There's a rumble brewing, folks. Later this year, EA Sports MMA will hit store shelves and take a shot at dethroning the reigning champ in the mixed martial arts game, THQ's UFC franchise. Our hands-on preview of MMA showcased a few distinct differences in the control scheme and gameplay mechanics, but EA knows it has to bring more to the ring than a unique fighting system. Enter EA Sports Live Broadcast. By selecting talented players from the community and pitting them against each other in fights that you can stream live on your Xbox 360 or Web browser, EA hopes to capture the excitement of a pay-per-view title fight and create an online multiplayer event series that will entice players into their corner. With prizes on the line and live commentators calling each fight, Live Broadcast may be EA Sports MMA's key to retail victory.
To put on a title fight, you first need to find some contenders. EA plans to set up forums and community tools on an MMA Web site to give aspiring fighters a place to make a name for themselves. Community members can vote on who they want to see fight, so if you've been tearing it up in online multiplayer matches, consider yourself a candidate. But skill alone does not always make for an entertaining fight card, so EA will be on the lookout for personalities as well. Players will be able to upload videos to the MMA site and make their case as to why they deserve to be featured. You can expect all sorts of YouTube-like antics to be on display, and EA was happy to show us a few examples during our demo. One of them showed game designer Victor Lugo, who actually trains in mixed martial arts, pummeling a bag and generally doing a good job of being intimidating. Another featured a man extolling the virtues of another competitor while dressed in flamboyant pimp gear.
Once the fighters are selected, the event is scheduled for a specific day and time. That information will be displayed in-game and on the Web site, along with a countdown clock. When the hour arrives, folks who own the game will be able to stream it live to their Xbox 360s, and anyone with an Internet connection and a Web browser will be able to view the match live online. Before the actual fight, viewers will see each fighter's uploaded video, and simulating an actual event gave EA a chance to show us a video that featured the fighter's young children, dressed in full martial arts gear and talking some serious (as well as hilarious) trash. "You fink you can beat up my dad?! Fink again!"
Online viewers will be able to interact via a live chat, while console viewers are free to party up and watch with friends. You won't need to worry about providing your own play-by-play, though, because each match will be hosted by live commentators. Be they members of EA's development team or guest hosts from the actual world of MMA, these commentators will narrate the fight and comment on the action just like you've seen on TV. In the demo we watched, the commentary created an air of excitement and energy that isn't there when you are just watching someone play a video game, elevating the proceedings to something more akin to an actual televised event.
While many players will no doubt consider hearing their gamertag announced during a live fight to be reward enough, EA is also planning to host sponsored fights in which the winner stands to earn a significant prize (a year's supply of energy drinks was one example mentioned). It's also worth mentioning that players who watch on the Xbox 360 will be able to remove the heads-up display and change the camera angle at will, as if they were watching a replay of their own fight.
EA was careful not to mention anything about Live Broadcast on the PlayStation 3, though presumably PS3 owners will at least be able to watch the events through the system's Web browser. It would be no mean feat to consistently host video game events that are fun to watch, but EA Sports Live Broadcast seems to be on its way toward making that happen.