EA Sports decided to add a new wrinkle to its Madden series this year. In a similar manner to how FIFA added a new, playground-style game mode last year with VOLTA Football, Madden opted to get backyard football into its latest game, which is set to drop on Aug. 25 for current generation consoles.
The mode is called The Yard. It is extremely hard to play and not see some strong parallels between it and NFL Street, EA’s first foray into backyard football back in 2004. While not a full, standalone game, The Yard takes that general concept and puts it into Madden NFL 21. The result is the exact kind of breath of fresh air that every sports game needs every few years in order to keep them exciting.
In The Yard, players are tasked with playing ironman football. Each position has a corresponding spot on the other side of the ball — quarterbacks and safeties, wide receivers and cornerbacks — and building a team requires a form of cost-benefit analysis. Do you take the All-Pro cornerback and lead to the weapons around your signal caller being a bit weaker, or do you take the stud receiver and make your passing defense a bit more leaky?
Over a collection of different stadiums that have different house rules, those who fire up The Yard play 6-on-6 games that are somewhere between “pretty hectic” and “comically chaotic.” Games are fast and furious, Mississippis are counted before defenders can blitz, any offensive player can take the snap, double-passes are allowed behind the line of scrimmage, and laterals are so frequent that they make “The Play” look boring. The scoring system allows for bonus points — one if you pick off an opposing QB, one for a touchdown longer than 40 yards, two if a double pass or a lateral leads to a score — and PATs worth 1, 2, or 3, depending on what you choose.
Even beyond the gameplay itself, The Yard is a blast. Avatars are remarkably customizable, and players can be boosted via x-factors, abilities, and skill points. It just feels like you are acquiring a second video game within the normal Madden universe, one that has its own unique style that harkens back to the day of knocking on your friends’ doors, going into a grass lot, and playing some football.
Long story short, The Yard is the best thing to happen to Madden in years. It also has one very big fan in Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who sat down with Uproxx Sports via Zoom to discuss the game mode, the sense of nostalgia it brings, and more.
I gave The Yard a spin a few days ago, have you gotten a chance to play it yet?
Oh yeah, man. The Yard is awesome, I love every bit of it. It’s kind of got the new wave in there with the new points and everything like that, all the cool tricks and everything you can do. But really, it’s old school football, man. Just get with your buddies, your boys, the homies, go out in the backyard, and play. I think that’s definitely the coolest part, is being able to swag your player out however you want to but meet up in one place and play with your guys.
Is that your favorite thing about the mode? That old-school … well, old school in terms of football, but also, I played a bunch of NFL Street back in the day, I don’t know about yourself.
Aw man, I’ve been trying not to compare it to the NFL Street. I absolutely loved NFL Street when it was out back in the day, and this is every bit, if not better, with all the tricks you can do, all the new points scoring system. It’s that and you can do a lot more in terms of making your player specifically on both sides of the ball, knowing that you’re playing ironman, you’re playing offense and defense, and you’re gonna need attributes for both.
My favorite thing about it was how it played like an arcade game. I loved how customizable it is and how it had that new wave football feel, but I just loved how it felt like an arcade game. What’d you think about the gameplay?
How fast it is, it’s a quick in-and-out game. So it’s non-stop, you’re competing against different people and the play is really fast. So it’s like, you get three opportunities to score for both teams and with that idea, you can play 100 games in an hour and be satisfied. The rate of play, how many times you can play, and the fact that you can get better as you’re playing it, I think it’s the ultimate prize, man.
How much fun have you had just tinkering with it, because how customizable it all is is a blast?
You gotta change the swag up every day. It looks like you’re just going to the closet and you switch it out, man. I’ve had a lot of fun just seeing all the unique and dope stuff that Madden‘s come up with in terms of what you can wear, from the visors, to the back plate, to having your jersey tucked in or folded up under the shoulder pads. You can customize everything single detail on your avatar, man. It’s dope.
You mentioned this a second ago, but can you speak to the sense of nostalgia that comes with this? I’m guessing you played a whole lot of backyard football during your childhood.
Oh yeah. Without a doubt, and that’s where it really hits home for me. I can hit up the guys I used to play backyard football with and be like, “Aye, yo, let’s get it going again.” See if we can relive some of the fun memories we used to have. That whole mentality of just meeting up with the guys to go out and play some football, now you can do it on Madden and you can do it in an individual and personal level where it’s literally your avatar, you’re playing both sides of the football with your guys. And I think that’s such a dope concept.
What was backyard football like in the Kelce household?
Always tackle. Wasn’t too much two-hand tag, man, maybe when you were running by the pavement on the edge of the grass but that was about it. Competitive household, just about every sport you can think of, so football wasn’t the only one. But I remember mostly hitting up all the friends my age, and we would go down to the church yard close to us, the Catholic church that was close to us, or big Courtland Oval down the street, all the Cleveland Heights guys know where that one is.
How much time would you say you spend playing Madden in a week?
Right now, not too much because of training camp. I would probably say I get on at least once or twice a week, have some fun, get on there and chop it up with a few friends. I got a few different other games I’m getting into right now, trying to get better at, but Madden is always a go-to.
And how popular is it, just, you walk into the locker room, are guys on the Chiefs just playing, chopping it up, trash talking?
Every single day someone’s trash talking another for later on. “Ayo, when I get home, I’ll hit you up, you better answer my call” type stuff. Just talking all the stuff up here at the locker room. But you’ll hear, maybe not a lot of banter, but you’ll hear guys go back-and-forth about what’s really going on in the Madden world.
It seems like you guys would be the perfect team to take some of the backyard stuff that we’ve seen in The Yard. Do you think this is gonna inspire Kansas City to adopt any open field laterals or stuff like that?
We’ll see, man. I know I had the one lateral last year and I didn’t plan on doing it ever again, it was a pretty risky decision. Once you see it in slow motion you don’t realize, in the game, how close it really was for me, in the fourth quarter, to really screw my team. I was fortunate that Shady was ready for it and got vertical and helped us out, but I think little stuff like that keeps the game fun, keeps it entertaining, and we’ll just have to see if it’s played out in the near-future in Kansas City.
I once asked JuJu Smith-Schuster about this and he said that playing Madden can help him a little with on the field stuff, he mentioned specifically reading a defense before a play happens. Are there any ways that playing has helped you on the field?
Without a doubt, and it’s pretty remarkable how basic it makes it feel, because from an eye in the sky, and you’re seeing a defensive coverage before the snap, it makes it feel pretty easy. And it’s like, “Why can’t I do this faster in a game?” It’s always just a little bit different on the field, but it’s good for basic knowledge of what coverage is the defense in and things like that, it’s definitely helped me feel confident in what I’m seeing, for sure.
My last question, back in 2017, you appeared on UpUpDownDown and said “I don’t think I’ve played this game as a different team since I’ve been in the NFL.” I know this isn’t always possible in The Yard but will you try to always load your team up with guys on the Chiefs?
Yeah, I probably will. I don’t see why not, man, we got everybody we need right here.
Yeah with you, with Pat, with all the speed, I feel like people are not gonna be allowed to pick Chiefs players because you guys are perfect for this.
Listen, man, we got guys that can go both ways. Pat played safety in college, I don’t know where we would hide him on the football field on defense. But I know a guy like Tyrann Mathieu is an all-around football player, he can do both sides of the football, all day. Same thing, Mecole Hardman, he was a big-time corner coming out of high school, and in college, he wanted to score touchdowns, so he moved his way to the offensive side of the field. So we’ve got some all-around football players, for sure.