Madden NFL 21 will be released on August 28, with Ravens quarterback and reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson on the cover. 32 years after the first Madden release for the Commodore 64 (imagine that as an esport), the Madden name has become iconic.

This past weekend, an invite only closed beta was held involving several members of the Madden community. I got a chance to play a few exhibition games during the closed beta. Here are my initial reactions from the games I was able to get in.

The game feels slower

This is especially true on defense. It feels like the speed ratings are a little out of whack. I don’t know if that’s a beta thing or if that’s how it will be when the game is released, but it’s definitely noticeable, even to someone who plays Madden casually. The Madden community have also been talking at length about this. The user feels slow, making zone coverages tougher than they were in Madden 20. You know it’s a big deal when other athletes are noticing too .

But the angles are smoother

On the offensive side, the angles feel smoother — when you have the ball on a run, you have more options at your disposal to evade, juke and deke, and it feels slick, more exciting and easier to execute, pretty much all with the Right Analog stick. Some players will have specific animations only for them, especially if they execute certain moves in a real NFL game.

Location-based tackles are welcomed

A few times I got tackled right at the first down pylon and my player extended their arm to give me the first down. I was pleased with this and I’m glad this level of authenticity is in the game. I didn’t experience it for a touchdown, but keeping the ball in zone when being tackled out of it in the end zone will also happen. Little details like this are definitely something that was long overdue. I also feel that this might lend itself to some hilarious glitches that will no doubt be posted on Twitter.

What will this mean for Madden esports?

“It’ll be a completely different game than Madden 20,” reigning Madden Bowl champion Reidel “Joke” Brito told ESPN. “The defense pursuit angles are much better so dropping the run is much easier.”

Brito won the major tournament this year with a run-only offense and a punter at QB. It seems like that strategy might be a lot tougher to pull off in Madden 21.

“The run game isn’t as effective as it was in Madden 20,” said Brito. “The zones play significantly worse than they did in Madden 20. The user controlled defenders feel super duper slow, the slowest it’s ever felt In any madden I’ve played since Madden ’09.”

His outlook for how this title will fare in its current form in top level competition wasn’t the rosiest. “The way the game is [at the moment] will make for a worse esport because offense is way too easy,” explained Brito. “They made the user significantly worse. So they’ve taken away things that add to the skill gap between players in Madden.”

Brito also mentioned that one new ability will be a concern for competitive play — called “Film Study”, it will give you the ability to see your opponent’s offensive play before the ball is in the quarterback’s hands, if they ran that same play three times already in the game. Brito says this “… is insane because usually if we run the same play we can use a different variation of hot routes that makes the play completely different.”

What to change?

Speed on defense seems to be the biggest takeaway across the board.

“Overall, I think the game has great potential if a few major tweaks are done before the release date,” said Brito. “The biggest tweaks IMO need to be: make user [controlled] defenders feel like their actual speed. And a slight buff to the zones on defense .”

Tyler Davis, a Madden competitor and commentator, thinks much of the game feels like the previous release.

“[Madden ’21] still reminds me of ’20 a little,” said Davis. “It’s different but to me, offense is a lot similar. The way players move, usering guys when running, even the same routes work just as good. On defense, the user ability is a lot different and zones play different on the defense and it’s harder to tackle in open field. It’s tough to say in just a beta because they’re going to make a lot of changes before the actual release.”

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