The Story of Gabby Durden: Shedding the LeTigress name and the baggage that comes with it
Gabby Durden’s been with the LCS for years and has made herself part of the league’s best moments, both on-stage with the players and behind the caster’s desk. Dexerto sat down with her and dicussed at length her shedding the LeTigress moniker, ways she’s found to deal with criticism and personal tragedy, as well as the evolution of her casting and interviewing style over the years.
Though she gained most of her popularity as an on-screen talent through League of Legends, Gabby Durden (a.k.a. LeTigress) has been working in and around the esports scene for almost a decade. She’s even managed to outlast some of the games she’s worked in like the now-defunct Duelyst as well as Paladins, a game that’s technically still going but has since dropped its esports scene.
The fact that she’s been able to work her way up and outgrow waning esports to make a statement in League of Legends, one of the biggest and longest-running esports titles, is a testament to her tenacity. And that tenacity has been put to the test through the various trials and tribulations 2023 has put in front of her.
Between backlash from her segment covering TSM in Spring and the criticism thrown her way by big streamers and other community figures, separating herself from harassment has been a tall order. Despite all this, she’s been able to hold her head high and was very open with Dexerto about some of her recent struggles and how she’s been able to keep herself motivated.
Making it happen behind the scenes
Though game days are only a few days a week, being on the LCS broadcast team is a full-time job. Finding ways to improve the show is a natural fit for Gabby, someone who boasts a wealth of experience with putting things together behind the scenes and every part of the LCS broadcast – from hosting to casting, and everything in between.
Some of her proudest moments over the last few years came from helping evolve the broadcast, particularly when it comes to the way interviews are approached. The LCS has been moving toward a more active and emotionally-driven interview style for players, and a lot of that has been pushed forward by Gabby.
While the analyst desk and color casters are focused on building the narrative around players and the way they play the game, Gabby’s the kind of person who focuses on the raw emotion these players feel during their greatest triumphs and most heartbreaking losses. When it comes to keeping audiences that are newer to League of Legends (or who don’t care as much about complex mechanics) engaged, her role is a crucial one.
According to Gabby, she was pushing for a more involved and on-the-ground interview style for a while. Moments like Berserker’s trophy run and Blaber’s emotional speech at the Summer 2022 finals are attributed to the players and their personalities, to be sure, but she really pushed to make sure the camera crew was set up for success and ready to capture the action in a way the broadcast hadn’t before.
“I’m very proud of the way that interview sequence went, because it was taking a risk. I had this long conversation about getting the cameras right and making sure we could get that. It was very rewarding to see not just Berserker running around, but then the crowd being able to have the MVP chant, to get Blaber in a position where he felt like he could be emotional. There’s a lot of factors that lead up to that. That’s a lot on the team and the members, too, but you might not get that moment if it’s all separated.”
“Last summer was a big pivot point because, after we did Spring Finals interviews, I had actually made a big pitch to the LCS production team on how we should change the way finals interviews are done and lean more into that [traditional sports style], getting into the middle of the – I like to call it organized chaos, or like intentional chaos of keeping the whole team on stage – not trying to separate it specifically and kind of bounce back where the energy can dissipate when you segment the interview.”
“There was a huge effort where I was trying to get interviews as soon as the games ended, and a lot of that means me going in there and grabbing them and being like, ‘Hey, you don’t have to pack up your keyboard right now, your teammate can do that.’ It’s different on the stage of a final where everyone’s excited.”
Like everyone else working on the LCS, Gabby puts a heavy focus on the players. She’s played a huge role in trying to get players more involved and integrated into the broadcast rather than them existing separately from the talent that puts on the show. Her focus is on capturing their emotion in the moment and being the human connection to the audience. Sure, the games are important, but in their aftermath, it is the stories that take precedence.
However, this focus on others, through both her casting and interviewing, has made it much more difficult for Gabby to deal with and process her personal struggles.
Breaking out of the LeTigress cage
The need for change drove Gabby to rebrand to Gabby Durden, her full name, rather than being LeTigress. This required her to let go of a name that’s defined her as a working professional for the better part of a decade. Processing her trauma and finding a way to evolve as broadcast talent necessitated some big changes.
A name change may sound like a small thing, but it was a big deal to Gabby. When asked about the reasons behind her rebrand, she gave us a wry smile and asked, “How personal do you wanna get?” It got about as personal as it can get.
