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Samantha “Persia” Hancock is iconic. Her passion, work ethic, and pure love for esports and the gaming community has persisted well over a decade. Persia has accomplished much and her experience and insights in this space has led her to what many consider to be a “dream career”. But it wasn’t easy! We are very fortunate to have been able to speak to her about her journey, and what we can all learn about gaining EXP!

You’ve been a friend of ours for almost 10 years! For those who don’t know you- can you touch on all the things you do in the gaming industry?

Yes! Over 10 years in esports and a lifetime in gaming has helped me completely embrace our community from start to finish. I’ve competed in over a dozen titles in multiple different genres throughout the years but I truly found my calling when I began commentating and hosting esports events. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of my favorite companies such as Marvel Games, Verizon, and even more. Every time I experience a new and awesome opportunity, I am further convinced that I’m exactly where I need to be. Some of my most favorite accomplishments have been my two world records in Tetris DS, becoming the first official female commentator of the EVO series, and recently being hired for my dream job at Gamespot! Never give up on your dreams and passions!

Building communities seems like it’s always been a part of how you approached this space. Why is community so important to you?

Community building can be underrated and the cause of why many games get forgotten. Not only that, it may be the reason why you lose or shut out potential new players.

When you invest your time and effort into the community, it gives you a bigger sense of responsibility, it helps build stronger connections, and you will definitely walk away with a new sense of life and friendship.

Samantha “Persia” Hancock

Some of my closest friends and greatest memories were all from the various gaming communities I’ve had the blessing to be a part of.

A lot of times, we tend to crave and desire a full and plentiful experience – no matter what it is. It only makes sense that gaming (a strong and relatable passion) could help build some of the strongest communities we know. When you’re able to take even more responsibility upon yourself to help build and grow your community, you’re not only inviting new faces, but you’re solidifying why your community is the place to be. It’s okay to take action if you see no one else stepping up to the plate. Just because no one has done it yet, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. At the end of the day, exactly how much does your passion mean to you? People are more likely to be comfortable with doing something new when they see strong pillars with open arms.

All of this passion led you to create the progressive XO academy! That’s so impressive! Can you tell us the mission of this initiative! What have been some of the challenges along the way?

XO Academy has been my brain child since 2014.  I feel extremely blessed to have built up myself enough to gain support to launch this project. This is one of my most favorite things about building myself up – Not for myself, but to help me gain opportunities for those around me.

XO Academy is  4-week training program for women in the fighting game community who have a passion and dedication to improve and become a powerhouse in esports. Our main focus is helping out players level up in their respective fighting game but we also offer training in many different valuable spaces in esports such as media training, marketing, branding, physical therapy, and more! Each 4-week program, also known as a “Wave”, leads up to a major event within the FGC. We do not just want to send them to these events to compete, but we also want to prepare them to be there and beyond. Our goal is to give these players everything they need to succeed in the industry and as a competitor.

Make Way For Esports Titan Samantha "Persia" Hancock 3 Sugar Gamers

We currently have our first wave completed and our next wave will begin on April 28th! During our first wave, both of our players had significant growth on their social platforms, higher concurrent viewers on their live streams, and BOTH of our first two players were picked up by esports teams by the end of their program. Our goal is to truly help women in the FGC achieve everything they can without the burdens of their disadvantages and financial situations.

Our program is intensive and strict – truly designed for those who are dedicated to the craft and have a flexible schedule. Both are required in the every-day life of a professional esports player. Each player who is selected through our application process will be provided with everything they need to complete their program. We require our players to fulfill 3 live streams per week, 3 days of training per week, and even at least 1 offline event per week (plus more). Although it is very intricate, we provide equipment to our players who do not have access to streaming or offline events to ensure that they are not hindered by location or access to their needs.

Our program has been kept alive by our Patreon! We release all of our training sessions exclusively to Patreon throughout the Wave and then release the content to our Youtube after the Wave is complete. If you would like to support our initiative and help even more women get added per wave, please consider subscribing to our Patreon at patreon.com/xoacademy!

At the end of the day, although the intension are great, our initiative is small. We can currently only afford to put 1 to 2 women through each wave. We’re working hard to add more slots per wave and your help can make that happen!

You literally have appear to have a dream career. Congrats on your new position with GamesSpot! But it didn’t happen overnight- How did you gain all that EXP? Tell me about the grind!

Make Way For Esports Titan Samantha "Persia" Hancock 5 Sugar Gamers

First off, I am BEYOND excited to have been hired for my DREAM JOB. I am now a Video Host at Gamespot and my first week is in the books. There is literally nothing more I could ask for. This all leads back to something very important – the grind. Over a decade went into becoming qualified for this position. I’ve always played games throughout my life, but when I began entering the commentary/hosting/production roles of esports… My career truly begans. The competitor in me will never die but the host in me has become the forefront of my passion.

