Five years after EA Sports had to kill off its successful “NCAA Football” video game franchise due to a high-profile lawsuit over college athletes’ likenesses, a new video game maker says it’s bringing relief to disappointed gamers soon.
Imackulate Vision Gaming announced Monday that it will release a college football game, “Gridiron Champions,” in 2020 for Sony PlayStation, Microsoft Xbox, and Steam.
The game will ship with 126 pre-loaded generic teams, with school names and team names that don’t really exist (like the “Mississippi A&M Raptors”). But users will be able to customize rosters and upload them for others to download. (In other words, some hero could input all the current NCAA athlete names and faces that these games are not legally permitted to have.)
Imackulate Gaming, based in Atlanta, has no proven track record: the company has just four employees and has never put out any game, which may put people off. But if its first game is an even halfway decent version of EA’s beloved college football franchise, it would likely be a big seller.
Alex Lewis, who cofounded Imackulate with his cousin Kameron Lewis, worked as a graphic designer for the football programs at Penn State and at Texas A&M. While there, he says he learned a lot about what goes on behind the scenes of college athletic recruiting. “The school’s design and branding, and social media presence, help garner the attention of prospective athletes that want to attend the school,” he says—and a new college football video game could do the same. “I think it could be a huge recruiting tool once our game is able to obtain licensing. I think different schools can use it as a tool, like ‘You’ll be able to play as yourself in the game once you’re on the field.’ That would work in their favor.”
Indeed, one of this year’s top NFL Draft prospects, former Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, wrote just last month in a post at The Players’ Tribune, “I loved those NCAA Football games growing up. Every year, I’d create myself as a player and play for OU… Countless hours played. Broke every record. Amazing time in my life.”
As for the potential legal hurdles or controversy that may still arise from producing a college football game, “We’ve done extreme amounts of due diligence on this subject,” Lewis says. “Our legal team is trying to obtain some small form of licensing, if possible, even if it’s on the lower level of DII, DIII schools. That would also give our company the chance to show how we would license the larger schools once the second game iteration comes out.”
Imackulate says it has raised more than $10 million in private funding, from a “large investment group” it is not naming yet and from current NFL player Vadal Alexander and current NBA player Spencer Dinwiddie, both of whom are founding investors with equity in the company. Alexander is an actual “member of management,” Lewis says, while Dinwiddie is involved as an investor because he reached out to the company on social media. “Their excitement about the college football gaming experience is growing, like many,” says Imackulate’s press release, “since the longtime void in the marketplace hasn’t been filled.”
If “Gridiron Champions” can fill that void, it would be the start of a lucrative new gaming franchise. The company says more than 1,300 people have pre-purchased a copy of the game since it was first announced in May 2017.