Chris Fowler On The Challenges Of Video Game Calls And Why He’s Fired Up To Be In ‘EA Sports College Football’

Chris Fowler has been one of the leading voices in college football for decades, but this July will mark his debut as the voice of video game college football. The lead play-by-play man for ESPN will join his colleague Kirk Herbstreit on the call for the biggest games in EA Sports College Football 25, and as Fowler explains, it’s a moment that’s been a long time coming.

Fowler has been calling college football games for 36 years at ESPN, but when the NCAA Football franchise was around, he was conspicuously missing. His partner, Kirk Herbstreit was in the game, but the play-by-play in those games was former ESPN broadcaster Brad Nessler, who’s currently with CBS. As Fowler detailed in Orlando during a launch event at EA Sports campus, that was because ESPN wouldn’t let him be part of the game.

“It’s so cool for me being involved in this game, because I wasn’t allowed to be involved in the previous version of this college football game by my employer,” Fowler said. “ESPN blocked me from doing it. I was a staff employee, they could do that back then. Kirk and others could be involved, I couldn’t be. The rationale was ESPN was going to get into the football video game business and this would compete with that.”

This time around, ESPN no longer has dreams of getting in the gaming space and instead lent much of their team to EA Sports College Football 25. Fowler couldn’t have been more excited, and saw firsthand how excited people are for the return when he started posting videos of himself recording lines from his home studio.

“Well, I was aware of how it resonates when I wasn’t involved in it. I mean, it bothered me a lot. And I don’t really live with regrets, but I mean, not being able to do that, I thought was really unfair and it just bothered me,” Fowler explained. “And here’s Kirk involved in it, Nessler, and other guys that I knew or [were] friends. So I was aware from the start when they brought this game back that it was going to be really well received and that I wasn’t going to take no for an answer and wanted to be involved in it. But I get it. As it unfolds, and it gets closer and closer and little tidbits are released, and also once I saw the quality of it. Again, I’m not saying I was shocked, but I just had no idea that there was going to be that kind of commitment by everybody. Every single person who played any role in creating this wanted to do their part as well as they could and that comes out on the screen.”

While Fowler is a veteran of voiceover work, lending his voice to a video game was an entirely new experience, and one that forced him to really think about how he calls games. They don’t play clips for you when you’re recording your lines, but you have to figure out how to match your intensity with the moment in the game without seeing what you’re calling at all. That required an adjustment period and, as he explained, he had to learn to visualize the moment and try to imagine himself in an actual broadcast booth in a stadium to try and deliver a call that mirrors what fans would hear on TV.

“It wasn’t instant because it’s so different than most of the voiceover work you do — you know, you do documentary films that it’s very quiet and very slow, and you do commercials and you’re doing what they want and it changes,” Fowler said. “But like I said, it’s not alien to me. You have to imagine yourself in a booth, but if you’ve ever seen anybody in a studio or in a booth, when you listen at home, the energy is here. When you see it live, it’s there. The whole process is filtered by the time it gets through a TV screen or to a gaming console. So you have to be even bigger here to get the level you want there. The routine plays are not that big of a deal, but the touchdown calls are what people remember in a game or a video game, so you want to get that part right. And like I said, it was a process. I felt like I was trying, but I wasn’t doing a good enough job at simulating a first-play or a game-winning touchdown. So you go back and listen to some of those calls, and then you have to try to get to that level.”

Fowler said he requested to re-do some lines once they finally sent him clips, because he felt he didn’t bring the right energy to the call to meet the moment. One example he noted was they sent him a gameplay clip of someone scoring a first-play touchdown in Ohio State-Michigan, and, having literally been in that situation before — he brought up Xavier Worthy’s touchdown to open Red River in 2021 — he realized the excitement and energy level just wasn’t where it needed to be.

“It was a 75-yard pass play touchdown on the first play of the game, with the commentary I’d laid down. If you don’t know how it’s done, a touchdown call is stitched together from five or six pieces of information — you can’t call every single touchdown situation,” he said. “So it’s stitched together in that way, but I didn’t like what I heard. Ohio State scores from 75 yards out on the first play against Michigan? I mean, that energy level in real life is as big as any game-winning touchdown. In a rivalry game, in that environment, if you score on the first play, that’s as much as winning a championship on the last play. And I didn’t think that I brought it. So I really asked to re-record some of the stuff.”

Part of the challenge of getting that energy level right was learning how to pace the recording sessions. They recorded him shouting “TOUCHDOWN [insert school]” 134 times in a session, but had to break that up with some “run for three yards” calls to help him from blowing out his voice and having the energy and sound taper off later down the alphabet.

“You have to learn over time how to program those sessions so that you’re not blowing yourself up because it’s just not like a real game. You have a lot of small plays and quiet calls mixed into the touchdowns,” Fowler recalled. “We were doing a bunch of those stuff together. So it took a while, but not that long. And then there’s just a ton of plays there, where it’s not scripted. I think people have to understand, when you’re saying, “Out of bounds at the 49,” and going all the way down to the one, and the different inflection you need as you get closer to the goal line.

“It’s subtle stuff like that that you want to bring, and they did a great job in helping remind me or direct me in that, but sort of just putting yourself in that position. Like okay, now they’re out of bounds at the four. That shouldn’t sound the same way as out of bounds at the 30, right? So just subtly bringing up the energy, and it requires a lot of focus to do that. I think we started at four hours [per session] and then moved it down to three. Kirk did two-hour sessions. It’s trying to make sure you have the right energy because nobody cares when they’re playing the game. ‘Hey, he probably called about 100 touchdowns before that, so I understand why he didn’t really bring it on that one.’ It doesn’t matter. There’s no context for that. You want to be great.”

Fowler said he did 115 hours of recordings across more than two years getting ready for the game, with about 10 hours of sessions with Herbstreit to create a natural conversation feel in the game. As Herbstreit told him, the amount of detail in the commentary was way more than when he was part of the old NCAA Football franchise, and as such, the hours piled up as they found more things they needed lines for.

“He did inform me, ‘Let me tell you something, this is way different.’ It’s way denser, because every aspect of this game is much denser and richer than it was before,” Fowler said. “So yeah, he let me know that the commitment and the kinds of things he was being asked to talk about. It’s just so much. And that’s the thing, you know better than I do that people get frustrated when every call sounds the same, right? And there’s a generic nature to it. There should be nothing generic about a football game, or a video game about football, right? I mean, I don’t know what it was. Probably 100 times richer than that, than what he first did.”

We’ll find out exactly how successful they were in delivering on their promise of depth and detail, but it was clear how excited Fowler was to be a part of it and how much respect he had for the folks at EA Sports for the amount of effort and work that went into the game. As they explained in the presentation they gave the assembled media in Orlando, they wanted fans of every team to feel like they were cared for in the same way, whether they’re a big program like Alabama or a smaller one like Kennesaw State. They put a ton into the presentation, from stadium builds to getting band and cheerleader formations exact for player runouts, but the broadcast commentary is vital to the game feeling real and feeling fresh. They hope all those hours put in the studio will pay dividends.

For Fowler, it was a long time coming to finally get his voice in the game, and while “demanding,” he cited it as one of the “one of the coolest experiences I’ve had” in his nearly four decades as a broadcaster.

Uproxx was invited on a hosted trip by EA Sports for reporting on this piece. They did not review or approve this story. You can find out more about our policy on press trips/hostings here.