When I first began commentating, I was hooked. I got my first credit card and got myself to each and every event I could. I hopped onto every mic I could. I played against everyone I could. The balance between competitor and host kept me sharp on the mic and kept me aware of the perfect questions to ask in an interview. Yes… I did drive up a bit of debt but after a decade of gaining experience, I’ve finally landed myself in a position where that debt will be a thing of the past.

Every sacrifice I’ve made for this moment has been worth it – even if it didn’t feel like that at the moment. It is a risk and it is scary but it was all worth it. Never give up.

Samantha “Persia” Hancock

When did you realize that you didn’t have to continue to “pay dues’ to be in this position?

To be honest, I’ll always feel like I’ll have dues to pay. So many have come before me and there are still so many I look up to and it shows me that I still have a long way to go. With that said, I still have to take some time to be proud of myself for all I’ve done. We can all be our own worst critic, but the support and love from my community helped me feel proud of what I was doing and the path I was taking. Also, with over 80 professional events under my belt, it helps to look back at those events and see how far I’ve come.

How do you manage your mental health? What are the main stressors?

Mental health is extremely important when it comes to this industry. It can feel like a constant battle between your heart and your mind when you haven’t quite reached your goals. With the way the industry is growing, it almost feels like a carrot on a string. Some of my main stressors were trying to continue to hone my skills and build my resume, proving day in and day out why I deserved to be here, and of course, not letting down the people who support me every day. I tend to put too much on myself when I don’t need to but I can’t help but overthink way too much. At the end of the day, perspective is key. It is very easy to look at everything negatively. However, that is a choice. One I made my entire life up until a year or so ago. This isn’t to say that just because you think happy, you’ll be happy, but your headspace is what you make of it. The same way we have to train our muscles to be strong, I look at our minds the same way. It takes time, consistency, and perseverance but it is never impossible. If only I could take a before and after picture of my mental health!

Make Way For Esports Titan Samantha "Persia" Hancock 7 Sugar Gamers

What’s your favorite part of the industry? Who have you met on the journey that has inspired you?

EVERYTHING! No, seriously. Video games are obviously the main thing about this industry that makes me know it is my home, but there is so much more to it, too! Meeting new people, being a part of new and innovative experiences, watching the evolution of gaming through the years, and just so much more. It is exciting and fun! It can take you to many places and you can meet many people. Along my journey, I’ve had the honor to work with and meet a lot of awesome people. Someone who has inspired me with my own career is Seltzer! She’s definitely someone I’ve looked up to as I became more involved with hosting work! She makes it look easy but it is tough work. I applaud her and hope to but right up there with her one day!

What is the worst part of the industry? What are the areas that you feel need improvement?

This is a tough one for me, honestly. For a long time, I felt like the worst part of the industry was finding the balance between being passion and sustainability. I don’t think I ever prepared myself to talk money when it came to this because I never even thought I would be able to turn gaming into a real career. I had heard for years I was wasting my time but I still went through the struggle anyway. I spent so many years building my resume out of sheer love and passion for my games. By the time I had built a substantial portfolio, I had no idea how to talk about money. What do I ask for? Am I asking too much? Will I lose this gig if I ask for too much? Although I wouldn’t change a thing about how I got to where I am, I hope people coming in to the industry seek advice if they are ever confused. Not just for the sake of earning your worth, but for your own peace of mind. The less you have to worry about the business side of things, the more you can focus on your work and passion.

What are some common misconceptions people have about working in the video game industry? esports? Streaming?

Make Way For Esports Titan Samantha "Persia" Hancock 9 Sugar Gamers

I think the biggest misconception that people have about gaming is that its easy. People truly don’t understand how difficult it can be to be a pro player, commentator, or even a production team in this space. And that is only to name a very slim few of the professions in games. Competing take hours of practice, studying, and grinding to stay at the top of a game that can be different within the next month due to a patch or an update.

Samantha “Persia” Hancock

Commentators not only have to upkeep with this knowledge but also know the inner working of players or teams to enhance a viewers experience while always minding their P’s and Q’s – Not to mention the producer in their ear to help give you a seamless broadcast. Listening and talking isn’t always that easy! Developers constantly being pushed to the max to help provide us with the next best game. It is not an easy industry but we all love it so much that we’ll endure it.

What’s next for you? What are some of your future goals?

Right now I’m going to be putting all of my efforts into putting out some amazing gaming content with Gamespot and with XO Academy! I’ve got big plans for XO Academy this year and I’m hoping to keep up the momentum moving closer to big events like CEO and EVO! As far as my upcoming events, you can catch me at Combo Breaker and E3 in the coming months!

If you’re as inspired by Persia as I am, make sure to follow her on Twitter @Persia_xo