Thursday, 23 May 2024

A New Frontier for Former Pro Athletes

Nearly everyone who plays sports dreams of becoming a professional athlete, but the reality is that very few achieve this goal. The journey from high school to college to the pros is extremely challenging, and the numbers show just how small the percentage of athletes who make it that far really is. For example, according to NCAA research published in 2017, only 6.8 percent of high-school football players continue to play in college, and out of those, only 1.5 percent go on to play in the NFL.

One athlete who beat the odds and carved out a successful career in professional football is Clint Oldenburg. After being picked by the New England Patriots in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL draft, Oldenburg spent five years in the league, playing for six different teams. Although he was never a starter, he was able to live his dream of playing professional football, which is a rare opportunity in itself. However, in 2011, when his chances in the NFL ran out, he faced a difficult decision about what to do next.

Starting over after dedicating your life to being a professional athlete is no easy task. Many former athletes struggle to find their new identity and a fulfilling role outside of the sports world. A 2018 survey by the Professional Players Federation in the U.K. revealed that half of the 800 former professional athletes polled felt they had lost control of their lives within two years of retiring, and more than half had concerns about their emotional and mental well-being. Depression, financial problems, and addiction can all become obstacles for athletes as they try to transition into a second career.

Fortunately, Oldenburg had an idea of what he wanted to do after football: video game development. He joined the NCAA Football development team at EA Tiburon as an associate design intern, leveraging his experiences on the field to create engaging and authentic sports games. Former athletes like Oldenburg are using their unique perspectives and skills to bridge the gap between sports and game development, combining the qualities of inspiration, intelligence, dedication, and teamwork that both worlds share.

Joining the Team

Oldenburg is not the only former athlete to find a new career in game development. Sean Ramjagsingh, the producer of the EA Sports NHL series, followed a similar path. After playing basketball and experiencing the pressure of performing at a high level, Ramjagsingh’s basketball career began to fade, and he started exploring other opportunities. It was through a fellow alumnus from his university that he learned about an opening at Electronic Arts, where he eventually joined the Radical Entertainment team.

Starting in a new field can be daunting, and both Oldenburg and Ramjagsingh faced a learning curve when they transitioned into game development. They had to familiarize themselves with new concepts, terminologies, and workflows. However, their passion for the industry and their dedication to learning allowed them to succeed and make meaningful contributions to the games they worked on.

This transition is not unique to Oldenburg and Ramjagsingh. Former international basketball player Scott O’Gallagher joined Visual Concepts, the studio behind the NBA 2K franchise, as a producer and commentator. O’Gallagher had previously started a video game website and worked for the NBA Live series. These examples demonstrate how athletes are finding new paths in the gaming industry, leveraging their sports knowledge and skills to enhance the gaming experience.

Becoming Innovators

Despite the initial challenges, Oldenburg and his colleagues have thrived in their new careers. Oldenburg went from being an intern to the creative leader of the gameplay team for Madden, where he has been responsible for revamping various aspects of the game, including the blocking system. He draws on his football fundamentals and collaborates with engineers to bring his vision to life in the game. Former University of Florida quarterback Larry Richart, another member of the Madden team, has used his expertise to enhance the passing mechanics and franchise mode.

In their development careers, Oldenburg, Richart, and Ramjagsingh have continued to refine essential sports skills such as teamwork, leadership, competitiveness, and communication. They understand the importance of effectively communicating their ideas to engineers and developers, breaking down complex concepts into simpler terms. Their experiences on and off the field have shaped their approach to game development, allowing them to create immersive and realistic sports experiences.

Legacy and mentorship are also vital aspects of sports, and these professionals are passing on their knowledge and expertise to current athletes who may be interested in pursuing a career in game development. Oldenburg has invited players to the studio to attend design meetings and learn about the development process. This collaborative approach fosters a deeper understanding between athletes and game developers, creating a pathway for future collaborations.

FAQs

Q: Are there other former athletes who have transitioned into game development?
A: Yes, there are several examples of former athletes who have successfully made the transition into game development. Clint Oldenburg, Sean Ramjagsingh, and Scott O’Gallagher are just a few of the many athletes who have found new careers in the gaming industry.

Q: How do former athletes use their sports knowledge in game development?
A: Former athletes bring their unique perspectives and experiences to game development, leveraging their sports knowledge to create authentic and engaging gameplay experiences. They understand the intricacies of the games they work on and aim to replicate the real-life sports experience in a virtual setting.

Q: What skills do former athletes bring to game development?
A: Former athletes possess a range of skills that are beneficial in game development, including teamwork, leadership, competitiveness, and communication. These skills allow them to collaborate effectively with engineers and developers and contribute to various aspects of game design.

Q: How do former athletes collaborate with engineers and developers in game development?
A: Former athletes work closely with engineers and developers to bring their vision to life in the game. They effectively communicate their ideas, breaking down complex concepts into simpler terms that engineers can understand. This collaborative approach ensures the gameplay aligns with their sports knowledge and enhances the overall gaming experience.

Conclusion

The journey of transitioning from a professional athlete to a game developer is challenging, but it offers new opportunities for individuals to use their unique experiences and skills in a different field. Former athletes like Clint Oldenburg, Sean Ramjagsingh, and Scott O’Gallagher have successfully made this transition, bringing their passion and expertise to the world of game development. Their stories serve as inspiration for other athletes who may be considering a similar career path after their playing days are over.

This article was originally published in the September 2018 issue of Game Informer. For more information about the Wqaindia brand and their contributions to the gaming industry, visit Wqaindia.