“How was it for you?” Why childbirth stories need to be heard

Trigger warning: detailed description of labour and childbirth

Being a mother is a lonely venture. Sometimes you are lucky enough to gauge another new mum on a similar wavelength and a conversation strikes up. And when it does you are never far from the question; “how was the birth?”

The first sign of my daughter taking after her mother was her reluctance to leave, despite it being the best thing for her. Perhaps not wanting to insult her host of 40 plus weeks, she stayed in uterine confinement until the hint of hormonal assistance jump-started her into the world.

(The second sign is her self-frustration at missing her first attempt to latch at feeds – leading to mother and daughter both taking the blame onto their shoulders, red-faced but determined to stick the landing on the fourth attempt.)

Even going into my third trimester, I had been determined not to have a birth plan, but some research and my fantastic fifth midwife (who made sure I’d get to see her again rather than be passed on to whoever was available) convinced me to seek a referral to the King’s College Hospital home birth unit. A birth pool was ordered and remained parcelled up in a corner of the bedroom, home birth being a possibility, not a certainty.

Christmas, then my baby’s due date – 26th December – came and went. I saw in 2022 with “nosecco” and a friend’s dinner party, Jools Holland on the telly. I knew she wasn’t coming anytime soon; I would have to be induced.

On the morning of January 5th I couldn’t reach the hospital for two hours. I rage bashed through unsatisfactory missions in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla wondering when I could start what could be a three-day process. A try on my husband Lacey’s phone saw us put through straight away, although a promise of a callback was never met – the hospital was clearly understaffed and exceptionally busy. Eventually I was admitted at lunchtime, monitored for two hours and told my high blood pressure readings meant I would be an inpatient. A positive covid test result the day before meant this would be on an isolated ward for pre and post natal parents.

We arrived on the dark ward at 6pm and that’s when the realisation set in; this was it now. I might not have felt the need for a tightly planned birth but I certainly hadn’t planned for this. Two pregnant women were already resident, one due to have an early C section the following day at 35 weeks pregnant, the other in for observation. My bedside call button did not work and I was instead instructed to ring a number if I needed help.

When the prostaglandin hormone (for encouraging my cervix to ripen and open) was administered earlier that afternoon we were given a speech indicating a it would be process that took place over a few days and stages of treatment, so I sent Lacey home to sleep not realising the backache I’d developed were contractions; within an hour I would be experiencing four every ten minutes, some overlapping and lasting over three minutes; I was experiencing uterine hyperstimulation.

Other women I have spoken to who experienced a rush of contractions during their induction were given an injection to calm the process down. I was not. The pessary was removed and I was told the contractions would simmer down and we’d “revisit it in the morning” as I was only two centimetres dilated. I was given a bowl the texture of an egg box, which I later urgently vomited into and over. My water jug failed to provide respite post sickness, as it wasn’t refilled on request.

My partner had returned to me but my labour still felt like a lonely one. In the throes of consistent and constant pain I retreated into delirium. My bladder had declined to work in the bathroom, but when my waters broke I questioned this key moment of labour as perhaps my bladder finally kicking into gear. The midwife seemed to agree that I had simply wet myself, albeit in a spectacular fashion that required me to sniff my own amnoitic fluid and have a change of bedsheets. A bleed in the bathroom I led her to shortly after was a definite sign that my baby was on the move, but it too was seemingly ignored.

A moment of clemency seemed to arrive when I was asked if I’d like a pethidine injection (morphine). My sense of time had become hazy but I believe an hour later I was told a doctor who had never met me had declined to prescribe it, but I was now eligible for a second dose of paracetamol and codeine if I would like it.

Due to being “only two centimetres” during my examination earlier in the evening I was denied an epidural. I was not allowed gas and air.

I was also not examined again even though my contractions did not subside.

Despite my TENS machine getting disrupted by the CTG (trace) monitoring bands leading to frequent electrocutions, I had to keep putting the bands back on. In NCT classes you are encouraged to practice positions to help ease the pain of contractions. None of them involve lying on your back, but with the placement of the trace monitors on my baby and my uterus, I had no other option.

