Inside the Community: Justin Dewiel of EA SPORTS

One of the biggest shifts in gaming in recent years has been the involvement of community managers in the industry.  Community Managers have become the face of certain games, allowing fans to vent their frustrations and praises and actually be heard.

Having a great community manager in your studio is a key asset, and EA SPORTS has been one of the companies to fully realize this.  In the EA SPORTS studio mostly recognized as Tiburon, you’ll find Justin Dewiel handling some of the most important titles the company has to offer.  Along with his great work on the community front, Justin is also responsible for putting together the EA SPORTS Game Changers group.

We recently had the chance to ask Justin a few questions, and he took the time to answer them below.  Continue reading for his answers, and a chance to get to know Justin even better.

Justin Dewiel & his wife

You’re known quite well now as being a Community Manager for EA SPORTS, but how did you get your start in the video game world?

[JD] Well, I’ve been playing Madden since 1992 and it’s always been my favorite game. When I was finishing up college in early 2007, my brother-in-law, Marcus Stephenson, who was working at EA SPORTS at the time, approached me about an opportunity to come work for EA. At first, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue on and go to law school or give it a shot, but after making my first trip to the studio and meeting my coworkers, I knew it was the right move for me. Fast forward four years and here I am now.

While you’re part of some of the most well-known sports titles on the globe, what non-sports games do you find yourself enjoying?

[JD] As you know, I’m a huge sports gamer and that’s where I spend most of my time, but I also play Battlefield 3, COD, GOW3, Need for Speed, Forza 4, and Uncharted 3 to name a few.

Being a huge fan of the Cleveland Browns, and all things Ohio, describe what it felt like when Peyton Hillis was chosen as the cover athlete for Madden NFL 12 by the fans.

[JD] It was an unbelievable feeling. I started personally campaigning for Peyton early on by hitting every Browns fansite that I knew of and making the aware of the vote. I didn’t think he had a real shot of winning, so I figured I’d do my part to at least try and push Peyton past Rice Rice and the Ravens. We need to get a win over those guys somehow! Then it became crazy. Peyton started knocking off guys and I thought that he’d make it to Aaron Rodgers, who was coming off of a great Super Bowl performance, and get thrashed. But Browns fans, if anything, are loyal and they pushed Peyton past Aaron and eventually put him on the cover of Madden NFL 12. This was the first time that a player from one of my pro teams (Browns/Cavs/Indians) had ever ended up on a cover, so it was great to see and know that I was a part of making that happen.

What’s been your favorite interaction with a fan of the EA SPORTS brand in the last few years that you’ve been with the company?

[JD] There are so many here that it’s hard to choose from, but I’d have to go with Anton “Anton32” Bland. I met Anton back in 2008 or so during a Game with Dev event that I was participating in and we hit it off from the start. Anton, for those of you who don’t know him, is a very passionate Madden gamers that wants to do everything in his power to help the community grow. He’s even hosted “Lab Sessions” to help guys that are new to the game out. Great guy, but he’s very cocky when it comes to Madden and thinks he can’t be beat. He also likes to run a tourney style game, so it’s always fun to play against. Early on, Anton and I traded wins back and forth, but over the past few years, I’ve zeroed in on his game and I don’t think Anton has beaten me since Madden NFL 10. I said all of that to say it’s been a journey getting to know Anton and watch him become a humble member of our community over time. That’s why Anton was one of the first seven members of the EA SPORTS Game Changers program. I don’t think you’ll find another guy out there that cares more about the Madden franchise.

The “community” effort has been impressively embraced by EA SPORTS as a company in recent years.  With the company going from the “negative” view of gamers to a positive one, can you tell us what that feels like to be one of the faces of that effort?

[JD] It feels good, but there’s always more work to be done. One of the things I wanted to change when I first arrived here in the Tiburon studio a few years ago was address how we treated community day events to make sure that we were maximizing our efforts. Last year, we were able to host 5 community events here in studio that allowed 15 members of our community to log at least 130 hours with NCAA Football 12 prior to its release. In my experience, that is unheard of for a gaming company to put that type of investment into community and we’ll be doing more of the same this year for the Madden NFL and NCAA Football franchises.

The other key component has been opening up the lines of communication. Fans are able to contact us on Facebook and Twitter through our official channels or they can reach out to me directly at @JDewiel on Twitter. We’ve also set up feedback emails that fans who may want to send their feedback in a more private manner can reach out to us and make sure that their voice is being heard. Combine that with the presence that we maintain on fansites and forums, fans have an endless amount of ways to get in contact with EA SPORTS.

You talk a mean game of Madden, and you’ve beaten me in a game of Fight Night, but what game are you the best at that you feel people wouldn’t expect?

[JD] I do talk a mean game of Madden and in case you forget, I beat you in Madden NFL 10 as well in a hotel room with several witnesses. That FIGHT NIGHT beating you mention was one for the ages after you talked about how no one could beat you and then I knocked you out using a Light Heavyweight while letting you use a Heavyweight. It’s always a blast when getting together for a showdown against some like WhoIsDo!

Now to your main question… I am a force to be reckoned with when it comes to Mario Kart on the Game Cube. Yea, I said Mario Kart on the Game Cube. I can’t remember the last time I lost a race on the Baby park course. That game is the sole reason that I’ve kept a Game Cube.

It’s the first pack of a fantasy draft in Madden NFL 13, and you’re on the clock.  What current NFL player do you take with your first pick to build a team around and why?

[JD] I’m either going Cam Newton or LeSean McCoy. Cam gives me the strong armed QB with speed that I like and Shady provides me with a lights out RB that has good hands out of the backfield. Either way, I win.

The Madden curse appears to strike again this year with Peyton Hillis having a less than desirable year.  Are you a believer in the curse or do you think it’s something else?

[JD] Am I a believer in the Madden Curse? At this point I don’t know. I, like every other Cleveland sports fan believes our sports franchises are cursed. So if there was a Madden Curse, wouldn’t those to negatives equal a positive? Something is going on. Peyton looked much better last year, but I’m not convinced that the Cleveland Curse hasn’t struck Peyton and not the Madden Curse.

One of the most impressive things you’re in charge of is the EA SPORTS Game Changers group.  Can you expand on what the group is about and what it means to you?

[JD] Without a doubt, I can say that creating the EA SPORTS Game Changers program is my proudest accomplishment professionally to date. The program exists solely for the improvement of the community and our products. The program at its simplest form is about indentifying those in our community who are working to build and expand the EA SPORTS Community and provide direct actionable feedback to the development teams. It may be someone like Derek Adams, who has created leagueManager.net to add additional online franchise functionality to the Madden NFL franchise. Or, it could be someone like Shopmaster who has been helping build the EA SPORTS Community for years by running a fansite, collecting feedback, and presenting those ideas for the development team.

We’d like to thank Justin Dewiel of EA SPORTS for taking the time to answer our questions.  You can follow Justin on Twitter to stay up to date with news on titles that he’s working on, as well as find a plethora of tweets regarding the Ohio State Buckeyes.  Have any questions you want Justin to answer or find anything particularly interesting in this article?  Be sure to let us know by leaving us a comment below, or sound off in our forums!

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