On a Friday afternoon, thousands of people tuned in to Twitch to watch as Erin Ashley Simon breezed through an initial review of NBA 2K20’s Career Mode, commented on competitive Fortnite streamer Tfue’s use of the racial slur, and interviewed the winner of the Madden 20 Classic tournament. This was all before jumping into a game of NBA 2K20 with a colleague — in the span of one hour. Throughout the show, she and co-host Jimmy Mondal also took breaks to check in with the stream's chat audience, effortlessly integrating their conversational approach to the show to their interactions with viewers.
It’s a tough but rewarding job, and it seems especially suited for Simon. She’s personable, charismatic and passionate about games. As an esports journalist for Cheddar Esports, which broadcasts gaming programming via Twitch every weekday, she frequently interviews top players, industry veterans and even celebrities such as Snoop Dogg.
Pave your own path, you never know where it could lead you to.— Erin Ashley Simon (@erinasimon) June 12, 2019
I honestly never expected to interview Snoop Dogg this early in my esports/gaming media experience but hey, it was awesome! pic.twitter.com/gjJXvnLXOU
She grew up playing sports games, and now in her role with Cheddar, she’s acutely aware of the challenges in bringing esports to the masses by following the model of competitive sports teams.
“Traditional sports-based people are entering into the esports and gaming space," she told TheGamer, "but there are things about the gaming community that aren't quite understood by them."
A former college athlete herself, she kicked off her career by leveraging her love of the game into a stint with the NBA 2K League before joining Cheddar Esports as a host.
Her unique background means she has insight into traditional sports models as well as emerging trends in competitive esports. She hints that the two industries could stand to learn from one another, especially when it comes to traditional sports games in an esports world.
“I'm honestly excited to see the competitive scene expand for Madden as well as others like the NBA 2K League, eMLS and so on,” she said.
With the football season now in full swing, Simon looks to have a busy fall ahead. Earlier this year, EA Sports announced that this year's competitive Madden circuit would tie in more closely with NFL football than ever before. As such, she recognizes the special challenges that traditional sports franchises face in adapting to the emerging landscape of competitive esports.
“The further collaboration of the NFL and Madden's competitive circuit tie will ultimately help with exposure,” she said, noting that this franchise is operating at least a tier below other franchises for games like League of Legends and Overwatch. “The great thing is there are potential synergy options to translate traditional sports fans over to tuning in.”
She notes that one major challenge involves traditional sports-based franchises face translating segmented audiences over to viewership. It’s important to recognize that sports fans and gamers are historically two separate markets for advertisers.
“Madden's competitive scene will need the exposure and marketing that the NFL can provide to bring in sponsorship to increase not only viewership but cash prizes,” shew said. “Right now sponsorship, media rights and advertising is the name of the game for brands.”
She suggests further collaboration with traditional sports talent might be the answer, pointing to JuJu Smith-Schuster as an example. Smith-Shuster is best known as a professional football, but also has a Twitch presence, where he occasionally streams games like Fortnite and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4.
“Hopefully, with the closer relationship, there will be more listening instead of forcing actions upon the gaming community that may not make sense,” she said, referring specifically to Madden.
But that's not the only issue. Another major challenge revolves around the release cycle for sports games.
“If you've noticed, a lot of the top esports scenes are free to play, or games you purchase once with frequent updates meant for competitive play,” she said. "It's a successful model." This is something she’s discussed in detail with her colleague Zane Bhansali, who produces Cheddar Esports.
Fortnite and League of Legends, both of which have major esports fanbases, are free-to-play games, and Overwatch, which also has a rapidly-growing esports presence, is a one-time purchase. Madden, on the other hand, is an annual release, so players who want to keep up with the latest updates must purchase an entirely new game every year.
“There's great opportunity with the real sports leagues getting involved, but it will be a step-by-step process," Ashley mused. "If they focus more on adjusting the game for competitive play and also finding ways to create regional as well as nationwide marketing to cross fans over to the competitive scene, it can grow.”
As a strong example of what it takes to build successful collaboration, she points to the NBA2K franchise.
“The NBA 2K League did a great job bringing in actual an actual community member as a community ambassador to really listen to what the community wants,” she said. “Sports and esports industries win by listening to one another.”
Catch Erin Ashley Simon on Cheddar Esports, which airs Monday through Friday at 5 p.m. ET on Twitch, and follow her on Twitter at @erinasimon.