If you are a baseball or college football fan you have probably seen and know of Julie Alexandria. The veteran reporter has had stints with The Mets, Nationals and Padres, as well as covering college football for FOX and the Big Ten Network as well as working the entertainment side for MTV and OK! and keeping a career as a voiceover artist moving along as well.
But how about as an early adopter in eSports. Alexendria worked for Major league Gaming wayyy back in 2008, and has never lost her interest or following, both of which she is starting to re-engage with in the next and latest stage of her career.
We asked Julie about fantasy sports, storytelling, and where she sees eSports past, present and future.
How did you come to be involved in eSports?
My first job as a sideline reporter happened to be for Major League Gaming. I still remember my first live tournament event: Halo 3 at Meadowlands New Jersey, 2008. I also hosted “The Old Spice Report” alongside Chris Puckett. It became clear to me early on that MLG was way ahead of its time with the content it was producing around the tournaments and for the community as a whole. Using sports TV Networks as a model, Sundance DiGiovanni and Mike Sepso had a clear vision of how they wanted to present the world of eSports to the community, and it took off from there. Over my four years with MLG I hosted a myriad of content from Pre and Post game shows, Sideline interviews, Pro features, fan segments and even hosted my own weekly gaming lifestyle and culture show; appropriately called: Julie’s show.
There is always so much made about the male dominated culture of a lot of eSports, how did you find working with gamers when you worked with MLG?
eSports is no more male dominated than say, MLB or the NFL; both of which I have done work for. Having interviewed professional athletes over the better part of the last 8 years, I can honestly say that the gaming community and its fans are some of the most loyal I’ve ever encountered. That being said, Pros who are not used to being on camera or speaking publicly in interviews; sure – there is always a learning curve. But their personalities vary as much as they do in other professional sports – you have your outspoken Richard Sherman-types, but you also have your quieter Gary Sanchez -type player. I found working with gamers incredibly rewarding because there was a certain untaintedness about them. Sure, they were considered “Pros” by the community and league standards, but aside from tournament purses and (at the time) limited endorsement deals; these guys played for the pure love of the game. They weren’t jaded by the media or flashy contracts or with the heavy expectations that can sometimes overcome professional athletes. I found them incredibly responsive and insightful.
Looking back on your experience since you have been removed for a while, what have you seen in terms of overall growth?
It’s amazing how far eSports as a whole has come. I remember telling a top executive at a well-known network about my prior work with MLG, encouraging them to save space on their website for tournament coverage; and he had zero interest. Now, eSports can’t be ignored. I get so fired up when people in the sports industry dismiss gaming as a “hobby” or my favorite ‘they’re not REAL athletes” eSports has been growing steadily – unlike any other emerging market in the sports industry. What started as a growl has now evolved into a veritable roar. The fact that senior NBA execs are being hired to manage eSports leagues says something. Maybe now they’ll listen.
You have spent a great deal of time around traditional sports, most recently with the Padres. Are there any parallels in engagement and fandom between say baseball, and a game like League of Legends?
If selling out New York’s Madison Square Garden on two consecutive nights was any indication, you can see where this is headed.
What you have in gaming is 100% fan engagement. How many Football fans actually play football? not many. How many Call of Duty fans play COD? (Insert shrug emoticon)
In between tournaments fans can engage with the pros via live streams. In other words, imagine being able to attend batting practice for your favorite team, in order to really study the hitter’s mechanics, and then apply it to your own game.
You have also been involved in fantasy sports, how did all that come about?
Always a big fan of fantasy sports, I had the opportunity to host two studio shows for Bloomberg Sports: “Fourth and Fantasy” and “Ballpark Figures” Both shows were predicated on analytics derived from the Bloomberg Sports team. It was fascinating taking into account all of the sabermetrics, data and analysis to give fans the best chance at winning their league!
Since you are currently outside of working in eSports, what are the things you tell people who are new to the business or trying to learn? What should they look for?
I would encourage everyone – from investors to executives to ports journalism majors to attend an eSports event. Get a feel for the communities as well, as many have personalities all their own. Get familiar with the titles, and understand the culture of each game. The Madden community is much different from the Starcraft community. There is also a natural transparency when it comes to gaming. Pros are active on their live streams as well as social media, and are more than likely attainable for a quick correspondence or introduction. Being ingratiated by the community proved to be an incredible asset to me as my sports career evolved.
How important will storytelling be to the growth of eSports and competitive gaming?
Extremely. Storytelling makes content accessible. Right now, there isn’t much of it that exists in the traditional sense. Think of all of the sports talk shows, features and documentaries that are available around traditional sports. I would like to see more short form content produced around the world of eSports. I believe it can be a great conversation starter and entryway to what is otherwise considered a very insular faction.
As someone who has worked in the media on all levels, what makes a good story for you?
Someone to root for. Telling the stories of those whom have overcome the odds, have fought thought hardship and adversity are always compelling. Sometimes it’s the unexpected stories that I’m drawn to the most- the ones that make you laugh. It’s all about the journey. I was always a big fan of “Behind the Scenes” features, and that’s what I ended up doing in real life; giving people the access that they otherwise wouldn’t get.
What do you think the media needs to better understand to fully engage with the games and the participants in eSports today?
I want to address a common misconception: that gamers are just dermatologically challenged kids sitting in front of a screen in their parents basement. I’m happy to see that this stereotype is lessening with the assimilation of eSports, but unfortunately still exists. I recently met with an athletic clothing brand to inquire about new lines specifically marketed to gamers. I was told that this company did not recognize gamers as athletes, and that they would not venture into this space for a long time. I see this as a missed opportunity. eSports are becoming more and more mainstream, and whether or not you consider them “athletes” there is no denying the level of skill and heightened competition. This is a multibillion dollar industry, and it’s only the beginning.