Canadian Game Awards Spotlight – interview with Camille Salazar-Hadaway

The 2021 Canadian Game Awards winner for Best Esports Host Camille Salazar-Hadaway has been in the gaming industry for over a decade. Throughout her tenure as a Canadian gaming personality, Salazar-Hadaway has honed her on-screen talent in a variety of roles and projects. Salazar-Hadaway has been featured hosting partnership events with major publishers, and lends her in-depth knowledge to esports fans when hosting notable tournaments.

In addition to that, Salazar-Hadaway is known for her hosting duties on SQUAD and the weekly SQUADcast show on Twitch, where she is not only the host but also a head producer.

We sat down with Salazar-Hadaway to discuss her professional background and how she’s making a positive impact on the industry by using her voice to promote women and the BIPOC community.

Steve: You’ve been successfully carving out your place in the industry for quite some time. Were you always pursuing a role in esports and hosting? How did your career begin?

Camille Salazar-Hadaway: My dad used to work at Citytv before it switched to CTV. There were a bunch of layoffs when it switched to Bell. His friends there started a video game website and I said, “Wait, they get free games and they get to talk about it?!” So I started writing with them, which was Console Creatures. It really exposed me to how the industry works within Toronto. As a kid, you don’t get a sense of how you can make a living in video games or what career avenues there are. It was something I didn’t think was possible.

When I got that opportunity to work with Console Creatures, I started going to events and working with devs, voice actors, producers, and PR teams. That really was a whole education process. I love writing and covering events, but I realized what I loved most was talking to the people at events. I loved having conversations about games.

People recognized that I apparently was good at having conversations with people about video games. At the time, Rainbow Sun Francks was the main host for the channel. Console Creatures used to cover men’s magazine stuff like video games, UFC, and wrestling. At events, Rainbow used to do a lot of the interviews, and I was the girl in the back eating all the horderves and playing games. At one event, Rainbow was a bit late and I got my chance to hold the interview myself. We did video content back then so it had to be on camera. The producer, James Stamos, actually told me I was really good. The PR team – it might have been Ubisoft – also told me it was good. It gave me the confidence that maybe I could host full-time.

I started talking to the other outlets at events and got an understanding of their structure. To work in the industry you not only have to understand your personal work environment, but understand how other places are doing it. 

What were some of the fondest memories you’d had at events that you’ve hosted?

I would say it was definitely this old X-Men game. They took us to this circus training camp and we were replicating moves of different X-Men. That was really cool because it was more physical than other interviews I’ve done. I was proud of myself. I even got a rope burn on my lip because I was doing a spiral Storm would do as she flies up.

Also, the Mortal Kombat tournaments that I’ve done. Mortal Kombat Klash really opened up my eyes to how passionate the Netherrealm community is. They recognize the players. I’ve done Street Fighter events too, but I find that Mortal Kombat are more in tune with their community. 

Of course, there’s also E3 where I met the voice of Mario, Charles Martinet. I was crying at one point when I got to do that interview. The first time I did it, it was a part of HUD and I cried before the interview happened because he kept saying my name in Mario’s voice. It was surreal. 

Your on-screen presence saw a huge boom when you began as a full-time on-air personality for HUD and later SQUAD. What was the experience like for you, and did you ever struggle to find your voice?

I don’t think I had difficulty initially. I already had experience hosting with Console Creatures and at events with Nintendo, Xbox, Activision, and PlayStation. I felt comfortable. It was just different being in a studio setting with a director and teleprompter. You also have these amazingly talented people making it look effortless.

You can kind of get inside your own head, though. Especially when you’re one of the only people in that space that looks like you, it can get to you sometimes. I found my voice early on, but maybe lost it. [Sometimes] you’re creating content for a TV show that may not be in your wheelhouse, but you have to say the lines and act like you know everything about that esport. You have to debate certain aspects. Hot topics is something we do on the show, so you have to know it inside and out. 