Earlier in the night I had tried to remain quiet for fear of upsetting the other women on the ward, but by the start of the new day I was pathetically crying out for help, openly questioning the lack of help. Exhausted from the six hours of unstoppable contractions, I started to drift off in the seconds between them.

Then my baby’s heart rate started to drop.

“I’m going to shit myself and I don’t even care anymore” I drowsily declared to my partner as I was told I would finally be moving upstairs to a delivery room, feeling the pushes of my baby trying to make an exit. The midwives were still none the wiser. No porter was called and I was made to walk, contacting in the corridor twice en route to the lift, leaving a discussion of me potentially needing a C section in my wake.

In the dark delivery room I met a midwife who made me lie back on a gurney for examination; I was fully ready to push and had a hairy headed baby. I also had gas and air stationed above my head and would I like some?

It’s an incredible source of motivation, finally being believed. I knew my baby girl needed to be born quickly due to her heart rate dropping on the trace. I breathed in the gas and air and forced it back out with my pushes, holding her in place with my pelvic floor between each burst of effort to avoid my relaxing muscles taking her backwards. I roared with the effort, but found a sense of focus as the trauma of the past six hours faded into the background.

Six minutes later a wailing baby, long and bloody, was placed on my body. We already knew her name: Aoife.

The benefit of being on a covid ward for mums is that you may have the only baby requiring attention. Due to Aoife being born jaundice the attention was needed and the care was better than we had imagined possible. To get it I had to return to the same ward in which I’d writhed helplessly in pain, but this time to the empty bay beside my previous bed. This one had a call button that worked (until it was accidentally ripped from the wall by a midwife during my stay.)

After four nights my husband, my baby and I left the hospital. My legs threatened to giveaway but somehow stayed firm enough to reach the car. I’d been up all night feeding Aoife to clear her jaundice and somehow had succeeded. As a midwife did a 2am check she brought a sense of vindication; “I was on shift that night, heard about your bleed and knew you were good to go.”

When I have the “how was it for you” conversation with other mums, I am struck by how desperate we are to be heard. How the words tumble out and fresh memories are remembered. An empty water jug. The lack of call button. Dinner and breakfast requests never taken and food not forthcoming. A lack of examinations. Vomit everywhere. Crouching in tears behind the locked door of a bathroom.

I have heard so many tales of unnecessary pain. Of the trauma of not being believed. Sudden rushes to the operating theatre. Speedy discharges with successful breastfeeding boxes signed off despite evidence to the contrary. Cesarean scars opening. Cesarean stitches becoming infected. A private obstetrician making no attempt to hide their irritation at their patient’s inconvenient desire to not go voluntarily under the knife. Babies losing weight because their parents weren’t given comprehensible feeding information and didn’t know how much formula to bottle feed.

We are hasty in sharing our stories for the relief of finally being listened to. And we believe each other without reservation.

I don’t know where my mind would be otherwise.

I still get YouTube videos advertising “raw, totally natural, drug-free birth vlogs”, but denying oneself pain relief shouldn’t be applauded. It is a personal choice, not a trend. Yet, with personal beliefs making their way into labour wards and being imposed onto pregnant people, there will never cease to be labouring women on their own, screaming into the night.

Things I want my daughter to know #IWD2022

In the darkness that accompanies overnight feeding sessions, I tap notes on my phone to keep myself awake. Given that I’m publishing this on International Women’s Day 2022, I thought it was the right time to share my thoughts so far on what I’d like my daughter Aoife to know as she gets older. I confess I was also inspired by the reading of Mary Schmich’s hypothetical commencement speech Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young, at my friend Ruth’s wedding, which is more commonly known as the basis of Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen) by Baz Luhrmann. It was performed by Ruth’s very talented friend Charlie, and hearing it spoken by a woman for the first time made it feel all the more significant.

