The Black Esports Network (BESN.TV) markets itself as a cross between BET and Twitch. It’s a company that is committed to diversity and inclusion for people of color especially Black people. Their goal is to bring people together and celebrate gamers of color through community building.
Nerd Street Gamers recently interviewed Erika Heck, the Marketing and Communications Manager for BESN.TV. Heck discussed her start in esports, the importance of increasing the esports pipeline for Black people and women who want to join the industry and what BESN.TV is doing to change the landscape. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Nerd Street: Who are you and how did you get started with working with the company?
Heck: I started out in journalism when I was in college, and it was nice. But once I came back home, it was kind of hard for me to get into journalism … so I went back to food service and then the pandemic hit. I had an interview with our founder, Tim Fields … he wanted content creation, and I’ve been fully immersed into my roles as the marketing manager for Black Esports Network for about six months.
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Nerd Street: How did this BESN.TV get started?
Heck: BESN has been a vision of Tim's for quite some time. He noticed going to video game tournaments and comic book conventions and esports events, you know, that there weren't a whole lot of people who looked like us, there weren't a lot of people of color. So, Black Esports Network was created and founded out of this desire and this need for better representation in the video gaming industry through highlighting and showing the content of Black content creators [and] Black esports professionals.
Nerd Street: Some of BESN’s partners are Google, Facebook Gaming and Red Bull. So how has partnering with these companies helped take this startup to the next level?
Heck: I think it shows other people how serious we are about making sure that people know that Black gamers are here, and they're not going anywhere … I think it's easy for someone to say, we're going to push for more representation, and then not do it in a way that's conducive to pushing representation. So I think we'll be able to push a narrative that Black Americans are definitely out here in the video gaming industry, and they're taking it by storm.
Nerd Street: Why do you think it's important to increase the esports pipeline for Black people and women?
Heck: The first 20 years of video gaming was predominantly white and male. I fully understand that white people are the majority in the U.S., but … I don't subscribe to the fact that a North American team of professional esports players are all white, because I know that there are esports players who are people of color. Why aren't they on these teams? So it's important to have these pipelines, because representation matters in all facets. It's not just in character creation. It's not just in protagonists in video games. It also means making sure that there are real-life professional esports players and real-life tournament winners who are also people of color.
Nerd Street: What has BESN done to improve the esports pipeline for gamers?
Heck: We are currently hosting tournaments three times a week. For our people in and out of our communities. We have a tournament Monday night, we have a tournament Tuesday night, and we have a tournament Wednesday night. And these tournaments are a really great way for people of color to game in a tournament-type setting. It’s not just a way for them to get cool prizes from HyperX or money from Red Bull Gaming, this is also a way for them to get to know other gamers of color.
Nerd Street: What challenges do you think Black people face breaking into esports?
Heck: I definitely think that there is an undermining quality when it comes to Black folks in esports. I find that Black folks especially in the esports realm aren't taken as seriously as their white counterparts. And I think once we learn how to take Black gamers and Black esports professionals more seriously than we're taking them now, I think that will really elevate esports to the next level.
Nerd Street: What is the most important thing you want people to know about BESN?
Heck: I want people to know about BESN is here to serve them, the Black gamer. The Black gamer is not a monolith, and we are all different kinds of people with all identities and experiences; and BESN.TV is here to cater to all of those folks.
Lead image credit: Black Esports Network