Erin Ashley Simon has no time for haters
With gaming lifestyle brand XSET, the dazzling media personality has turned passion into personal crusade.
I logged on to the video call to see Erin Ashley Simon wearing an ensemble so casual, I had to do a double-take to make sure it was her.
If you’re familiar with the multimedia personality, you can imagine why a gray hoodie might stun. With short and platinum-dyed hair—or red, depending on the occasion—and a bold sense of style fit for the stage, Simon is used to standing out in a crowd. Or at an awards show. Or on a magazine cover.
Well, you get the picture.
But we’re not here to talk fashion; we’re here to talk business. In addition to her duties as an esports host, podcaster, and producer, Simon is part-owner and chief culture officer of XSET, a professional esports company that wears diversity and inclusion on its sleeve.
That’s important because esports, like gaming as a whole, is still grappling with issues of equity. As an Afro-Latina working in a multibillion-dollar industry dominated by white male voices, Simon knows the challenges firsthand. (Hi 👋🏽 haters!) She’s trying to give money, space, and support to underrepresented communities. In doing so, she fast-tracked her own move from the broadcasting booth to the boardroom.
Here’s what she had to say.
Who were some of the people in your life who helped you down this career path?
My mom. As a vice president at Merrill Lynch, she has always been that example of a leader and a strong-willed woman, especially in a male-dominated industry. My mom has always influenced me to be my authentic self, speak up even if others don't agree, always be professional, and always ensure that I can properly articulate things.
She was also the person who provided me with my first console and the one person who never viewed video games as a waste of time. Her philosophy was, “If you're doing well in soccer and getting straight As, who am I to say that you can't play for 10 hours a week?”
I also look to media moguls like Oprah Winfrey and La La Anthony and how they have developed their careers. Being in the broadcasting game myself, I see similarities in my career—building businesses and empires while also elevating others. Establishing a business that increases inclusivity and really helps talent get to another level is good for everyone.
Where does your passion for inclusion come from?
My experience. Growing up gaming has always been important to me. Along the way I noticed a lack of resources and access to certain communities. For as universal as gaming is, some of the opportunities were not as universally open. I believe the more that we focus on creating access, especially for more of the underrepresented communities, it creates opportunities for everybody. As more people are involved, it will allow for more interconnectivity with different cultures and communities.
Besides, so many people have opened doors for me, it’s only right to pay it forward and provide opportunities for others.
What was a pivotal moment in your life that gave clarity about your purpose?
There were two pivotal moments in my life I can point to.
The first was in 2018 when I was laid off right before I was scheduled for hip and leg surgery. My overall experience working at this company was not a good one. That experience set the trajectory for me to want to be my own boss and helped support my vision of how to get there.
The second was in 2020, which was such a tumultuous period of time. There are so many emotions thinking back to that year. I felt like I couldn't just sit around and be silent about some of the controversial moments taking place during that time. I needed to be vocal and have my voice heard, which of course, brings detractors. One thing I learned from one of my mentors, Mike Hill, a broadcaster at Fox Sports, was: “It doesn't matter how successful you get; people are still going to hate.” It was around that time that the decision was made that I was going to be steadfast with my beliefs and what I wanted to be vocal about.
With that, I began partnering with a lot of different companies to improve the inclusivity factor, what it looks like, and how to properly get it done.
Let’s return to 2018. How did you get through that time and still be able to follow your dreams?
When I was let go, I still wanted to pursue a career in broadcasting. I did a business presentation for my mom, where I laid out a timeline to accomplish certain goals [as a media personality and entrepreneur] or I would have to return to a 9-to-5 job. I had already landed a writing opportunity that would be able to cover rent and other expenses. It bought me six months.
It wasn't hard to convince my mom because she saw that I had put a lot of thought into my plan. My mom was a huge planner and saw that I did all the things that needed to be done. It only took two months before I landed a [hosting gig] with a media company. Once I started working with Cheddar Esports, I realized a level of sustainability. Even my mom was convinced and saw that this was actually turning into something.
Share with us the secret behind your unique style.
It's one of my differentiating factors. I realized in the broadcasting world there are a lot of women with long hair, but not many with short hair, and then not that many with short and uniquely dyed hair. I wanted to stand out visually.
When you grow your business and your brand, you have to figure out what your differentiating factors are that make you different, that make people do a double take and say, “Who is this?” That was one of the steps that I needed to do to really change the look and feel of when people look at “Erin Ashley Simon,” what they think, and what they feel. I wanted people to be like, “Oh, I could see her hosting gaming stuff” or “Oh, I could see her hosting hip-hop stuff.” [My style] does give me a unique maturity, but then it also still keeps me looking young. I wanted to be very particular with my look. It was so important for me and my business.
Do you have a favorite quote that defines how you live your life?
There's one I would say I had when I was younger, and then there's actually a quote that really resonated with me more recently.
The one from when I was younger was shared with me by my mom: “You have so much power in the world, and every time you allow someone to deter you from your dreams, your goals, and who you are, you give them a little bit of power from you.”
The meaning behind that is we have more power when it comes to our emotions, our feelings, and how we react. That power is something that can intimidate and scare others. When you are whole, grounded in, and happy with yourself no matter what anyone else says or does, that is powerful. That can inspire or scare some people, just don't ever allow them to take that power from you.
The other quote is from the TV show Abbott Elementary. One of the characters said, “People have thrown dirt on my name and others have given flowers. It’s all a garden to me.”
It really resonated with me because people have given me flowers and others have tried to throw dirt on my name, but that's never going to take away from the beauty of the garden that I have, which is my life and who I am.