Life lessons for Aoife

1. One can never talk or be “too much”. Instead, walk away from conversations knowing you are more than enough
2. Write down – or learn – the birthdays and addresses of those who mean the most to you
3. Do not fear phone calls
4. Don’t write letters to people who don’t deserve it
5. Do send flowers to friends “just because”
6. Exercise in groups to share in the pain
7. Learn to box – it’ll teach you to breathe, and that power comes from technique rather than build
8. Start to move when you are young and make the most of your body every day you can
9. Learn an instrument
10. Find out what your favourite lyrics really mean
11. Read a book a week
12. Own a record player and don’t be afraid to buy mysterious vinyl for a quid from a charity shop; you can always donate it back
13. Order dessert, especially to share
14. Learn to make a “signature dish” and tweak one element to make it truly your own
15. Try to walk without headphones once in a while
16. Look up
17. Advocate for yourself, and don’t accept uneccesary pain; physical or emotional
18. If you don’t use it, give it away or sell it
19. You don’t need as many pairs of shoes as you think you do. Ditto jeans, eyeshadows and red lipsticks. (You will never learn, and should not feel guilty.)
20. Vanity is not a sin
21. Don’t let a fear of hypocrisy stop you from changing your mind – you make your decisions, no one else
22. Take all the photos and selfies you can, when and while you can – you’ll be grateful one day
23. Print your favourite photos and create books of your life so far; it’ll help your children understand your life before them
24. Don’t spend live experiences on your phone; feel the present
25. Laugh about your arguments – your father and I will never forget the phrase “you’re mugging me off”, and for good reason
26. Admit your mistakes, but don’t take the fall for what you haven’t done
27. Avoid social media if you can
28. Own a pet at least once in your life
29. Ride a bike
30. Be curious about something, anything – no matter how niche or common
31. Learn to use a sewing machine
32. Upcycle a piece of furniture
33. Prioritise sleep
34. Learn a second language
35. Don’t neglect your pension

36. Buy secondhand when you can
37. The unhappiest people are often the most vocal
38. Videogames are time well spent
39. Do not feel obliged to speak up – but feel proud if you do
40. When you are young and full of energy and ideas, grown men will be scared of you. Don’t let them take away your shine
41. Unsolicited advice becomes increasingly irritating the older you get. Question where it has come from, and then decide whether to follow or ignore it.
42. Don’t judge girls for saying they are “boys’ girls” and “don’t get on with other girls”, but be wary of ones who continue this attitude into adulthood
43. Being nice is simple, being kind is an active trait and requires a worthwhile effort
44. If someone is not nice to you, you don’t have to be nice back
45. Learn the art of worry management
46. Don’t go out with anyone just because they asked. Spend time with others because you want to…
47. …But don’t avoid a situation just because you fear discomfort…
48. …Although boundaries are important. Set them as you see fit.
49. You will know when you are truly happy; even the greyest of places will burst with colour. Savour those days. Lightness and darkness is circular.
50. Never forget you are loved

A difficult decision

Last week my sleep deprived self somehow managed to record and edit a video on a deadline while keeping a tiny child alive, got bad results from the hospital and witnessed toilet water pour through our living room ceiling.

In other words, I thought that was the week from hell. But it turns out it doesn’t rain toilet water, it pours… (Yes, the aforementioned sleep deprivation has rendered me even more insufferable.)

When I was invited to a meeting with ESL about some operational changes, I thought it must be something impactful, given the meeting taking place, but I had no idea it would be both a merger and the sale of the now “ESL FACEIT Group” to the Savvy Gaming Group (SGG), which is owned by Saudi government’s Public Investment Fund (PIF). In other words; the Saudi Goverment now owns the largest tournament organiser and three key brands; ESL, FACEIT and DreamHack. The increase in funding the company will receive will lead to better internal infrastructure and viewer experience, in an industry that needs live events to bring in the revenue, or at least make efforts to break even.

It’s well known that esport events are often a huge lossmaker for tournament organisers.

MTG sold ESL and DreamHack. Of course I don’t know about how the business or the who/what/wheres and ESL’s involvement, but it’s pretty obvious that the majority of people who work directly or freelance for these companies were none the wiser until the last moment. And yes, that includes onscreen talent. We found out when the rest of the internet did – the meetings with ESL happened later.

As someone who spoke out about the NEOM deal that was dissolved by BLAST last year, also talking about a previous couple of events they regretted being part of (BLAST Global Finals in Bahrain and Gamers Without Borders), my name had been brought up – or even targeted – by posts on social media before I’d even seen or had time to process the news. I’ll be blunt; I still haven’t. Right now all I am is heartbroken. I’m sad for everyone this impacts, everyone who now needs to make a decision about the future of their careers and what it means for esports; is Counter-Strike the next Formula 1?

