Esports’ popularity and market value show no sign of slowing down.
As the industry’s popularity continues to gain traction, the market cap continues to increase. For example, Accenture estimated that the total value of the gaming industry in 2021 exceeded $300 billion. That statistic is more than the combined markets for movies and music, driven by a surge in mobile gaming and an emphasis on social interaction during the pandemic. Yet, despite all the positive aspects of esports, it still lacks diversity. A recent report showed that 46% of gamers are women; however, only 20% are Latinx, 15% are Black and 5% are Asian American. Additionally, 16% are LGBTQIA. Companies such as XSET are breaking barriers and making gaming diverse.
Erin Ashley Simon, multimedia personality and co-owner of XSET, helps shape the organization’s culture and facilitate connections and content in and around music, entertainment and the gaming industry. As the chief culture officer, she provides more industry-focused opportunities for those from underserved, underrepresented and marginalized communities. The company fields some of the world’s top competitive esports teams in titles, including Valorant, Rocket League and Fortnite. It partnered with high-profile brands such as Ghost Lifestyle and SCUF Gaming, also working with socially positive causes, including Big Brother Big Sister of America.
“If we sign a nonbinary player, I’m the one that makes everyone aware of the appropriate ways to identify the individual from their pronouns,” Simon explains. “I also work on projects that focus on specific communities. We’ve been focusing a lot on HBCUs. So I lead those DNI projects, whether from a charitable, educational or even an entertainment perspective. I work with our team making sure that a lot of the projects, initiatives and milestones we have incorporate a very inclusionary aspect.”
In high school, Simon started a blog entitled Box of Mess. Initially, she covered music and fashion before expanding to interviewing high school basketball players. The players gave her exclusive insight into where they were going to college, which boosted her views from national media outlets. She landed spots at The Wall Street Journal covering sports and Revolt TV. By the time she was 25, she had earned senior-level positions as a producer.
Having played soccer competitively at a Division I university, she understood the world of athletics and how athletes could use their voices to develop change. With a sports background combined with a producer’s mindset, Simon knew she wanted to stay in the world of storytelling. In 2018, she was laid off from a job. She invested in herself and decided to become a freelancer. She began covering gaming at the intersection of pop culture. One day her friend needed a cohost for his show, and he asked Simon to join him—which catapulted her career.
“Going full-time as a freelancer, you never knew when the next paycheck would come,” she expresses. “You always have to figure out what’s the next thing. So I had to build up this resilient mindset of ‘Hey, there are other things that I have to do now that I never had to do when I had a nine to five and had that comfortability.’ I had to learn how to be okay with the ups and downs of the industry.”
As she networked, Simon met DJ Clinton Sparks, Marco Mereu, Wil Eddins and Greg Selkoe, gaming executives. Together, they built XSET. They recently expanded the Erin Ashley Simon Esports Internship Fund at the University of Kentucky, designed for students interested in gaming and esports careers. The fund has grown to $5,000, with XSET and Simon focused on developing the fund in the coming years by attracting support from other companies and influencers.
“That scholarship is special,” Simon exclaims. “It’s set up to create an opportunity for financial needs students to gain experience in gaming and esports while also getting an education… I’m excited to build it out. I’m also excited to continue building initiatives in the gaming esports space at the University of Kentucky because when I was a student-athlete there, they helped me so much to continue my media career and supported me in so many different ways. So I want to get back to UK [University of Kentucky] and give back to a state in a space that doesn’t really get as much attention when it comes to these opportunities because there’s so much amazing talent in that region.”
As Simon continues to evolve in her career, she focuses on the following essential steps:
- Devise a plan; figure out what you want to do and the impact you want to make. That will help you build out a viable strategy.
- Be consistent in your actions. You won’t know if something will work or not if you don’t spend time on it. You need to dedicate at least three to six months before seeing traction.
- Don’t be afraid or feel like a failure if something isn’t working. Learn from the mistakes and keep moving forward, applying what did work for you.
“If I wanted to do anything, my mom always let me do it,” Simon concludes. “She said, ‘That’s the only way that you can really find what you’re passionate about is to try; you can’t know unless you try.’ So you can’t be fearful. No one’s really great when they start out… I was always very competitive. So I always wanted to be really good at anything that I do, and I was not afraid of stumbling while trying.”