How EA Sports worked to depict UVa, Virginia Tech in new video game (2024)

After spending four days in the intense August heat in 2021, photographing every detail of the University of Virginia‘s Scott Stadium from every imaginable angle for the new EA Sports College Football 25 video game, Matt Riley took a break. He found an unlocked concession stand and helped himself to a bottle of water, then sat down in the shade for a swig or two.

“I hear this rustling noise coming from one of the concession stands where the door was open,” recalled Riley, then UVa’s director of athletics photography. “I go check it out and there are dozens of birds and squirrels that had found a giant bag of popcorn. They had opened that bag up and they were just going to town.”

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How EA Sports worked to depict UVa, Virginia Tech in new video game (1)

Riley, who has since moved to a position in the university’s communications department, snapped some shots of the animals chowing down, but those images weren’t part of the approximately 800 gigabytes of photos he sent to the game maker, shots from the field, taken every five yards and from sideline to sideline, as well as pictures from all over other parts of the stadium, including the locker rooms and concourses.

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In the early 1990s, shortly after the brand launched, EA Sports coined the motto, “If it’s in the game, it’s in the game,” a promise to gamers to make its sports video games the most accurate on the market.

With titles for college and pro football and basketball, as well as pro baseball, hockey and soccer, among others, how does the company get the level of detail into its games customers have come to expect?

From squirrels and birds eating popcorn at Virginia to droopy mascot tailfeathers and an iconic pregame entrance at Virginia Tech, the process of living up to that slogan can be exhaustive.

For the relaunch of the college football game, due out on July 19, it required a deep level of collaboration with the schools.

How EA Sports worked to depict UVa, Virginia Tech in new video game (2)

“There are certainly certain aspects they’re looking for that they want to incorporate into the game for each school,” said J.C. Whidden, Virginia Tech’s senior associate athletic director for brand advancement, the Hokies’ point person with EA. “But then they want it to be collaborative in case there are aspects of the schools or traditions that they may not be familiar with, that they want input on to make it as authentic as possible.”

EA stopped making its popular college football game in 2013, with legal issues looming regarding the use of player names and likenesses. Since then, court rulings and changes in NCAA rules have opened the door for the video game manufacturer to pay athletes for appearing in the game, clearing the way for its upcoming relaunch.

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More than 14,000 college football players have opted in to earn NIL income from the game, as of mid-June. Those athletes will reportedly receive $600 and a copy of the game in exchange for the use of their name, image and skill ratings.

Schools were asked to provide the game maker with a list of other songs and traditions, and copies of spreadsheets sent to EA that the Richmond Times-Dispatch acquired through a Freedom of Information Act request revealed what UVa and Tech sent.

Virginia informed EA that it takes the field to AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” though it’s unclear if that song will appear in the game. The same goes for the playing of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” on third downs.

The Cavaliers included the playing of “The Cavalier Song” after touchdowns and the “Good Old Song” after extra points, field goals and victories and sent recordings of the marching band’s renditions of those.

Virginia Tech included such details as fans jingling keys on big third-down plays, the stadium playing the Hokie Pokey between the first and second quarters and the alternating-sides “Let’s Go, Hokies” chant.

It also shared details of the UVa-Tech rivalry, including images of the Commonwealth Cup.

At Virginia Tech, one key thing won’t be in the game. EA Sports reportedly does not have the rights to use Metallica’s “Enter Sandman,” the song the Hokies take the field to in one of the sports’ most iconic pregame entrances. Instead, the game uses a generic rock song when the Hokies charge onto the turf at Lane Stadium, according to members of the media who received an advance copy of the game.

EA Sports did not respond to requests for comment.

It was an issue the administration at Tech anticipated. Still, the goal was to help EA create something that mimicked the Hokies’ signature pregame moment.

“We want the entrance to look as realistic and impactful in the game as it is in real life,” Whidden said. “It was just making sure they understood the importance of the entrance and how impactful it can be. What does that tunnel scene look like inside?”

To that end, Tech provided EA with photos that showed all aspects of the team taking the field, including photos from inside the tunnel the players come through before charging into the stadium.

The game maker also accepted updates in the three years since work began with the schools. For example, UVa provided EA with an artist’s rendering of the new video scoreboard at Scott Stadium, since construction on it had not begun when Riley did his 2021 photo shoot.

EA sent the schools screenshots of certain elements for review. Whidden said there wasn’t much that needed to be changed, though Tech did ask for at least one fix.

“It was the mascot,” Whidden said. “The tailfeathers were just a little droopy, so we had to request for them to be lifted to be more realistic.”

Mike Barber (804) 649-6546


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Mike Barber

University of Virginia and Virginia Tech Sports Reporter

How EA Sports worked to depict UVa, Virginia Tech in new video game (2024)
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