I briefly explained on Twitter on the evening the news broke that this is a different kind of deal to BLAST. NEOM was a sponsorship; the ESL FACEIT Group has been bought. There’s no takeback here. I can’t campaign for the deal to go. I’m hoping the SGG will be more of a silent partner, looking to make their money and pocket it, rather than use their shiny new platform for propaganda, but only time will tell.

All I can do is choose whether to walk away from my biggest client – and pretty much Counter-Strike, given that most of the work I do (including non CSGO events) is produced by ESL or FACEIT. I started my esports hosting career with ESL UK, did my first CSGO desk host for FACEIT, broke through properly with Intel Extreme Masters, and I really do owe them a lot for the progress and friendships I have made.

I am – or was – also one of two regular female faces active on the tier one competitive circuit of Counter-Strike. I’ve fought and worked hard to be here and to continue to be here. You sacrifice a lot to be in this business – it’s not just a job, it’s your life. I hope I was able to represent well while I could.

There are some out there quick to call me and my colleagues hypocrites, forgetting we didn’t take a stand against NEOM in the immediate aftermath of the deal being announced but had time to think about it. (I also do want to clarify that I was due to work on content with BLAST but walked away on hearing about the sponsor.) Give people time to process: contrary to the beliefs of one Redditor, we didn’t destroy anyone’s life. Your assumptions aren’t necessarily reflective of reality and I would ask that you be considerate.

Right now, I’m mentally processing more than just this deal (more of that in a future blog) and childcare is a round-the-clock job (I’ve been writing in fragments around brief baby naps and feeds), but I wanted to find the time to write this because Twitter hardly allows for nuance, and I also wanted to explain that while this news is a shock, I’ve started to have priorities outside of esports and social media; esports is hugely important to me, but it can’t be my entire life anymore.

You will likely see me creating some content for Predator around IEM Katowice, as this was discussed and contracted last year, far before the ESL buyout. I wanted to disclose this in advance to avoid any confusion when the event arrives. In the near future I’ll also be looking at creating content for YouTube, continuing my Twitch stream and trying – as always – to be better at playing CSGO…

Thanks for reading.

A work-in-progress reflects on TI10

In one of my favourite Twitch clips of all time, legendary Starcraft II commentator Artosis reacts to a Reddit thread about a recent cast with onscreen partner Tasteless. Horrified at what he’s reading he exclaims “this is my fucking job, this is my living and people are just making shit up and typing it… Everything in there’s not true!”

I think the reason this clip is one I return to is not just because of the fact that even a casting duo as beloved as Artosis and Tasteless can fall victim to a little Reddit writing of history, but also because it feels like so many of us who work on camera in this industry have screamed into that void.

When I worked the CS:GO Katowice Major in 2019, I fell into a bit of a Reddit hole. I was in Katowice for three weeks, extremely tired – was ill for one of the weeks – and I was relatively new to the CS scene, so I guess wanted to see the conversations, and engage with the community. Unfortunately I quickly learned it wasn’t a healthy place for a new face – I’d see things written about me being a “bitch” due to my questions, accusations that I only “asked yes/no questions” and just general hate. The more events I did in the space, the more welcoming it became, but also the less I needed its approval. Of course, I got better at my job too – but that came from production feedback, VOD reviews, experience and building up working relationships with the players. Unlike some broadcast talent, I just didn’t feel like I got much out of the space in terms of self-improvement.

I still have crippling imposter syndrome when I host a desk in CS:GO.

The joy of doing The International 10 – aside from it being the event I dreamed of being part of since I joined the esports and gaming space – was that I went into the event deciding I would not let imposter syndrome get the better of me. I would be honest about my coming from a new-ish player’s perspective and I would represent the audience members who watch TI annually, but no other events during the rest of the year.

