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Students & Alumni

Game Changer Files: Israel Garcia-Diaz ’18MS, Experience Designer at EA SPORTS

April 18, 2024

Eric McGinnis, FIEA art alumnus from Cohort 17 and former strength and conditioning coach, makes his way up the the bouldering wall at Blue Swan Boulders in Creative Village, just steps away from FIEA at UCF Downtown.
Israel Garcia-Diaz ’18MS, FIEA art alumnus from Cohort 14, fought to return to FIEA after Hurricane Maria devastated his home island of Puerto Rico to finish his Interactive Entertainment degree with the support of FIEA faculty and staff.

We’re asking FIEA alumni five questions about their experiences before, during and after graduating from UCF’s top-ranking game development program. Israel Garcia-Diaz ’18MS from Cohort 14 describes the impact that both a supportive team and belief in himself had on his trajectory.
1. Status: Where are you currently working and what projects are you currently working on (if you can share)?

IGD: I am an Experience Designer at EA SPORTS. I started by contributing to the design aspects of EA SPORTS Madden NFL 20 and am presently steering the redesign efforts for the forthcoming relaunch of EA SPORTS College Football 25.

2. Noob: Tell us what you did before your time at FIEA. What inspired you to attend FIEA?

IGD: After completing my bachelor’s degree in Communications at the University of Puerto Rico in 2003, I then spent more than a decade as an art director in the advertising industry managing accounts for prominent brands like McDonald’s, Budweiser, and Bud Light, catering to the Hispanic market. I spearheaded creative campaigns for internationally renowned brands such as Honda, Acura, Walgreens, and BBVA. Seeking a new challenge, I studied Jazz music, Sound Engineering, and Video Production, and became a Senior Art Director at two major international pharmaceutical companies.

Driven by an unwavering passion for the video game industry, I decided to make a definitive career shift. Thorough research led me to the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy (FIEA), where I joined Cohort 14. The exceptional guidance of professors, support from administrative staff, and collaboration with peers facilitated my successful navigation through personal and professional challenges. My expertise in 3D animation, complemented by prior knowledge in Graphic Design, 2D animation, audio, and video editing, opened new doors. Following the guidance of mentors, I discovered my aptitude for UI/UX Design. Post-graduation, Electronic Arts (EA) Sports offered me a unique opportunity to contribute as a UI Artist for the EA SPORTS Madden NFL team. Now, celebrating five years in this role, I am convinced that FIEA played a pivotal role in realizing my dreams.

3. PvE: How did FIEA prepare you for the industry?

IGD: When I applied to FIEA, my expectations were exceptionally high, fueled by numerous success stories from accomplished alumni. I could vividly picture myself joining their ranks. The program’s well-structured curriculum creates an immersive experience, allowing students to feel as though they are already in the industry. The coursework, application of acquired knowledge (especially in classes like RPP), industry-standard tools, and the meticulous preparation for the Capstone project, ensure a smooth transition to the professional landscape. In stark contrast to my transition from undergraduate studies to the workforce, where I dedicated six months to unpaid work for the sake of gaining experience, FIEA and EA instilled in me a profound sense of readiness and competence.

4. PvP: Please share any advice you have for current FIEAns as they enter the game development industry.

IGD: My primary advice for current FIEA students is to cultivate a clear vision of success and commit wholeheartedly to the relentless pursuit of their goals. Although the initial journey may seem challenging, the ultimate rewards will substantiate the dedication invested. Forge meaningful connections, optimize each moment spent on campus, embrace the learning curve, and view mistakes as invaluable opportunities for growth.

Allow me to share a poignant story. At the onset of my first semester, a profound tragedy struck my homeland of Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria threatened the island. Despite just settling into my new apartment, and my wife finalizing arrangements to join me in Orlando, I promptly returned. Faced with more than 3,000 casualties and months without essential services, the island was in the aftermath of a catastrophic event. Miraculously, I managed to return to Orlando a month and a half later, convinced that my academic journey at UCF had come to a halt, and contemplating withdrawing from the program. I approached FIEA’s executive director Ben Noel for guidance. In that pivotal moment, Ben, a compassionate figure, reignited my aspirations. His question, “Israel, what is it that you truly want to do?” served as a catalyst. Drying my tears, I affirmed my commitment to completing my degree. “Well then, we shall support you,” Ben reassured me. His words proved transformative, marking the beginning of an inspiring journey.

“With the collective support of my peers and professors, I successfully graduated in December 2018. In that same month, I received a job offer from Electronic Arts, an accomplishment I had once deemed improbable.” – Israel Garcia-Diaz ’18MS, FIEA alumnus from Cohort 14

Israel Garcia-Diaz and his wife, both dark hair pose in a close hug and smile, facing the camera inside their home, blurred in the background.
Israel Garcia-Diaz ’18MS, FIEA alumnus from Cohort 14, and his wife in Puerto Rico before Hurricane Maria struck the island.

With the collective support of my peers and professors, I successfully graduated in December 2018. In that same month, I received a job offer from Electronic Arts, an accomplishment I had once deemed improbable. While every narrative is unique, and undoubtedly there are countless stories akin to mine, I firmly believe that my trajectory would have been fundamentally altered without the opportunity to complete my degree at FIEA.

Thus, my paramount counsel is to harbor an unshakable belief in your capabilities and potential, even in the face of adversity.

5. AFK: Do you have any recent, interesting personal successes, new hobbies, family updates or activities you would like to share?

IGD: I prioritize maintaining a healthy balance between work and life, recognizing its significance for both physical and mental well-being. Dedication to spending quality time with my daughter and wife is a constant in my routine, whether it involves leisurely walks in serene parks, exploring new locales, or traveling to visit family. Much like many of you, I have a genuine passion for video games. I allocate dedicated time for the ongoing refinement of my musical abilities, persistently practicing the guitar and various other string instruments. I also actively engage as a mentor for the Puerto Rico Game Developers Association, offering guidance to students and aspiring individuals seeking entry into this dynamic and enjoyable industry.