Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Abby Sherlock ’19 Talks Gaming, Mentorship and Defying Stereotypes
Theater kid. Sorority sister. Avid gamer.
As an undergraduate in UC San Diego’s Marshall College, Abby Sherlock ’19 was unabashedly her own distinct combination of all three.
“I don’t like stereotypes. When I was a UC San Diego student, I wanted to be a gamer who was also very involved in sororities. There weren’t other people doing that, but I didn’t care. Being uniquely you, whatever that looks like, is awesome, and being very direct and open about what you love is cool,” Sherlock shared during an exclusive interview with UC San Diego Today. “Real, good people—the kind you want to be around—will see that,” she added.
It's a mindset that clearly is taking her places. Named to this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 list in the games category, the effervescent 26-year-old from South Carolina—now an associate game producer for Los Angeles-based developer Riot Games—appears to be taking the historically male-dominated industry by storm.
Sherlock has created games related to things she cares about— “Southerners, body image, female friendships and cats,” she said with a laugh while describing her 2020 game “Heirloom,” which she designed alongside co-director Kathryn Yu while a graduate student at the University of Southern California. These themes, she said, are ones that many people wouldn’t think could be in a game—and that’s precisely what propels her forward as she carves out a path for herself professionally. She’s driven by the idea that she can play a pivotal role in making gaming more accessible and appealing to previously untapped markets—and to girls like her.
“Gaming is such a cool medium, and I think the more diversity of experience we have in the industry, the stronger we will be for it,” Sherlock said.
That mindset has inspired Sherlock to mentor other young women in the gaming industry who are working at companies like Wizards of the Coast—where she previously was an intern—and through organizations such as the IGDA Foundation, a nonprofit group that serves current and aspiring game developers from underrepresented backgrounds.
“There’s a saying in old school tech that ‘There can only be one girl in the room,’ and my ideology is the opposite of that,” said Sherlock, adding that she feels lucky to work at a company like Riot where there are many visible role models for women. “I don’t want to just be the one girl in the room. I want to smash open the door behind me so that many can come in after.”
So how did Sherlock, who double-majored in theatre and communication with a minor in film studies at UC San Diego, earn herself a place in that room? She credits her formative years as a Triton—and the opportunities she was afforded as an undergraduate—for laying the groundwork that allowed her to turn a lifelong hobby into an exciting career in a rapidly growing industry.
“If I look backward, the stepping stones were in place at UC San Diego when I was 19,” said Sherlock, a former child actor who was drawn to the university largely because of its co-location and partnership with the world-renowned La Jolla Playhouse.
At the time, she aspired to pursue a career as a stage performer. But that all changed after Sherlock, a Chi Omega sister who was heavily involved in the Panhellenic community on campus, was making her way down Library Walk during a 2016 tabling event and spotted students with Triton Gaming engaging passersby with crowd-favorite Super Smash Bros. on the Nintendo GameGube.
“I grew up playing with my brother and dad,” said Sherlock, adding that she spent hours of her childhood years immersed in the imaginative worlds of Barbie games on the PC and Nintendo classics like Zelda, Pokemon and Mario. She walked up to the table and joined in, and the rest is history. “After that, Triton Gaming kind of just became my second family,” she added.
Through the on-campus community of gaming enthusiasts, which hosts esports tournaments, Sherlock found ample opportunities to work at a variety of gaming industry events both on campus and throughout Southern California. Whether on-camera hosting—a natural fit given her acting background—or assisting with event marketing, staffing booths and moving chairs in various venues, she would say “yes” to every chance she was given to gain experience and expand her network in the field.
“I was very open to whatever got me in the room,” said Sherlock, who said that during her years of involvement with Triton Gaming, she helped recruit more female students to join the organization, which nearly reached gender parity by the time she graduated in 2019.
In gaming, she found a vessel for the same type of storytelling that first attracted her to acting—and realized she wanted to create games that others could enjoy and identify with.
“I’m a lifelong theater fan. I love going to shows. But something about games just really excited me. It was creativity and artistry, but also this technology that means you can reach so many people,” said Sherlock, who performed in four shows with the Department of Theatre & Dance while at UC San Diego. “There seemed like such an opportunity with games to reach so many people on a mass scale and that felt really powerful."
At the end of her time at UC San Diego, Sherlock went on to attend USC, where she earned a master’s degree in game design and gained experience through internships at Wizards of the Coast, Geek & Sundry and Nerdist. She also worked as a community coordinator for esports organization Tespa before landing her current position in Riot Games’ research and development department, where she spends her days working on future titles.
Sherlock describes working for Riot as a “magical experience,” drawing a parallel between working alongside engineers and coders in game production and performing in a theater ensemble on stage. “It’s very collective-based,” she said.
Even though gaming is now her job, Sherlock still enjoys playing when she can—sometimes for “research” and other times for pure enjoyment. She recently logged 200 hours in the newest game in the Zelda franchise and has also been playing a lot of VALORANT, which was developed by Riot.
Eager to reflect on her UC San Diego experience, Sherlock shared memories of writing papers in Muir Woods while sipping lavender wildflower lattes and cheering on her sorority sisters during the Chi Omega Olympics on Marshall Field. One of her happiest memories as a Triton was participating in the university’s Global Seminars program in Tokyo in 2017, during which she studied anime and technology. The strong critical analysis and writing skills she developed at UC San Diego, she said, set her up for success in her current role, long before she knew where life would take her.
When students or young people who hope to break into the game development industry approach Sherlock for advice, she recommends they reflect on what they truly care about and what they want to put out into the world.
“If you rely on self-awareness to figure out what kinds of stories and characters and gameplay you’re really interested in, you’ll find what gets you excited,” she tells them. “The world is literally your oyster—be really specific about what gets you jazzed.”
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