of the feature. If fans don’t use a new feature all too much, it becomes hard to justify development time in it, which is why modes like Online Team Play have slowly been relegated to the background until eventually it was removed altogether in Madden NFL 15. With Draft Champions, we have an opportunity to see a game mode that should have very long-lasting appeal, provided fans give it a chance early on. There’s lots of great ways to expand the mode into something even better than what we can expect in its first iteration, so putting support behind a fun and fresh way of playing Madden could go a long way to improving the franchise down the line.