I think I first played DOTA in 2016 (although it could have been early 2017) – I streamed it from the Twitch office with my friend Marhan. It turned out streaming it on Twitch was NOT the play. I returned to it a couple of years later, did the usual tutorials on my own and then tried DOTA Turbo… It was a DISASTER. The people I was matched with were not the beginners I was promised and I was ready to give up all over again. But then I tweeted about my desire to learn and some of the broadcast talent said they’d love to help. It took some time to find the space to do it, but eventually my streams with DOTA analyst Purge began in early 2021.

One of the things we tend to lack in the esports industry is the luxury of time. There’s a long-running joke in gaming circles about having no time to actually play games and it is very much rooted in truth. I would try and fit in both DOTA and CS:GO streams around events and other broadcast commitments, including long production days and prep work. With a wedding and mortgage to pay for and the reality of losing most of my income in 2022 due to a baby on the way, I couldn’t take a break.

I was hired for TI in mid July while I was working on IEM Cologne and got married in August (the wedding took place actually after the original TI10 date, but was scheduled to work around ESL Pro League, which moved in the CS calendar post booking.) I worked for ten days straight in the lead-up to the date of my legal wedding ceremony, including a full day of casting (chemistry testing rather than commentating) for my first major TV series GamesMaster and a group stage of ESL Pro League. Post wedding, I returned for the playoffs of ESL Pro League – my final event in CS:GO for the foreseeable future. Then I got to work on research for TI and GamesMaster, all the while trying to fit DOTA streams in and another unexpected filming obligation that heavily demanded my time.

Basically, to give you an idea of the workload, I didn’t have a day off from September 19 until October 18th. I promise I didn’t plan things this way – the aim was always to spend three weeks totally immersed in DOTA and that’s still where I spent every spare moment. I was extremely fortunate to have members of the community spend some time on Discord calls with me to answer questions about teams and to help me fill in the gaps of my own research – and, of course, to get some unranked games in too.

When I opened the main event on the desk for TI10, I didn’t feel haunted by imposter syndrome. Subconciously I had made a decision not to develop those demons and just get on with it and have fun. Despite a serious lack of sleep – my first shifts meant getting up at the UK equivalent of 4am, and therefore shifting my body clock by four hours was something that didn’t come naturally (insomnia is also a symptom many pregnant women develop in their third trimester, which I recently entered), but once the show went live, it was possible to power through thanks to the amazing onscreen and offscreen talent, and the excitement of the event.

For the first couple of days I was on desk and draft panel (thankfully only one draft panel – that was definitely where I felt least comfortable), and then moved onto interviews after my desk shift ended. My role always involved the preshow, which involved the most visual assets and videos and I believe I was placed there for the energy I could bring – and, of course, it usually meant only covering one series. At the end of my shift I would then prep for the next day’s matches. There was no time to look backwards, watch content or even visit Reddit, even if I wanted to. Every day was a 6am – 10pm day (or longer if I didn’t have my notes ready for the next day).

By day five, the lack of sleep absolutely caught up with me, and unfortunately some of the rising anger from people who didn’t want me there also made it through via Tweets, either directly or indirectly. On day four of the event I published a Twitter thread explaining some of the reasons I wouldn’t be taking unsolicited feedback.

I didn’t expand about my experiences in CS:GO, or share that I’d undergone counselling in early 2021 to help me deal with the anxiety that stemmed from some of my worse experiences in 2019, but I explained about the need to set some boundaries. Unfortunately, I think that’s what led to me having a bit of a “block party” in the middle of another sleepless night to try and stem some of the rage that was subsequently sent my way.

In terms of things to improve on with my hosting, I can think of a ton of things – from the practical, like requesting clips from production to help us on the desk for analytical segments (there was one postgame moment on my final day where I especially regretted this and did an unecessary and unconcise description of a moment) to making less jokes (especially with myself or my pregnancy as the punchline), saying “I” less, placing less emphasis on me being a DOTA noob because it simply wasn’t necessary. There was a throw from a winner’s interview that definitely wasn’t my best. However, I stand by the main content of most of those interviews, especially as these were my first encounters with those players. My day five opening presentation was my least favourite for sure. But the great thing was, if I did get something wrong, I was with experts who could correct me and then we’d simply move on. No harm done. It would not be productive for me to dwell on one mistake that didn’t significantly derail production or my colleagues. Instead it’s important to learn and quickly move on with the show.

