What esports means to me
In high school, I was a spacy student with a harsh home life. When I was 18, the person who brought me up for most of my life, my grandmother, passed away from a stroke. At 19, the house that I had lived in since I was 5-years-old was foreclosed upon.
From there, I was essentially homeless, bouncing from couch to couch of the few family members that I still had orbiting my life. At one point, I lived in a trailer in the driveway of my cousin’s residence, where at night the temperatures would become practically freezing and during the day, especially in the hot Los Angeles valley sun, could go above 125 Fahrenheit.
I had given up on myself, in all ways. I was content living my life through others. I was destined to die young or live long enough to where I ended up on the streets with no direction to go. While I’ve been open about my mental health in the past (social anxiety, depression), I’ve often avoided discussing how I lived all those years ago. It was embarrassing. It felt like it separated me from my peers, especially from my five years working at ESPN, where a majority of them finished atop of their journalism classes at the top universities in the country. Esports saved my life.
When I first started writing about esports in early 2011 as a husk, 19 and aimless, it wasn’t because I wanted to make money. Shit, there wasn’t any money to make.
It wasn’t to build a fanbase or to get social media likes. The reason why I started writing about esports is that it was one of the few things in my wayward life that got my mind off how everything else in the world was crashing around me. There were days where I spent all day at a mall or the local Wendy’s so I could use their free Wi-Fi to watch matches and write about them.
Writing about esports was my way to share my happiness and excitement with others, something that I had never experienced before. If a certain storyline excited me that the consensus couldn’t see, nothing felt better than being able to turn what felt like a dull, vanilla matchup into an affair people woke up in the middle of the night to watch. I spent years writing without making a single dime, but it gave me a purpose to keep going in life. I loved storytelling. Though my editors at the time told me the chances of me making any money was a mere pipe dream, let alone a career, I continued writing because it’s what pushed me to open my eyes in the morning.
Eventually, the esports scene in the West began to explode, and with it, actual opportunities to make money from the foundation I’d built from creating a small fanbase that enjoyed my writing. As the years went along, those days of annoying Wendy’s employees by sitting in the back of their restaurant for 13 hours were fleeting, and I’d earned enough from freelance work to secure an apartment with roommates.
During the tail end of 2014, veteran esports journalist (now consultant/social media mogul) Rod “Slasher” Breslau messaged me on Skype for a possible full-time opportunity at a growing Canadian company called theScore that was looking to be the first major traditional sports occasion to invest in esports.
That job helped me save enough money to move into my own place. By the start of the next year, I had left theScore to sign with ESPN, the company that I dreamed about working for since I was a kid that would watch SportsCenter every day before school. My moniker, “The Esports Writer,” is a play off of “The Sports Guy” Bill Simmons, whose bombastic pop culture references and humor-laced articles on the back page of ESPN were what got me through some rough days during high school.
At the beginning of my ESPN tenure, I was too afraid to even go to events. On my first day officially on the job, I tried to weasel out of going to a League of Legends tournament because I had isolated myself from the world for so many years. Thankfully, my boss at the time, Dan Kaufman (now Editorial Director at The Athletic), didn’t buy my excuses and told me that if I wanted to be a full-time employee at ESPN, I would need to conquer my fears. He pushed me outside my comfort zone. Although I enjoyed sharing my joy and passion with people for years, those were through a computer screen – actually interacting with people, in an enclosed setting, that was a whole different story.
I almost threw up no fewer than 10 times the first time I went to my first event. I looked to be in actual physical pain just being around people and attempting to interview players. The next day, it was a bit better, where I was only mildly uncomfortable throughout the day. A week later, I had made some friends and could almost conduct an interview where I looked my subject in the eye. A month later, I showed up to events early to check in on people and meet with fans of my writing in the parking lot. Not everything was a fairytale after that — I still to this day have events where my anxiety isolates me from fully interacting with everybody – but I haven’t let my mental health hold me back from going forward. I’ve used it to propel me, not letting it debilitate me from chasing my goals in life.
Since that day covering my first live esports event, I’ve traveled the world, from covering the Rainbow Six Siege world championship in Montréal, Canada, to a Counter-Strike major in Katowice, Poland, to spending two months in South Korea, the country that got me into esports, for the League of Legends world championship. I’ve interviewed NBA MVPs and chart-topping musicians about their love of games (while looking them in the eye!). ESPN not only helped me become the confident writer that I am today but the person I am as well, having learned what it means to live a life instead of watching it go by.
As I decided on my future following my departure from ESPN this previous November, I had a lot of offers and possibilities on the table. There were directions where I could have worked independently; there were also offers to quit content creation entirely and move into a more director or managerial role for a game company and an esports organization. For a long time, I thought that was where my decision was going to end up, me discarding my esports writer title and moving into the next phase of my life. Yet, as weeks went by and the discussions around Upcomer continued, I realized that I’m not done telling stories. My final article published by ESPN was a dull recap of the 2020 League of Legends world championship final. It was vanilla and lifeless, the kind of writing that made me begin my journey in the first place.
I couldn’t go out like that. I wouldn’t go out like that, at my lowest.
I’ve joined Upcomer for two reasons: to tell the best, engaging stories possible in the competitive gaming sphere and help the next generation of esports writers start chasing their own dreams. It’s my goal to help find those diamonds in the rough and watch them become stars in their own right, experiencing life-changing adventures and telling stories around the world. We already have signed some of the brightest young talent there is in the space, but Upcomer strives to find more of those creative minds and storytellers as the months and years go along.
When thinking about my past today, I’m no longer embarrassed where I came from. In my darkest times, telling stories was always my silver lining, and it’s what I will continue to do for the foreseeable future at Upcomer. A decade removed from not knowing where I was going next, lost in life, I know exactly where I want my journey to lead me next.
From the homeless boy that wouldn’t have gotten here without your support and readership over the years, I thank you.
From the focused, Editor-at-Large of Upcomer, I promise you: You ain’t seen nothing yet.