A lot of research went into what I do on the show. Making sure I didn’t state things that weren’t valid. When I don’t know something, being forward and truthful is very important. People recognize when you don’t know everything, and you shouldn’t know everything. 

Throughout 2020, how did the shift to remote events affect your hosting duties. What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?

Hosting was a bit different. When you’re in a studio, you so used to interacting with everyone. We did SQUAD last year when everything went down. We did a few episodes with a thin crew. It was one or two hosts, and we’re used to having four. We used to have lots of discussions. You had to match that energy of four people, when it’s just you or two people on camera.

Online, I was fortunate in the sense that I was used to doing online tournaments before. Hosting was still natural. Obviously, there are technical issues that spawn with that. I do the SQUADcast and I deal with tech issues all the time. I was luckily blessed with having to deal with that stuff before, so it helped prepare me for what the industry was left with.

You were in a unique situation. You hosted the pre-taped award show, but didn’t know you won Best Esports Host until it was premiered live. What was your reaction to hearing that you had won this year? 

AJ Fry and myself were hosts for the show and it was all pre-taped. We knew the categories and nominations. We knew we could only have a limited time in the studio. We wanted it to feel authentic so we introduced each category and ran the B-roll. Carl-Edwin Michel, the head of the Canadian Game Awards, told us that we’d have the B-roll and come back to the hosts. While we were filming, we had no idea who won each category. Someone on Twitter said they could tell I had no idea I won the award. After the Esports category, it went back to AJ and me and there was no reaction on my face. 

It’s very different from real life when I found out. I was shocked. I was rolled up in a blanket cocoon with a facemask on. I was chilling watching the awards. I know a few people in that category, so I was talking to Alex “Vansilli” Nguyen and told him, “You’ve got this! I’m rooting for you”. I rolled off my couch – as you do when in a cocoon – and screamed. I thought they got it wrong! 

People messaged me and I said, “Something is wrong in the B-roll!” I didn’t fully believe it until the next day. I’m just thankful to have been nominated among such amazing people, and to be recognized hit close to home. Having done this for more than ten years in Canada, I don’t think we get the recognition we deserve in content creation unless we move to the States. In Canada, we got things going on here. All the hard work does pay off. I’m thankful that I get to say that now! [laughs]

Being in the industry as long as you have, can you recall there being a shift in how the voices of women and BIPOC are being supported?

When I first started, whether writing or attending events, there wasn’t a lot of recognition. I could pick out the one other diverse person and know that name right off the bat. A lot of people in the industry earlier on knew who we were. As the industry changed, there was a transition. The States began doing more diverse marketing, and you saw more new faces of people of colour presenting. That trickled down over here.

I started working with Xbox more, and they’ve been really great supporters for diversity. When you look at my numbers on social media, I don’t have a lot of numbers. I was shocked when Xbox was willing to work with me over time to help give me content to develop my craf, whether that was access to game codes, or an opportunity for giveaways, or going on a zombie camp adventure. They understood what diversity means. Other studios trickled in after that.

There are so many initiatives now. Myself, I’m involved in Black Game Pros. Our focus is helping diversify the industry in and out of Canada. Throughout the world, we have thousands of people in our Discord. S.A.M.E Game Pros is another group I’m a part of, and we have that same initiative. 

More people are speaking up and not only want to get in the space, but help others who look like them get in the space. It seems more accessible, but there is more work that has to be done. Unfortunately, people of colour and women [don’t get a lot of support] when starting off. You have games like Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales coming out, representing two communities at a time when those communities need empowering. We’re seeing companies more than ever recognizing that there are other ways to market their games and reach out. But there’s still more work to be done.

Where can readers look forward to seeing you this year? Any upcoming events?

There’s a lot coming. It’s a tough time because the quarantines really pushed things from happening. But I still have the SQUADcast every Monday on Twitch. I also make my own content on YouTube and Instagram. When stuff comes up that I can mention, you can find it on Twitter.

[This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.]

We thank Camille Salazar-Hadaway for taking the time to speak with us, and congratulate her on winning Best Esports Host at the 2021 Canadian Game Awards!.