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The voices of the game

Charles Davis and Larry Ridley are adding some color to Madden NFL 17 — and they’re not playing any games

You can’t see Charles Davis and Larry Ridley’s faces on Madden NFL 17, but you can hear them loud and clear.

Once the Entertainment Arts game is loaded, players will hear Ridley’s voice first introducing North America’s most popular sports video game. And Davis will let players know if their decisions are sound or poor as the color analyst with play-by-play commentary during game action. Of the three voices of a Madden franchise, which is second only to Call of Duty in video game sales in North America, two of them are black in Ridley and Brandon Gaudin’s fellow newcomer in Davis.

Davis and Ridley talked to The Undefeated about the pride they have in being African-American voices in the game, the making of it, what to expect, the state of esports, their Super Bowl predictions and more.

Although you are not seen, what does it mean to you that two of the three voices in Madden NFL 17 to be African-American?

Davis: Looking at this and having this opportunity, what happens a lot is people say, ‘Well, I didn’t look at that or I didn’t think of that.’ A lot of people say we’re beyond that. But we all know that it’s not really true. It would be disingenuous. I take a lot of pride in that we had an opportunity. We had to audition for these [parts]. No one came up to us and said, ‘Hey, you are going to be the voices.’

We had to compete for it. Competing, seeing that someone believes we are good enough to do this, being black, being African-American carries with it an extra deal that, ‘Hey, guys, look we can do these things. When the opportunity comes, maybe we can get that part and it will be OK.’ I take a lot of pride in that because I know plenty who have come before us that never even got a chance to audition or be considered. Here we are. And I take a lot of pride in that, along with Larry, to look at us as a little bit of a symbol. You can do a bunch of things if you want to.

Ridley: I remember the first time I did the audition [in 2013], one of the Madden producers brought me in because they were trying to create this part for a sideline reporter. They wanted to get that back in the game for Madden 25. They did a local, regional and nationwide search. So they brought in a bunch of people. For me to get that part, it said a lot of what Electronic Arts is trying to do. They have a lot of faith in us to give us the opportunity and to like the work that we’re doing and the direction they are going to.


Larry Ridley is a commentator on EA Sports’ Madden 17

It’s very cool. I look back at [African-Americans] Gus Johnson and Fran Charles, they trailblazed for us. Fran and I worked in Boston at the same time. They gave me hope they can do it. I don’t take it lightly that a lot of African-American kids are looking up to us.

Davis: We weren’t the first [African-Americans] ever to do it. Gus Johnson has been my partner and he did college football . He’s been out there and worked on the games. I thank EA Sports and the Madden people for giving us this chance.

Do you wish that your faces were in the game so black kids could visually see that you were a part of it?

Davis: I would say yes because there is a certain amount of pride that comes with that. If it gives a better message, I’m all for it. But it wasn’t a major thought, concern. I didn’t even realize that we weren’t going to be in the game until fairly recently. Part of the whole thing is doing the job and let it work out. Hopefully, maybe, one day that will be part of the deal.

Ridley: It is a goal of theirs to have our faces and audio on there. I did some stuff with them two to three years ago where I had a test suit on and they were testing some things. Just right now when it comes to making it all work out, I know they had some issues with lip-synching in the past. EA wants it to be 100 percent perfect. They want it to be absolutely correct and want it to be better than what you see in current video games. When they get that stuff figured out, it will happen …

I’d say in the next two to three years you’ll probably see it with all of us there. It’s a lot to get it to work out the correct way.

“I know plenty who have come before us that never even got a chance to audition or be considered. Here we are. And I take a lot of pride in that.” — Charles Davis

Davis: Every Madden game asks for a bunch of different stuff each and every single year. ‘When are you going to add this. When are you going to add that? How are you going to correct this? How are you going to correct that?’ They will not put anything out there unless they are flat-out satisfied, the whole deal. And I applaud them for that.

Ridley: I’ve talked at a bunch of different broadcasting camps this year and trust me, the kids don’t care about the faces. They know the voices. When they hear Charles’ voice and my voice, it makes a total different impact. The gamers really opened my eyes to the things that they like and the whole environment. Those guys are really into it, know what we’re doing and now what is going on with Madden 17. It’s definitely the best Madden to date.

What makes Madden 17 different and better than before?

Ridley: The graphics have gotten better. The detail has gotten better. The audio this year is exquisite and the best it’s ever been. We have a new crew from Scotland. They are doing some fine stuff with the audio. Just the whole system that we are using now. The biggest deal is you got three [voices], mobile in a sense as we were there in Orlando [Florida] three, four days a week at their beck and call for anything they needed fixed, any product, any fixes.

Davis: This is my first year, but the ability to when, if something happens in the NFL, we can go into the studio and add it to the game. I’m not saying everything that happens or know how often it’s going to happen, but that ability and to be able to relay that into the game … We’ve already been able to do a little bit of that in the preseason and that’s huge for the people that are playing. They are the most passionate group of people and they know what’s going on. They got it down so you have to make sure you’re right with it.

What all do you have to do for the game and how long does it take to get it completed?