And as for coach interviews, there was little to no time to expand on anything discussed – and yes, Richard Lewis’s intuition about me having to do a sudden throw to casters during the first Silent (Team Spirit) coach interview was spot on. I wasn’t trying to be insulting and while it absolutely wasn’t ideal, I was going to clarify his comment and then didn’t have time to because I was told we were going into game. However, the start of the interview, with a question about the opposition’s focus on their offlaner Collapse initially in the game one draft and then in-game during the second was a relevant question. The fact that it stemmed a long, outraged Reddit thread questioning my conduct and calling for my firing is an example of why I do not visit Reddit when first introduced to a gaming community. It also led to conversations about prize money being constantly discussed, when it was brought up as part of the phrase “million dollar draft”, which hey, probably didn’t translate easily out of English and would have served better on the desk to set the stakes, but also was mentioned as part of a setup when interviewing Collapse – but as part of a list of achievements, that also included making top four of the event and beating Virtus.Pro for the first time that season. I cannot recall mentioning prize money at any other time during the event – apologies if my memory has failed me on this one, but it simply didn’t factor as part of my prep notes unlike the team information.

I wrote a twitter thread in response to this commenter below, that explains a bit about my role on the show and how the segments worked. There are no set “right questions” for a panel, it’s absolutely a personal thing, but I would ask the analysts if there was anything in particularly they did want to discuss. Without ad breaks and not knowing when teams would be ready to get into the draft, it wasn’t possible to scope out how long to spend on each topic in advance.

I’ve since seen quite a few comments saying things that simply didn’t happen on broadcast, or have taken them out of context to make me seem like I’ve never even heard of DOTA 2 before, let alone played it. It seems that to justify some of the outrage, the outrageous has to occur. It’s ok not to like me or my performance, but these miniscule works of fiction concern me because they get jumped on by other people and spread as gospel. In some cases they become excuses for abuse.

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Sometimes when I have replied to a tweet, there’s an element of the Regina George – ie me correcting someone on a mistake they say I made with the actual less serious mistake that occured and being told “surely you don’t think you only made one or two mistakes?”… Er no. Just because I clarified one mistake, does not mean I don’t think there were no other mistteps, I’m just not going to spend all day listing them on Twitter. I’ve also had to explain to people the difference between my role as host and how it differs to that of an analyst. There appears to be the expectation that I should self-flagellate on social media, apologise for my shortcomings and beg for forgiveness and the fact that I have not means I’m an “arrogant piece of shit” (to quote one Redditor who decided to post his charming message on the CSGO Reddit before inviting me for a private chat on the same platform).

I’m making the assumption here that most people reading this are not on camera for a living. I am also assuming that a portion of those people feel that critique comes with the territory of being so visible in a public forum. This is absolutely correct. However, those people also need to understand that they are not entitled to become a direct source of feedback for someone they have watched onscreen and do not have a personal relationship with – just as I am not entitled to praise or to wipe the internet of comments that don’t approve of me or my performance. I already mentioned this in the first Twitter thread I posted above, but it’s just not normal to be reading so many comments about oneself, either negative or positive. Unfortunately that means the constructive comments – and I know they exist – can get lost among the less constructive ones and so I don’t always get to see them. It doesn’t mean I think you’re wrong to post them. There will be a time in future when they rise to the top because the toxic comments have subsided as people get familiar with my presence. That’s just the natural cycle of esports communities.

Imagine sitting at your desk at work trying to complete a task and people start walking by your desk, starting to look over your shoulder at your screen. At first you accomodate them and their notes, but then suddenly they start pointing out what you’re already doing, what you haven’t done, and what you weren’t even doing in the first place. You slam your laptop shut and retreat to a meeting room to try and refocus and complete your task. But then the pings begin. Notifications fly at you. Work becomes futile. It happens increasingly regularly. Every effort you have made to try and do a good job has become intrinsically linked to the voices that pull you down or praise you. Every stroke of the keyboard comes with an echo of their words. And then the words come home with you. This is the only way I can think of to try and explain how the social media pressure can feel in this line of work.

