Illinois State alumna Gabriella Devia-Allen, M.S. ’17, is a fast-rising star in a rapidly expanding genre of entertainment. Better known as “LeTigress” by esports fans, Devia-Allen was recently chosen to work the broadcast desk for Monday Night League, a weekly esports competition run by the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), the top North American professional association for the massively popular strategy game.
LCS’s popularity has expanded outside of the virtual realm into stadiums across the continent. Last spring’s LCS Spring Split Finals drew more than 10,000 fans to the Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis and 600,000 watched the final game from home. Bigger events and more viewership will only raise Devia-Allen’s profile.
“I was always interested in entertainment,” she said. “I always wanted to be doing some kind of broadcasting.”
Devia-Allen, a Florida native, planted the seeds of her esports career at Illinois State. As a prospective graduate student, she met Dr. Maria Moore, associate professor in the School of Communication, in 2014. The experience convinced her to come study in Normal.
“As we met in my office, I saw a young woman with tremendous promise and aptitude,” Moore said. Around the same time, Devia-Allen discovered esports when she watched a LCS broadcast on Twitch.
“I saw that and thought, ‘That is something I can do, something I would love to do. It has broadcasting and entertainment value and it gives me a way to get back into gaming. It seems like a great way to merge everything I love,’” she said.
As part of her graduate research, she created a documentary titled Good Game Well Played: An Esports Documentary. Released in 2017, the 37-minute film explores how esports grew from a subculture into a billion-dollar industry.
“There was not a lot of research of esports in the academic space and there wasn’t a lot of ground there,” she said. “I came to Illinois State knowing I wanted to make a documentary thesis. I wanted to create something for that because it can be difficult to explain to those not in esports what it is and why it is popular.”
“It was a massive undertaking with nationwide interviews and content,” Moore said. “It was important work on a very new topic in media research, and I was so very proud of her exceptional finished product.”
Before working on her thesis, the self-proclaimed tiger enthusiast took the name “LeTigress” as her online handle and started streaming on Twitch. She soon began taking work as a freelance esports commentator, or “caster” as they are commonly called. In May 2017 game developer Hi-Rez Studios in Atlanta hired her after she won a competition on the company’s reality show, The Caster.
“I wasn’t as familiar with Hi-Rez titles as others, one game even being new at the time, so I had to get myself up to expert level in about two and a half weeks while wrapping up ISU’s graduate program,” she said.
In 2018 Devia-Allen moved to the San Francisco area and become a freelance esports broadcaster. Most top esports broadcasters are former professionals, coaches, or personalities in the game they are covering. For example, her colleagues at the desk for Monday Night League, Neil “pr0lly” Hammad and Mark “TheeMarkZ” Zimmerman, are both former high-level League of Legends coaches. Devia-Allen also takes pride in being a prominent woman in a field dominated by men. Devia-Allen does all of the broadcasting roles: play-by-play, host, and analyst. She is the exception, not the rule when it comes to female esports broadcasters.
“If I am working an event, it is sometimes assumed that I am the interviewer as that is more commonly done by women. I have to say, ‘No guys, I am here to be the caster.’ Those little things are most of what I experience in this job and have to overcome.”
Moore has followed Devia-Allen’s career and said her personality and work ethic make her uniquely suited to navigate the industry.
“Her success is certainly not a surprise, as she tackles her responsibilities with extraordinary character, professionalism, and joy,” Moore said.
Devia-Allen is excited about Illinois State’s recently announced esports program and looks forward to potentially working with Redbirds in the gaming industry.
“It is great to see these new programs like Illinois State’s, which gives students the opportunities to get an education while pursuing their dreams as an esports pro,” she said.