Amber Howard is the Head of Talent at TalentX Gaming (TXG), a talent management company specifically built for gaming and esports athletes and streamers, and has now made it her mission to shake the rooms of status quo, diversity and inclusion within the gaming industry. While only 45% of all U.S. gamers are women, Amber has already demonstrated her commitment to highlighting diversity in the esports and gaming industry by including a diverse A-list roster of esports athletes, gaming influencers, creators and streamers such as Latina gamer and activist Natalie "ZombiUnicorn" Casanova. Not to mention, the boss babe herself is responsible for executing a brand deal between Converse and PAX West, Univision's multi-cultural creators' network by creating all aspects of the business development and talent procurement model, and brand deals with Apple, Epic Games, and Paramount.
In a recent chat, xoNecole caught up with TalentX Gaming's newly appointed Head of Talent about being a boss Black woman in the esports and gaming industry, bringing diversity to the misogynistic industry, and her vision for the future of esports.
xoNecole: What initially sparked your interest in esports?
Amber Howard: While working at IMG, they announced the hiring of an esports agent. A short time later, Riot Games was hosting a League of Legends championship at the Staples Center. I was completely blown away that they sold out the Staples Center in less than an hour. Thinking back, it had to actually be anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. As a Lakers fan, I understood the significance, given how big the Staples Center is, it usually doesn't sell out unless it's a Championship or playoff game. My interest was sparked from that moment on, and I started looking into gaming and esports more. Shortly after, I took a job at the biggest gaming multi-channel network (MCN) in the world at the time, Machinima, and it was a great opportunity for me to dive into gaming.
What are you currently doing in your role as the new Head of Talent at TXG to ensure and actively bring diversity into this industry?
Diversity is something that is important to me and it's something I actively strive for in all aspects of life. Growing up, I took an interest in watching Pam Oliver on TV who would interview my favorite athletes. Watching her intrigued me, I knew that there were great opportunities if I could break through. As I've continued in my career, it's been important for me to make sure that representation is always at the forefront…seeing people who look like you doing things you and the world both think are exciting matters. As Head of Talent at TXG, my primary focus has been making sure we're recruiting great talent and making sure that we are bringing diversity to the roster.
I've made it my mission to do so, by signing A-list talent, streamers and creators who are diverse, and using my resources to give them the recognition and spotlight they genuinely deserve. It's very easy to go after the top ten percent of talent within the industry, but in order for us to actually bring in diverse talent, we have to actively search and seek them out. We also need to ensure diverse talent have the tools necessary to be successful, so they can grow and be seen as higher tier talent in the industry. Essentially, it's about finding the talent and giving them opportunities to grow. To be sure we're abiding by this in our recruiting efforts, I'm constantly reiterating to my team that we are a creator-first company and need to include all races, genders and people from diverse backgrounds. To ensure we achieve this, I make it my priority to provide my team with the tools needed to achieve this goal.
Courtesy of Amber Howard
"As I've continued in my career, it's been important for me to make sure that representation is always at the forefront…seeing people who look like you doing things you and the world both think are exciting matters. As Head of Talent at TXG, my primary focus has been making sure we're recruiting great talent and making sure that we are bringing diversity to the roster."
Did you have any reservations when going into this role knowing that there was a lack of diversity and representation?
No, because there is unfortunately a lack of diversity across every industry. The lack of diversity exists in traditional sports and entertainment, so I knew gaming would be no different. It's unfortunate and, for me, sadly pretty common but I'm strong enough and willing to undertake all that comes with the circumstances in order to press on. I know TalentX Gaming and ReTKGlobal have the resources in order to elevate and highlight diverse talent. I had no reservations taking this role, because I'm confident in the resources I have available as well as my skill set to get the job done.
With your career, how have you seen Black women be mistreated, talked down to or sexually harassed in the workplace?
I personally can't speak to that, because I'm typically the only one or one of two! As a woman working with other women, I've witnessed the unequal treatment of other women and for a long time we had to sit back and take it. I'm happy to be in a time where women have a voice and are being heard.
Have you, yourself, ever experienced or been a victim of such?