I am a 32-year-old woman, who will always be a work-in-progress, but I don’t need criticism to “grow as a person”, I need constructive feedback from production and peers to help me improve at my job and I need the space to make mistakes and to “experiment to decide”. We all need that, no matter our workplace or role. I have eight years of experience as a producer prior to my career on-camera, which has been invaluable in the way I research, but also in giving myself feedback via VOD review. I am a tougher self-critic than you know.

I’d like to thank people who have got in touch in recent days to spread positivity and community members who have seen that the fallout of this debate is also a valuable opportunity to have a discussion around toxicity. I’ve had a number of broadcast talent, from in and outside of the scene get in touch and it’s been very much appreciated. One of the biggest draws for me about DOTA 2 was the talent within the scene and they surpassed my expectations. What a bunch of fantastic, lovely, downright brilliant people – and in the case of Moxxi, insanely brave, too.

I still would really like to keep playing DOTA and to perhaps revisit the scene in future once my baby is old enough for me to get back to work. It’s an incredible game with a bright esports scene and a fantastic community too. But right now, I need to take a break and reset before I count how many times I wrote “I” in this post and descend into a cycle of self-loathing and pain…

Working and the pregnant pause

“It’s a shame that one day you’re going to get married and give this up” read a comment on Instagram over two years ago. I remember seeing this at the time and finding the humour in something so outdated, given that my long term relationship existed before my esports career did.

In fact, a key factor in setting the date for getting married this Summer actually revolved around the CSGO player break and the original scheduled start of ESL Pro League in September. I was having my wedding cake and eating it, as well as being able to pay for it.

But when the competitive calendar shifted, my wedding plans couldn’t. I’m hoping to still be part of ESL Pro League, as the group stages mean there’s an opportunity to share the interviewing role with another person, also meaning a fantastic chance for someone else to potentially break through. Or perhaps my limited time will mean I sit this one out – but you can’t regret putting family first. It’s something I haven’t done enough in the past few years, something the global pandemic has taught us.

I’m very fortunate to have worked solidly for the past year. In the wake of the world shutting down, my schedule cleared itself out, but began to self correct by the Autumn as tournament organisers refused to give up on their events and recalibrated for online. My role as interviewer, however, often was limited to media days rather than full events until 2021, with me getting to fill in on various desks, moving between games.

It also got me thinking about the future. I’m 32 and established in my field. There’s never going to be a convenient time to think about a family of my own, but if there’s an opportunity to take advantage of less travel then during a global shutdown is probably it. Four months after my partner and I decided to see what would happen, I was crying over a positive pregnancy test; something I had told myself was impossible (a common fear among women trying to conceive), had come true. Now, I’d have to work through the notoriously tricky first trimester.

When people talk about the first trimester, it seems that morning sickness is the focal point of discussion, and it’s not surprising, given how crippling the condition it can me. Aside from nausea, it was actually towards the end of the first 12 weeks when I experienced the lesser-known “evening chuck up”. And no cravings for me – just needing to eat little and often or feel horribly sick, something that has continued onwards into the second trimester.

The toughest first trimester hurdle for me, it turned out, was the sheer exhaustion I experienced – which I discovered is totally normal, but not talked about much outside of pregnancy forums and advice websites; my fitness disappeared overnight. As you can imagine, covering three best-of-threes in CS:GO is tiring at the best of times, let alone doing it while growing a tiny human.

I made the decision to tell as few people as possible during the first 12 weeks, not wanting to share the news and then have to follow it up if the pregnancy didn’t work out, or due to the fear of losing work. I was determined to prove I could do it, and I did – in a variety of unconditional broadcast setups, including working with “virtual analysts” (nodding receptively at a green screen), being a “virtual host” (being nodded at) and undergoing a two week quarantine before taking part in the firstbig event CS:GO LAN in approximately 500 days, where my average work day during the six day group stage lasted 14 hours. I started to tell some of my colleagues at IEM Cologne, who made sure to drop me messages to check in, which I really appreciated.

Fortunately, I can confirm my pregnancy is continuing without any issues so far and I’ll be having my week 21 scan next week.

Outside of work-related posts, streaming and house renovations on my Instagram Stories, I don’t share too much from my non-esports world, so I don’t expect that to change too much. (I’ve shared that I’m getting married, for example, but will be unlikely to publish many of the details after the fact.) I did think about not sharing this news at all, because I don’t want my changing body to distract from my work.

