Diversity & Inclusion
COVID-19 / DEI / Sports

This Black Latinx woman is bridging the gap between culture and gaming in esports

New Jersey native Erin Ashley Simon says her passion for gaming has led her to a rewarding career path as a unique voice in a quickly growing industry.

The founders of Launch Lane's inaugural cohort. (Courtesy photo)

Esports host and broadcaster Erin Ashley Simon’s work allows her to be herself and speak up in a burgeoning industry that has gained even more attention because of COVID-19.

The New Jersey native considers herself a lifelong gamer and remembers first playing video games when she was about 5 years old. Whether she worked in other types of media covering music or sports, she always had a passion for gaming but felt limited in how she could professionally convey that passion.

“When I worked in music media, those were passions of mine, but I felt I wasn’t able to effectively highlight all of my passions in one space,” she told Technical.ly. “Those industries were narrow-minded.”

During her time covering sports for The Shadow League, a conversation with former colleague Kyle Harvey about the impact of esports in the Black community helped confirm Simon’s decision to go in a new professional direction and helped her find a way of integrating her passions for gaming, media and sports into one endeavor.

While Simon is a former college athlete and worked in media for several years — including, full disclosure, as a contributing editor for an entertainment blog in the tri-state area this reporter also wrote for — she is an introvert. She gained experience in vocalizing her ideas as an esports broadcaster during her time on the NBA 2K League’s Twitch show and from the Grass Routes Podcast, a podcast she started with friends that now has more than 7,000 YouTube subscribers.

As a Black Latinx woman, working in esports also appealed to Simon because it has allowed her to be herself and speak up about issues like the social disparities in esports.

“When I started to work for Cheddar Esports and build as a broadcaster, no one made the mix of music and culture into esports,” she said about the daily gaming show she hosted from fall 2018 to this spring. “I’m seeing more people [do so] now and COVID is expediting the process. I couldn’t do broadcasting in other spaces because I didn’t fit the mold. That led me to where I am now. Being able to find my voice and build my perspective has been the most rewarding aspect.”

Simon cites a lack of traditional sports and a need for escapism as factors in esports’ heightened profile during the pandemic.

“Esports has been instrumental because we haven’t really had traditional sports,” she said. “A lot of sports networks and media platforms need to fill media space and esports is not as impacted by COVID as other industries. Gaming has always been a form of escapism. Allowing people to escape for a bit has been valuable.”

Simon’s work day as an esports broadcaster begins the night before she goes to air with meetings about content ideas. She and other on-air talents meet with producers to discuss talking points, where they can take a story and how to create engaging debates and conversations.

The morning of filming, Simon rehearses for broadcast by going through scripts called “readers,” where producers write teleprompter prompts in the tone of her voice. Preparation is important because if a teleprompter stops working for some reason during filming, she still has to be able to keep things moving. The tone of esports broadcasts differs from other reporting in that its audience prefers a “looser” method of discussion.

Depending on how the broadcast works, Simon may go into makeup and wardrobe if there is a budget for those things, and if not she not, she will do them herself. After filming a broadcast, there is a followup with the team about what went well and what didn’t. From there, Simon is done and off to prepare for the next day.

But as an esports personality, Simon’s work doesn’t end there.

On-air talents often have their own obligations like streaming or brand sponsorships. During a regular day, it’s not uncommon to see Simon tweet to her 15,000 Twitter followers that she is playing games on Twitch with friends. She is an avid gamer and is aware of the misconceptions the general public may have about esports.

“People assume it’s easy to livestream for hours playing games on Twitch,” she said. “Another misconception is that people see dollar signs in [esports], but it’s a younger industry and not foundationally structured.”

For Simon’s next adventure in esports, she will take her passion for culture and sports to the new VENN, aka the Video Game Entertainment and News Network, beginning on Aug. 5.

Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.

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