I've spent the majority of my career in male-dominated workplaces, which did not go without challenges as a female to be heard, recognized and respected. It's unfortunate, but as women, that's something we experience and often told to just accept that's how it is. It's necessary to be strategic about showcasing your value, ensuring that your voice is heard and it has just as much validity as any male or white male counterpart. Being a Black woman certainly does not make it any easier, but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. Being a Black woman in gaming is an added perk, and I've learned to position myself in such a way that who I am is seen.
Courtesy of Amber Howard
"It's necessary to be strategic about showcasing your value, ensuring that your voice is heard and it has just as much validity as any male or white male counterpart. Being a Black woman certainly does not make it any easier, but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world."
What do you believe work environments can do better to protect Black women?
I think work environments can honestly do a better job at protecting every woman, especially Black and minority women. I've seen how Black and minority women, all generally experience a lot of the same pitfalls in comparison to our white counterparts. As Black women, we're sometimes even at a level, that is a step lower than some of our white female counterparts, only because we're Black. So, I believe that more can be done. I believe companies should ensure that there is diversity training throughout their company, from HR to the executive board.
Also, ensuring there are engaging activities and inclusion programs that are organic and a part of the company culture. We see a lot of companies doing so now, because of what's happening in society, but diversity councils were not commonplace until recently. It's also important to not only ensure that more Black women are hired, but they are placed in positions where they are seen and truly valued for their contributions. We need more Black women in leadership roles who are being recognized for their contributions with articles such as this.
What do you hope for the future of Black female executives in esports and gaming?
I think the tide is starting to change and we're seeing a little bit of it. We're starting to see more Black and women of color in gaming and esports. I've worked with amazing women throughout my career. Someone who immediately comes to mind however, is Johanna Faries who is the Commissioner of Call of Duty Esports at Activision Blizzard. We're here, but I'm not sure there has been a lot of publicity, excitement or promotion that we are entering and have held these positions until now.
What advice do you have for young Black girls who are looking to dive into careers in esports and gaming?
My biggest advice that I'd give to young Black girls looking to venture in the esports and gaming industry is that you have to have a passion for what you do. I grew up playing video games, I was that kid on the weekends in my room, playing video games for hours. I had an interest and a genuine passion for it. After that, it's important to understand what role you'd like to play since the gaming and esports industry is so vast. Would you like to be on the representation side, in graphic design, programming, work for a game publisher, or help create a culture to ensure there is diversity? There are a ton of different options. Whatever you decide, it just has to be authentic and true to you.
What is something you wish you knew sooner about the esports and gaming industry before entering? What is something they don't tell you?
Something I wish I knew sooner, was to get into it sooner. I've been interested in gaming for a while, but did not enter the industry immediately. Gaming and esports have been around for over a decade. While I was forging a path at NFL Network in 2010, the gaming and esports industry was just beginning to take shape. If I would've known it was happening, I would have jumped right in. It's like going into any career; there are lots of things that you'll just have to learn on the job and be there to truly understand.
What are some of the biggest lessons you've learned about yourself - professionally and personally - as a Black woman in the esports and gaming industry throughout the years?
The biggest lesson I've learned about myself is my ability to persevere. As gaming and esports have begun taking shape, there were positions that I've had that didn't last; companies that I worked for that were sold. My route was not easy, but I knew it was something that I wanted to continue to pursue. I've come to know that the gaming and esports industry does not come without its challenges and having the ability to push through is a must. I was thankful to find a position as Head of Talent at TalentX Gaming (TXG), which is a joint venture between global esports powerhouse ReKTGlobal and "creator-first" talent agency TalentX created specifically to serve gamers. The role encompasses all of the things that I was really looking to do when I set out into gaming and esports five years ago and they are in support of my mission to highlight the diversity that actually already exists within the gaming community.
Featured image courtesy of Amber Howard
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From Monogamy To Polyamory: 'I'm In An Asexual Poly Marriage With My Husband Of 7 Years'
Have you ever wondered what it's like to be asexual and in an open marriage? Relationship Coach Mikki Bey shared her first-hand experience with us as well as answered some of our burning questions.
Like a lot of people, Mikki met her now husband, Raheem Ali, online. As soon as they met, they instantly fell in love and got engaged on their first date. Just 90 days after they met, the couple tied the knot and have now been married for seven years. Raheem and Mikki aren’t your typical married couple, and despite being married for almost a decade, their marriage is anything but traditional. Mikki and Raheem have what she calls an "asexual polyamorous marriage."