“It wasn’t just something where I decided that I wanted a name change, that I was tired of the name LeTigress. Last year, I had a lot of tragedy hit me. My mom, unfortunately, took her own life, and that affected me in a very, very deep way. From that moment, I took one week off of LCS, I came back, and it was just back to business. Back to the grind. I’m dealing with all of this personal trauma that’s pulling a lot of this – I honestly have a very dark past filled with a lot of darkness, and it kind of triggered a lot of exploration.”
“[I was] trying to find healthy ways to be able to express myself, to get past my grief and do it in the best way I know, which is to put it into art. Which is where the music part comes in. But also, [it’s] this interesting dynamic where I spent pretty much all of my life telling the story of others. Even in my family dynamic it was supporting others, not telling my story, not getting things off of my chest, not being honest about where I am. I love being this connecting piece between telling these connecting stories to the audience. But there’s not as much room in a broadcast setting to do so. It’s not appropriate to do so.”
“I’ve been going through therapy and really trying to, like, dive into the nitty-gritty that I’m feeling. I’m not the same person I was a year ago, that’s just a fact. And then a lot of the connecting pieces to hiding behind the name of LeTigress and not being my truest self. The decision behind the rebrand and going in the direction of being Gabby Durden is a lot of trying to find and trying to navigate that space. Like, who am I at my core? What can I communicate? How can I feel connected to who I am? When I hear the name LeTigress, it’s just not hitting.”
Gabby followed this up by explaining some of the smaller ways that she feels a sort of disassociation from her old moniker.
“I’m very adaptable and tend to go and kind of be a chameleon to whatever I need to be in the moment. Even in the name, it was to that point where, to this day there’s no consistency on how to say my name with that LeTigress vs LeTigress. Like, even in broadcasting. I was like, eh, you know, maybe I wasn’t strong enough in saying, ‘This is the pronunciation.’ There was a lot of bending to others’ will that came with that, and just not much of a connection to why I chose the name in the first place. And, well, if I want to feel true to myself and connected to my core, that begins with the name I go by. If I’m not feeling connected to the name LeTigress and not feeling like that is a sturdy foundation – it came from a space where I was wavering on who I am – then maybe it’s time to move on beyond that name. Which is why then I decided to go in the direction of ditching the name entirely.”
“I’m still very, very happy about that chapter. It’s not me rejecting that LeTigress chapter at all, there’s so much that I can give to that and the growth I had. It’s such an important chapter to my establishment in esports and becoming who I am as a broadcaster. I’m just ready to move into the next chapter, where I feel like I’m a bit more on that path of discovering who I am in this part of my life.”
All of this led to Gabby putting together a music video, something that she could put together and run with that allowed her to feel creatively fulfilled outside of her daily grind. Being on broadcast may seem like a dream job from the outside looking in, but the industry comes with its fair share of challenges. Finding a creative outlet and a way to separate herself from that was essential.
“I’ve always been very performance-driven. I mean, I grew up in theatre, writing poetry, doing different speech competitions. I’ve used art and art performances in the past to process emotions when I’ve gone through things in my life.”
“There’s almost something about it being connected to myself but also being a character, in a sense. Being able to fully unleash emotions as part of a performance in a way that… I do struggle to release emotions in daily interaction, but, if it’s in a performance, I feel like I can use it effectively as an outlet – because it’s for the art, as well, is kind of my mindset.”
“I was a bit like… ‘I wonder how esports fans are going to react to this?’ Especially as I’m often seen on camera as broadcast-ready and smiling. I do have a lot of energy and that is very true, I am an energetic and very kind of happy person in that sense, but I do have other things I’m trying to get off my chest.”
Ultimately, Gabby was able to get what she was looking for out of the music video. Outside of the feeling of tackling something she’d never done before and creating content in a way that’s entirely separate from the LCS and esports as a whole, she was just glad she was able to work through things in a way that made sense to her.
“The feeling of watching it come together is the satisfaction of what I ultimately wanted to achieve, which was to put that part of the emotion of my personal experience into something I could use as a mode of katharsis. I’m able to look at that and be like, ‘I did achieve that’, and I’m still working through things and writing and using that as an outlet to address parts of my personal struggle and things like that. But with what that song specifically addresses, there’s a sense of… I was able to get it out.”
From what Gabby had to say, it seems that she’s made some significant progress when it comes to processing and dealing with her emotions as they come, rather than compartmentalizing them and locking them away as they eat away at her.
This newfound strength has been an essential part of having the strength to improve her craft through the adversity she faces on a daily basis.
