If you know esports, you might know Gabriella Devia-Allen better by her pseudonym “Le Tigress.” The esports commentator, or “caster,” comes to the world of competitive gaming through a traditional broadcast background, studying journalism as an undergrad and attaining a master’s degree in communication.
Working for topflight esports developer Hi-Rez Studios, Devia-Allen provides live insight on esports events as they occur and interviews players and industry figures. Read on for her thoughts on breaking into the industry, being creative while being authentic, and how to handle yourself on the sometimes long road to your goals.
Find Your Grind: Tell us a little bit about yourself and career history, Gabriella.
Gabriella Devia-Allen: For the most part, I’m from South Florida, but I’ve lived in several states, including my current locale of Georgia. In 2014, while watching an esports broadcast, I had the realization, “I could totally do that and be totally happy.”
After all, I’d been searching for a way back into the gaming community, and this just seemed like the perfect fit for me considering my love for entertainment and broadcasting. That thought flourished from a seed to a dream. I spent the next years filling my time with talent work in various gaming communities, building a portfolio, and picking up a master’s degree in communication, specializing in esports along the way. After winning The Caster (2017), Hi-Rez Studios granted me the wonderful opportunity of working full time in the esports department. So here I am.
FYG: How would you describe your job to someone who knows nothing about what you do?
GDA: When someone asks what I do and looks startled when I respond with “esports commentator,” I usually follow up with this: “You know those people that talk while the players in the NBA and NFL play or the people sitting at a desk during half time? That’s me but for professional gaming.” Of course, there’s more to it than that, but I’ve found that to be the easiest way to break the ice of explanation to non-gamers.
FYG: What kind of experience or degree would someone need to get a job like yours? How did you obtain that experience/degree?
GDA: I know people who got involved in esports before leaving high school as well as those who’ve joined the industry after extensive education or experience in other fields. Personally, I combined education with experience. Prior to esports, my competitive speech background earned me a full-ride opportunity to study broadcasting (with a concentration in TV/Film Production) at Western Kentucky University where I gathered some national-level accolades, including a championship title in Informative Speaking.
Once I discovered esports, I started streaming and creating content regardless of how many or few people were watching. I then volunteered to host community tournaments until I was rewarded with in-game rewards then below minimum wage, then acceptable rates until I could prove my value. When I decided to get a master’s degree in communication, I asked myself “How can I make this about esports?” and focused all my documentary and written work on the industry. Immediately after graduation is when I competed on The Caster (2017) and was offered a full-time position at Hi-Rez Studios. While these degrees were not necessary for my starting position, they helped me 1) stand out and 2) advance my responsibilities within the industry rather quickly.
FYG: What advice would you give to kids in high school, especially kids from rural areas, who want to get into esports?
GDA: I always tell people, “Make sure you’re always doing something” (the same advice once given to me). If you’ve got the passion and what it takes, eventually one of those things will stick. I mean, I got my first community hosting gig based on a meme-y League of Legends music video that showed the organization owner I had personality. The video wasn’t budget driven. It wasn’t anything that someone with limited resources couldn’t do. It was just a creative whim. That video didn’t even serve its original purpose (and has since been hidden on YouTube to save you all from some cringe), but it was one of many things I was cranking out with the hopes that someone would take notice. Not everything worked, but one thing did, and that’s all I needed to open the door. It’s one of the benefits of loving an industry with so many virtual outlets and opportunities! You can’t be afraid to put in the hours, and you should only do this if you love it. Study the professionals and find your own identity along the way. Don’t be afraid of criticism, but don’t forget to pride what you do well. These are things you can do from anywhere with any background.
FYG: What kind of lifestyle does your career allow you to live? What sort of salary and work environment can people typically expect from a position or field like yours?
GDA: The esports lifestyle varies depending on exactly what role you play with it. I work at a company that offers great benefits, stability of home life, and a chance to both challenge myself and travel occasionally. The schedule can vary and intensify particularly during big events. I know freelance esports talent that go weeks away from home experiencing the exhilaration that accompanies conventions and gaming venues before returning home to plan out their next gigs.
The work environment is very much dependent upon the people around you as well as what kind of worker you want to be. I will say that you shouldn’t expect to make a lot of money right off the bat. Most esports professionals will tell you they started out by volunteering and donating their time before proving their value worth high freelance rates or a salary. If you work for it, you can achieve the dream of living comfortably off of a full-time position (whether freelance or through a company) in the industry.
FYG: What strengths, skills, or character traits do you think are most important for your position?
GDA: I think in any job, you need to know your strengths but be open to constructive criticism. Take ownership of your work as well as your mistakes. If you show that you’re willing to grow and listen to your peers, you will be more desirable to employers. At the same time, know when to stand up for yourself.
Next, everyone — particularly those seeking talent or community positions — should be prepared for negativity that can spawn through internet anonymity. It’s easier for some than others to shrug off the trolls (I definitely still struggle with it), but it’s something you should keep in mind.
Finally(-ish), try your best not to compare yourself to others. It’s easy to look at someone and think, “They started at the same time I did and are already more successful than me.” It’s easy to get bitter or down on yourself because of someone else’s success. Try not to fall in that rut. Maybe they spent a long time building a powerful connection with an industry veteran, and you have no idea. Maybe they had a stroke of luck that you didn’t. In the end, it doesn’t matter. You’re path is unique, and your time will come.
FYG: What does it mean to you to Find Your Grind? Why is it important?
GDA: To me, “Find Your Grind” means determining what will make you happy and what it takes to get there. Pursuing a career in esports really can be a grind. So if you don’t genuinely enjoy the industry, it may not be for you. Succeeding means pouring in more hours than you officially clock in. It means seeking out ways to improve and picking yourself up when the pieces don’t fall in place.
There were times I thought my moment would never come, and I felt lost. For many, the first time wasn’t the charm. Actor Bob Odenkirk told me a story about his friend who wanted to write narrative film, but, after taking an internship, he fell in love with reality television and never looked back. Odenkirk told me as long as you’re working for your chosen industry in some capacity, you’ll find your place in it, even if it’s a completely different subset than you imagined. I haven’t forgotten that. Keep an open mind, and your grind will do the rest.