Gameplay Controls and Feedbacks in Fan Controlled Football

Do the gameplay controls and feedbacks in Fan Controlled Football deliver on the promise of fan control? Let’s take a look.

This past week was the inaugural draft and matches of the Fan Controlled Football league. Four teams drafted their players Wednesday night (Feb 10th, 2021) and then faced off in back-to-back contests Saturday night (Feb 13th, 2021), all of which was live-streamed on Twitch.

The games were great. Tons of runs, scrambles, and bombs, which have been covered extensively across channels.

From my career making video games, if you want someone to love your game, focus on the controls and feedbacks. How will someone touch, tap, stick, and smash buttons to make things happen? And when they do how will you let them know that something happened? This control-feedback loop is core to any interactive experience to form a deep connection between the player and the game. How Fan Controlled Football delivers on controls and feedbacks will determine its success in competing for our attention.

What’s it like to touch the future of sports, the merging of video games and live competition? Here is my take highlighting what worked and what needs improvement across the fan controls and feedbacks for the entire week 1 experience. If you need a primer on the Fan Controlled Football (FCF) league, start here or here.

Fan Controls: Draft Day

The draft moved along quickly, the hallmark of any good Fantasy Football draft, and the broadcast on Twitch provided fans the standard Twitch stream interaction — chat, predictions, gifting, etc. Side-loaded on the broadcast was a draft app by Muxy that I used to browse available athletes, their bios, queue my favorites, and when my team was on the clock, I made my selection. Missing from the controls was the option to see the draft order somewhere onscreen, season and previous game stats for athletes so I know who is performing well (this was noticeably missing in Week 2’s draft), and the other teams’ drafted rosters to inform my athlete selection.

While the controls are adequate to draft an athlete, feedback is disconnected from the selection. Unlike in the match broadcast that I’ll touch on next, I couldn’t see what other fans picked, and neither the draft app nor the commentators did the work to connect the popular fan selection to the drafted athlete. The commentators were engaging, but I would rather have spent time in the draft “war rooms” with whoever was taking the fan picks and calling them in for the team. After the athlete I picked was drafted, which was correct only once in 7 rounds, there was no feedback at all. When I know I can trigger cat emojis to plaster a streamer’s OBS with bitties or a sub, no feedback on the correct pick was underwhelming.

Fan Controls: Match Day

To contrast the draft, the match stream controls felt solid. The pre-snap camera angles matched what you’d expect in a videogame, positioned behind the QB, instead of what you’d see in an NFL broadcast, positioned from the sidelines. The play selection UI gave you the option for run or pass, then presented route scheme options. The HUD’s clean design made it easy to pick out the yard / down / clock quickly to inform your route pick. Once your pick was made, the UI provided feedback that showed all available options, the fan popularity of each option, and clearly noted your play and the winning play. Overall, I felt informed and in control of my selection, and once made, the feedback in the UI was clear.

Moving from play selection to live football was another disconnect similar to the draft. I knew the play they were going to run and the routes involved, but once the athletes started moving and the cameras started moving, I couldn’t discern the live routes from the schemes drawn in the UI. Two things could help this — color code the route schemes in the UI to highlight key movement, and use augmented reality overlays on the broadcast to overlay the routes on the athletes prior to the snap. This is how it works in videogame football, so provide that feedback here too. If that’s not possible, give me a miked-up feed where the coach calls in the winning play to the QB. You wouldn’t even need this the whole game, but set the tone in the early drives and clearly show fans that the winning play is what’s unfolding onfield.

Fan Control: Ownership

The last piece of FCF to cover is fan ownership. As part of fan control, each team in the league has a $265,000 fan-sourced investment round run on the app Republic, with a minimum to invest at $150, which is around the cost for a fan to attend an NFL game. The team Beasts, with Marshawn Lynch as primary owner, has already crossed that cap. I signed up, submitted a short application with ID, paid my investment, and within a few hours, I had an email in my inbox from FCF CEO Sohrob Farudi welcoming me to Wild Aces. Onboarding as a fan-investor through Republic was intuitive, and messaging from the CEO, while transactional, was solid feedback.

I don’t know what additional control team investment unlocks. Do fans vote on actions that the team takes as a business? Will there be a resale market for ownership shares with its own gameplay dynamics? Time will tell.

I’m excited to see how the league evolves gameplay to form deeper connections between selections and the live-action that unfolds in the draft and on the field. For FCF to deliver on the promise of this league, I need to feel a sensation that this team is listening to what I’m choosing, and for me, this first week missed on that opportunity. But the product on the field is solid enough to continue to follow along. And with some upgrades to feedback, gameplay controls will feel more like I’m in control. Go Wild Aces, BOL this weekend!

Habitual shaker upper. Sr. Engineering Manager of 3D Experiences @ Matterport