One step back, two steps forward
There’s a lot that goes into putting on a production with the scale of the LCS, especially considering it’s a form of live entertainment. The amount of preparation that goes into coordinating a live event compared to a pre-recorded one is immense, with an entire team created for the purpose of making sure the right content is on screen and that everyone on broadcast is hitting their queues.
Not to mention the inherently unpredictable nature of live content. Guessing the day’s most exciting matches, creating pre-recorded content to spotlight emerging storylines as rivalries form between players and teams, and delivering when those moments are finally paid off are all things that Gabby strives to do.
Her aforementioned role as a host is generally well-received by the League of Legends community, but her casting style is a bit more divisive. While some enjoy her emotionally-driven and impactful way of casting teamfights, there are others who aren’t as keen on her way of calling the game.
Gabby was fully transparent about agreeing with some of the criticism levied against her and doing her best to take it in stride. The process of figuring out what she needs to fix hasn’t been an easy one, but she has some idea of where she wants to go with her casting and ultimately likes having some constructive criticism in moderation.
“One of my goals this Summer is understanding what my role on the broadcast is in a broader sense, trying to find a sense of what my identity is as a caster and in the context of the show, and where it’s going. I think that this past Spring I was trying to develop my own style by trial and error and acknowledging that not everything is gonna hit.”
The casts that didn’t quite hit the mark weigh heavily on Gabby. Her voice is the vehicle in which players’ storylines and journeys are delivered to the fans, and the feeling of letting those players down is just as disappointing to her as it is to those who criticize her.
“There’s a lot going on in my personal life and things I’m not ready to talk about that were just affecting my performance in general, but then, you can’t talk about it, because it comes across as excuses, and I don’t want that at all. But then you hear about the ‘blood in the veins’ thing, and those two last casts I did [in Spring], I’m disappointed in. I walked away thinking I was letting things affect me on a deeper level than I wanted to, and I was maybe taking some of the wrong feedback. The things I was focusing on I was [fixating] on, and in some cases I was losing some of my fundamentals that used to be stronger in my opinion. I think when I was trying really hard to figure out who I am identity-wise, I was losing other aspects of the casting that I think would normally be stronger and making mistakes that I’d be like, ‘I wouldn’t normally do that. Why am I doing this?'”
She felt as if she was investing too much into bringing out the emotion of the players and their stories to the forefront, resulting in her sometimes losing the context behind what’s actually happening in-game. This has created a conundrum where she’s trying to maintain the things that make her stand out while keeping a level of control that keeps her and the viewer from getting lost in the action.
“I don’t want to completely lose that, but how do I rein it in? That’s one thing I’m always yo-yoing between in my style, where it’s not too much at times, right? It’s like, ‘Be yourself and be natural,’ but, if I do that in a way that isn’t controlled, then it might hinder the cast. But if I don’t do it at all, it becomes way too cookie-cutter.”
Gabby also spoke a bit about her prior gigs, with a lot of her previous preparation for casting being based around one-off tournaments like Twitch Rivals events, rather than something that runs week-to-week in a league with years and years of history behind it. Finding out how her style fits into the LCS has been an ongoing effort.
“There are some things where I was like, ‘That’s not a good way to approach week-by-week, let me pull back in this way.’ But then pulling back in that way affected my fundamentals in a way I didn’t like. So… I’m kind of in this weird, transformative part of my casting where I’m like, ‘I know I can do better at this than I did here, but I also like this part that I discovered and maybe if I can hone this a bit more it can become a signature aspect.’ Finding a way to balance that all is very important. The blood in the veins thing… That was just a call where I made a mistake at the beginning of that fight, and the problem is, I spiraled.”
“I knew it. That was a learning moment where I was like, ‘Ok, I need a good set of skills where, when I make a mistake, I can immediately correct and not let it affect the rest of the cast.’ I realized that in that moment, I was spiraling too much mentally, thinking about the mistake and how it’d affect things. Do I acknowledge it? Do I not acknowledge it? As a result, I just kind of got muddied for the rest of the call and the call was lost rather than just saying, ‘Oops, I called that wrong’. Every caster makes mistakes all the time. You’re on camera all the time. It’s all about how you end up recovering from those mistakes.”
Gabby is open to constructive criticism and has spent a lot of time thinking about how to refine her approach. While she isn’t thrilled with some of her casts, having people make so many YouTube clips labeling her the “worst caster ever” or making fun of the way she calls games definitely doesn’t help. What started as minor criticism has snowballed and ultimately boiled over to create a wall of harassment Gabby faces every time she shows up on screen.