Davis: When I’m sitting with Brandon at the sound stage, it depends on what we are trying to do each day. We’re not putting a time limit on anything. But you can work three, four days per week with multiple hours each time. We’re hitting different things each time. We might be hitting goal-line passes that were touchdowns that day. Then goal-line passes that were knocked away. Goal-line passes that were intercepted …

My dad used to say that, ‘You have to prepare for every eventuality.’ And that is what [Madden NFL 17] is trying to do. Obviously, some things will come up as we go along. With the ability to go back in the studio, ‘We didn’t have that in there. We will try to go back and get that in now’ … There is no screen of games playing when Larry does his updates. He doesn’t have a screen in front of you. They outline what the situation is and then you fill in the blanks.

“The kids don’t care about the faces. They know the voices. When they hear Charles’ voice and my voice, it makes a total different impact.” — Larry Ridley

They will say, ‘It’s third-and-five, ball is at the 36. The team with the ball is up seven with four minutes to go. Here’s the play.’ Then you got to fill it in from there. We jokingly call it Theater of the Mind.

Ridley: It’s complete ad-lib. That’s the great thing about working with the guys at Madden. Those guys just let us go and it’s amazing how we get to deliver the way we want to deliver. They don’t handcuff us at all. We can say whatever we want. And the fact that they have confidence in our football acumen, to know what is going on, speaks volumes about them as well.

Charles is being modest. Typically, the past broadcast crews didn’t do nearly as much as what Charles and Brandon are doing. Those guys are doing hundreds of hours, which is unheard of in a video game. They are basically full-time employees at EA, if you ask me. That is how much work they are doing. I have even stepped up my game of what they allow me to do, and the time they allow me to invest in the game. Typically, for me it’s two to three hours because mine is high-energy and it’s very taxing on my voice.

What name gave you the most problems?

Charles: That’s a great question. I know from Twitter, Jay Ajayi from the Miami Dolphins is [adamant] about us getting his name correct. He saw some of the Madden guys to reiterate that message to make sure it was right. With Jay’s name, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. It’s not a very long name. But if you put the inflection in the wrong place, it’s very incorrect.

Ajayi it seems like it’s pretty easy. But I know from experiences like that, and he’s telling us, we haven’t got it right. And I’m not just talking Madden. I’m talking about a lot of us as announcers.

Ridley: For me it’s an easy one. Charles, I will get you to say his name. He’s a former tight end for the New England Patriots who was traded to the New Orleans Saints?

Davis: Oh, oh, oh. Michael Hoomanawanui.

Ridley: Oh, oh, whatever you said. That’s the one.

Davis: A lot of people call him The Who Man. It’s ‘Uh-oh, Manawanui.’ I worked on that like crazy. I think I have it now. But a lot of times when I say it I feel like I’m on ‘Hooked On Phonics’ now. That’s a great name to bring up.

Ridley: I just say, ‘Oh, Manawanui.’ Just say it fast like you mean it with some emphasis behind it and it will probably pass.

“If you sit on your couch and you are really good at Madden, you can be a really rich man if you get good enough. That’s how lucrative it’s going to be in esports.” — Larry Ridley

How the describe the esports industry is today and its future?

Davis: It’s off the charts from where I’m sitting. I went to the EA Plank deal in Los Angeles in mid-June and saw it firsthand. I saw the updated games. They had a thing there introducing Madden, but ‘NHL [17]’ was there and ‘Battlefield’ and rest of the games that come with an EA banner. Then they have a live hookup to London and introduce ‘FIFA [17]’ the soccer game. They brought out Jose Mourinho, the coach of Manchester United. That place was just rocking.

Now when I look out and not only see articles, but on TV now and internet and see esports events. When you look across the United States, there are now colleges who offer scholarships for gamers.

Ridley: I did a Madden tournament with Cam Newton. The Top 15 Madden players of the year showed up and played in a tournament. The winner got to play Cam Newton for a $10,000 prize two years ago. That today is peanuts. This year in June, the Madden Championship was on ESPN2 and the winner got $50K. That will be peanuts this year. They are going to give away a million dollars this year, thousands of dollars in every tournament.

If you sit on your couch and you are really good at Madden, you can be a really rich man if you get good enough. That’s how lucrative it’s going to be in esports …

There are some guys making high six figures in video games. This is their job because they’re so good at it. They go around the country and this is what they do.

What are you most excited about with Madden 17’s release?

Ridley: To finally get it out there. I get calls and texts all the time about when is it coming out. Tuesday it will actually be out and I can say, ‘It’s out. You can go to the store.’ Or close friends won’t ask me about it, but they’ll say, ‘I know the game is out. Dude, where is my copy?’ At least the next six months to a year they will stop bothering me about the game.

The gamers, they all know the date. They all know the time. They will be lined up Monday night past midnight to make sure they got their copies. We will sell 5-10 million copies like we do every year.

Davis: For me, finally with my son I might get some street cred. Maybe … I’m lucky enough to have done a bunch of things in my life that have been significant. I promise you it wasn’t even close to the reaction when he found out about Madden. All of a sudden I was somebody. It was cool.

Who do you think will win the 2017 Super Bowl?

Davis: Green Bay coming out of the NFC versus New England. Green Bay by a field goal.

Ridley: I got Patriots and Panthers. New England by a touchdown. Tom Brady revenge tour.

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.