Defining Her Sexuality
It wasn't until last summer that Mikki found the language to define her sexuality. "I didn't have the language for it until last summer," she explained to xoNecole. "Looking back, I just thought sex wasn't my thing. It was never enjoyable for me, and I'd go years without even noticing.”
Mikki always thought she was broken because she had no interest in sex. Mikki noticed after her friends came to visit and started discussing their sexual fantasies that she realized something was different about her. “At that point, I knew something was definitely different about me since I do not have sexual fantasies at all. It was truly news to me that people are at work thinking about sex! That was not my experience.” This led to Mikki researching asexuality, which she soon realized fit her to a T. “It felt like breathing new air when I was able to call it by name," said Mikki.
"Looking back, I just thought sex wasn't my thing. It was never enjoyable for me, and I'd go years without even noticing it."
Asexuality refers to people who experience little or no sexual attraction, experience attraction without acting on it sexually, or experience sexual attraction differently based on other factors. Like most things, asexuality falls on a spectrum and encompasses many other identities. It's important to remember, however, that attraction and action are not always synonymous: some asexuals may reject the idea of sexual contact, but others may be sex-neutral and engage in sexual activity.
It's possible that some asexuals will have sex with someone else despite not having a libido or masturbating, but others will have sex with a partner because it brings a sense of connection.
From a Traditional Marriage to Kitchen Table Polyamory
Although Mikki never really had a high sex drive, it wasn’t until after the birth of her son, that she noticed her sex drive took a real nosedive. “I never had a high sex drive, but about a year after my son was born, I realized I had zero desire. My husband has a high sex drive, and I knew that it would not be sustainable to not have sex in our marriage at that time.”
She was determined to find an alternative to divorce and stumbled upon a polyamory conversation on Clubhouse. Upon doing her own research, she brought up the idea to their husband, who was receptive. “It’s so interesting to me that people weigh sex so heavily in relationships when even if you are having a ton of sex, it’s still a very small percentage of the relationship activity," Mikki shared.
They chose polyamory because Mikki still wanted to be married, but she also wanted to make sure that Raheem was getting his individual needs and desires met, even if that meant meeting them with someone else. “I think that we have been programmed to think that our spouses need to be our 'everything.' We do not operate like that. There is no one way that fits all when it comes to relationships, despite what society may try to tell you. Their path to doing this thing called life together may be different from yours, but they found what works for them. We have chosen to design a marriage that works for us,” Mikki explained.
"We have chosen to design a marriage that works for us. We both consent to each of us having everything from casual sex partners to lifetime partners if it should go there. We believe love is abundant and do not limit ourselves or each other on how we express it."
She continued, “We both consent to each of us having everything from casual sexual partners to lifetime partners if it should get there. We believe love is abundant and do not limit ourselves or each other on how we express it. Our dynamic is parallel with kitchen table poly aspirations.”
Kitchen table polyamory (KTP) is a polyamorous relationship in which all participants are on friendly terms enough to share a meal at the kitchen table. Basically, it means you have some form of relationship with your partner’s other partner, whether as a group or individually. A lot of times, KTP relationships are highly personal and rooted in mutual respect, communication, and friendship.
Intimacy in an Asexual Polyamorous Marriage
Mikki says she and her husband, Raheem, still share intimate moments despite being in a polyamorous marriage. “Our intimacy is emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical, although non-sexual. We are intentional about date nights weekly, surprising and delighting each other daily, and most of all, we communicate our needs regularly. In my opinion, our intimacy is top-tier! I give my husband full-body massages, mani-pedis and make sure I am giving him small physical touches/kisses throughout the day. He is also very intentional about showing me his love and affection.”
Raheem and Mikki now use their lives as examples for others. On their website, thepolycouplenextdoor.com, they coach people interested in learning how to be consensually non-monogamous. “We are both relationship coaches. I specialized in emotional regulation, and Raheem specializes in communication and conflict resolution. The same tools we use in our marriage help our clients succeed in polyamory."
Mikki advises people who may be asexual or seeking non-monogamy to communicate their needs openly and to consider seeking sex therapy or intimacy coaching. Building a strong relationship with a non-sexual partner requires both empathy and compassion.
For more of Mikki, follow her on Instagram @getmikkibey. Follow the couple's platform on Instagram @thepolycouplenextdoor.
Featured image by skynesher/Getty Images