The brutal reality of inescapable harassment
Recognizing the legitimate criticism from the internet trolls has proven to be quite a challenge, as big figures in the League of Legends community have openly spoken ill of Gabby’s casting in ways that aren’t too productive or useful to her. This has led to a sea of hurtful comments that can be difficult to wade through, and all of this negative sentiment toward her has certainly taken its toll.
“Quite frankly, this year – you know, I’ve always been targeted a bit based on the nature of who I am in the context of the broadcast, but those things… They linger. I still take responsibility for my parts in the [TSM] monologue as I did, but then, you know, there’s frustration with not everyone knowing how things work. Sometimes you eat s*** for things that are in your control and sometimes out of your control. And I know that I’m still eating s*** for those things. I can’t post a video without someone coming and saying ‘monologue incident’ again, and it’s like, great, this thing I worked to create and took pride in being able to do monologues for a while and then this other thing happens. Now everything’s tainted in a way.”
“It’s a lot to struggle with on an internal level when you feel the lingering effects of things – just cause that’s how things work – but you also don’t feel like you’re doing your best. So then, you know, you read things and some of the criticism is right. Even some of the things where there’s criticism and people are like, ‘I can’t believe they’re talking sh*t.’ Like, no, their criticism [toward me] was valid.”
“And then I’m thinking, ‘Yes, I know I need to work on that and I need to get better at it and figure out why I’m doing those things.’ But then it’s hard when it’s mixed with things that aren’t valid and people that create an echo chamber.”
“I go on YouTube and the algorithm is spitting things at me and I go to watch a normal video, and I see, ‘This thing that Gabby did’, and I’m like, ‘Oh god, I wasn’t trying to look at that, I just wanted to come and watch a workout video.’ But here I am. It’s fed up there as a suggested video for me.”
It’s been especially difficult for Gabby to find a balance of what she should and shouldn’t look at because, at the end of the day, she’s here to make the experience of watching the LCS better for the viewer. Being in tune with what viewers think, whether it be something they really like about the broadcast or something that isn’t working for them, is something she values.
Where Christian ‘IWillDominate’ Rivera had legitimate criticism in this clip and broke down his issues with her cast the way he sees it, it’s important to note how it’s labeled. The nature of short-form content and the way it’s circulated makes it easy for useful criticism to get lost when people convey the message without adding the context.
And, with these kinds of videos popping up with titles calling her work the “worst casting of the decade” right in her recommended as she’s trying to relax and unwind doesn’t help anything.
What’s more, when big streamers speak about things they like and don’t like about other public-facing figures, their communities tend to run with those ideas and parrot their sentiment. And, while someone like IWD’s opinion holds a lot of weight in the League community due to his wealth of experience as a pro and analyst, his name being attached to criticism of figures like Gabby without context can lead to a blind cycle of hatred.
As a result, one mistake snowballing into months and months of harassment. And for someone like Gabby, who’s trying to work on and refine her casting style, a few mistakes can lead to an inescapable void where constant negativity is the norm. However, she hasn’t let herself sink into that void and still faces the community with open arms when she can.
“Not every comment you get online is going to be equal, but I also feel like it’s important to keep a pulse on what the community is saying. And that can be a balance, trying to listen to the community. In the end, that’s who you’re serving. You’re doing this to connect the story to the fan, and their opinion is important. But you also have to acknowledge that not everyone has the same intentions when they’re giving you feedback and things. That can get really muddied in your brain, and sometimes it can be hard to think, ‘Oh, is that a real comment? Is that something I should ignore? Is that a general sentiment?'”
“It’s not like I’m unfamiliar with criticism. It’s always been this way, even in my days at HiRez (the publishers of SMITE and Paladins, games she worked in previously). I’ve always been in a position where this has happened, but I’ve had better internal walls or mechanisms to deal with it than I think I have in this past… nearly a year. 2023 in particular. Spring was really hard for me. I want to get back to having a good foundation I can rely on. And I do have a good support system in the way I filter through feedback – and I do want that feedback – but I do so through the lenses of trusted individuals. ‘Cause sometimes just seeing it directly, that can be what does it. So instead of going in and looking at the comments directly, I’ll go to trusted people and ask, ‘What’s the sentiment? Can you give me examples? How much is this feedback coming up?’ So I can still internalize it and use it as a way to grow.”
