Erin Ashley Simon has taken a circuitous route toward a career in esports and knows it can be a hard space to break into. That’s why she recently went back to her roots and established an internship fund at her alma mater, the University of Kentucky.
Simon graduated from UK with a degree in journalism. She also minored in business, which she credits as one of the most important backgrounds to enable her to do her job. It has helped her so much that she actually requires the student receiving the scholarship to at least minor in business.
“They have to have a minor in business, and to me that's so important because the one thing I've learned, honestly, the knowledge and information I gained from my business minor has helped me in my career tremendously.” Simon told Nerd Street. “And I think that it's so important that all the students, regardless of what their positions are, understand business. Because if you understand general foundational business, you're going to understand the esports business side a lot more, and it makes you more valuable.”
Other requirements include a minimum of a 3.00 unweighted high school GPA, a demonstrable financial need and esports experience with gaming ties. Applications for this fund open in fall 2022, and will be awarded to one student, but Simon hopes that soon it can be available to more students.
The program is directed at students who have financial needs and are from low income areas. It is also designed to be used by students to get an internship in their junior year instead of their senior year. This is because Simon wants them to have enough time to jump into different parts of the esports industry.
Helping students succeed in esports by introducing career diversity
Simon said the main reason the internship should take place in a student’s junior year is to give them time to really explore what the esports industry has to offer.
“We actually are starting that process earlier in their junior year so that they can get enough experience and get enough information on their resume. So that if they want to continue on with esports,” Simon said. “The most important thing for me is that they're successful in life. And the great thing about this is like, they're going to get a little taste of everything.”
Many who don’t have a background in esports might not realize that there is a lot more to the esports industry besides being a professional player or a coach. Simon’s goal is to make sure that these students have a good idea of what kind of careers they can have, and even if they decide to exit the esports space, they will still have the skills to transfer over to another industry.
“Our goal is to give them -- in their first two years, three years -- a little taste of different career opportunities within esports. So the end of the end of their collegiate year, it'll be where it's like, 'OK, I want to be on the business side’, or ‘oh, I want to do the broadcasting side,’” Simon said.
The barrier to enter esports is high
Esports is a tough industry to break into, even without a scholarship like the Erin Ashley Simon Esports Internship Fund. Simon points out that the biggest barrier into a career in esports is access, and it’s something that her internship fund is looking to help with.
“Despite what anyone says, relationships are so crucial for the development of your career, whether in this space or outside of this space,” Simon said. “And so, a lot of times you're not going to get access to some of these people, unless you go to conferences, events, or if you live in LA, right? And a lot of people within the Commonwealth area of Kentucky, and also just in general, like, they're not going to get access to these people. And the only really big access point is Twitter.”
To help cure the access problem, Simon has included two partnerships that have already invested into the esports program at UK to help with the internship fund. Gen.G and JMI, which are UK’s partners in their esports program, and XSET, which Simon is co-owner of, are three natural partners for this fund, but Simon wants to bring in more partners as well.
The most important thing for Simon is that the student awarded the internship fund is successful and has numerous career trajectories when exiting the program.
“For me, it's about making the students successful. So if they have a communication or arts degree major, it's important that they also have that business or tech or financial minor, because let's just say [it] doesn't work out for them in that space, they still have a solid foundation to do something else …” Simon said. “I set it up that way because what I started out after college is not where I am now. But that skill set and that experience helped me to be able to adapt and be able to go into a different space.”
From an architecture engineering firm to co-owning XSET and more
If you ask folks working in esports, a lot of them will tell you that they never imagined that they’d end up working in esports when they attended college. Simon was no different.
“I mean, I followed a little bit of esports. Definitely the fighting game community and a few others,” she said. “During that time, though, I wasn't able to follow it as much because I played [Division I] soccer at UK. So my life was literally soccer and my education. I, funny enough, during those years, I barely even played video games, because I just didn't have the time to do so.”
Coming out of college, Simon’s career took a turn to esports, but it didn’t start out that way. Her first job out of college was at an engineering architecture firm, and she was also a freelancer for the Wall Street Journal.
After that, she moved on to the music industry where she worked for a company called Revolt TV, which is a music-oriented cable network founded by Sean “Diddy” Combs. Simon started at Revolt as a member of the digital and social media team and moved up to TV producer.
After a layoff in 2018 and a surgery that had her out of commission for a while, she decided to try a career in broadcasting. Simon and her parents agreed on a timeline before she had to return to a 9-5 job, and she set off in hopes of finding a career she loved.
Now, Simon is a co-owner of the esports organization XSET, has appeared in national commercials, launched her own gaming apparel line with Puma and has done much more.
Simon’s fund is a great addition to the esports program at UK, and she hopes to help many students starting in fall 2022.
Lead photo credit: Sean Bartley