Finding a middle ground
Unlike many other skills in life, casting doesn’t exactly have a linear path to improvement. Not only is it an inherently subjective medium, it also has its fair share of trials and tribulations and is entirely different from game to game. While some of the skills involved with being a good caster for, say, Valorant, translate over to casting League of Legends, the pacing is entirely different in both games.
So, when it comes to an experienced broadcast team focusing on being the best they can be while casting a single game, the bar is raised. People expect only the best, and the current LCS team currently has many of the all-time greats when it comes to esports casting.
Gabby had nothing but great things to say about the people she works with, and spoke about how the team has worked together to improve together over time.
“One of the big things is trying to just identify very, very specific goals for each cast. To me, you’re never done learning and growing. If you, as a caster, at one point say, ‘I did it all. I’m good. I don’t need to learn and evolve.’ There’s something else you need to work on there. We’re all evolving as humans in general, right? But there are different style adaptations, there’s always something you can be focusing on.”
“Obviously, it varies in degrees. Someone like me might have more to work on with now just stepping into this more full-time casting as opposed to someone like, we’ve got such magnificent pros, right? CaptainFlowers, who’s f***ing GOATed and amazing, and he’s like, ‘I wanna try this type of joke,’ or something, right? One of the things that makes him great, as amazing as he is, I still hear him – and Phreak would do the same thing – where they’re in the green room and still taking an approach to their craft that’s important. As long as you’re always thinking of the craft and evaluating yourself, that’s a good place to be.”
Gabby spoke at length about forming a sort of “practice regimen” for herself. She says wants to hold herself accountable for keeping up with it as a way to recover some of the refinement she feels she’s lost amid her recent emotional turmoil. While her co-casters have been a huge help, she also knows that some of this journey will bring trials she has to brave on her own.
And, rather than stepping back and focusing on any one role, Gabby is determined to master them all.
“Obviously, a lot of the people I currently work with are the ones I looked up to when I was trying to make my way through esports, and I would say one of the biggest examples of that is Quickshot. I always admired Quickshot. He’s primarily a caster, but he also has stepped into desk hosting, he’ll do interviews, he’s technically a multi-role talent. But do you ever question who Quickshot is?”
“Even when he’s flexing into different roles, he still has his [identity], as he’s always very genuinely excited. When he is there in a cast, he’s setting up his co-caster, he knows what he wants to talk about, and he is doing that to the best of his ability. He takes this kind of learning mindset where, even when he knows the answer, he’s able to mirror the audience’s desire to learn more in the way he frames things in every role that he pursues. So, while he is that switchblade, he still has that central identity.”
“And that’s one thing I’ve very much taken pride in, outside of the LCS even, I’ve done every role on the broadcast. That’s something that, going into it, people ask me like, ‘If you could do one thing, what would you want to do?’ and I struggle to answer the question. I like to go and express my energy in a way in casting that I can’t in other roles, but then when I do interviews, I get to connect to players and elevate their personal take on things. And then desk hosting is very facilitative, and there’s something very enjoyable about being able to set up analysts to give their take, and I genuinely enjoy all of those aspects of all of those roles.”
Ultimately, Gabby Durden’s story is one of resilience. Despite the amount of adversity she’s faced in both her personal and professional life, she’s determined to face her problems head-on.
“If you are a strong talent, then not everyone will like you. It means you have something that is unique that some people will love, then it might not resonate with others. If no one has any opinion about you, though, if everyone’s neutral on you, you’re not really contributing something dynamic. That’s where sometimes it can fall into getting those good fundamentals, but then that’s that, and you’re not really offering that extra flavor. So there’s also an element of identifying what your flavor is. The very nature of style is that everyone has different style preferences.”
“And even the best of the best of the best of this craft, you can still find people who don’t like their style. But that doesn’t change the fact that they’re the best and that they’re at the top of it because they committed to their style, they know who they are, and they perfected that style. I think it’s less so about role and sticking to a certain role and more so about identifying what you bring. It can be more tricky, that’s why a lot of people don’t flex roles. For one, there are very different skill sets for very different roles, and you can’t always flex [a] style in the same way.”
Gabby Durden is determined to stick with her job on the LCS despite everything thrown her way. Where many others may have quit and pursued something else in her position, she wants to stay with the LCS and bring the very best experience she can to League fans.
While LeTigress may be gone, Gabby Durden is here to stay.