Something I do want to share is my plan for the future. I’ll be able to work events outside of the UK until the mid/end of October and will then only work on UK based or online productions until the end of 2021. This includes streaming. Then during the first half of 2022, I’ll be able to work in the UK and will continue streaming. From June 2022, I’ll be taking on productions that require travel again.

In an ideal world, I’d be able to start planning my calendar from the end of 2021, but typically I get asked to be part of events less than a month before. It’s something that impacts the work/life balance of so many in this industry and is definitely one of my biggest concerns once my baby arrives. I love my work – but I also need to work, and I’m fortunate that I have family that are keen to help so that I can keep streaming a couple of times a week and can ocasionally work hosting jobs in the first six months of parenting. I hope that once COVID concerns are under control, tournament organisers will be able to share their plans with talent further in advance.

In other words there will be pauses here and there, but I hope I’m able to continue in this industry, because there’s always a way to make it work.

Little warning signs for women in the workplace

DISCLAIMER: I’m writing this as my experiences of – yep, you guessed it – being a woman in an office environment. This is not about all men. I have also not had it worse than other people – going by the horrific lawsuit filed against Activion Blizzard in July 2021, absolutely, categorically 100% not. This is an article of personal observations.

On the 22nd July, many of us in the gaming industry woke up to a raft of horrific allegations about the workplace culture in Activision Blizzard, featuring systematic harrassment and discrimination against women – particularly against women of colour. If it’s happening in one company, it’s likely happening at this scale in others.

I’m incredibly fortunate that I’ve never been part of one of those environments where this toxic culture is company wide – and I’ve not experienced the horrors the women at Activision Blizzard have – but it made me think about a couple of managers I worked with several years apart in different industries and of the women impacted by workplace cultures that quietly, insidiously work against them.

The second time it happened, I had the learnings of the first, more seniority and to be perfectly honest – an attitude where I was not going to let this behaviour go unchecked, and I had people around me who listened and helped me avoid the worst of it. That doesn’t mean I was a total badass – I absolutely dissolved at times – but I had more confidence in knowing what was bullshit and in standing against it.

So here’s a few warning signs for women to watch out for (they may be found useful by some men too) – and, I hope, to help you to realise that you’re not mad, weak or being hysterical.

  1. Pitting women against each other in a male dominated environment

This could take the form of group meetings, where you and another woman (or a small group) are told by your boss who is performing better, who has more authority or who has the more important project. In a male dominated environment, making sure women don’t have a similar support system makes these employees instead dependent on their boss as they feel they cannot rely on each other fully. Seeds of division can also be sown in one-on-one meetings with information and opinions about female colleagues discussed and unecessary competitions constructed, rather than a culture of collaboration.

2. Power grabs in withholding information

Keeping non-sensitive information unecessary concealed (my favourite being an old boss building up to the reveal of a brand new presenter to our radio station being… himself!), keeping you out of project meetings you should be invited to as the person responsible for delivering that project, denying crucial information – or at least denying it until the last moment so you cannot have any steer or impact on the final result even though you are expected to see it through.

3. “That’s too many women”

From “too many women” on a radio playlist, to a lineup of talent that is still 60 percent male, these managers see female dominance of a space as “shoehorned”, or upsetting the “natural order of things”. However, they do not take issue with male dominated line-ups or lists. Also, if your skin crawls when you hear someone ask “what does she look like?” as opposed to “what do they all look like?”, you are not being oversensitive.

4. Swerving career development

This could include one-on-one meetings where they take you to task over a missed comma in a piece of writing, but don’t actually talk to you about positively taking your role forward and professional development, or using reviews to emphasise your faults, while overlooking your future.

5. Unecessary company or office wide emails

The type of managers I am discussing like to feel at the centre of the office universe – perhaps because once they leave it for the day, they don’t experience the same in their personal lives. Therefore being seen as the centre of the staff solar system is very important to them. They could do this by delaying announcements until they have an attentive audience (see point two) or finding ways to admonish you via a company wide email (I genuinely had a feature cancelled on a radio show I produced not via a face-to-face email or direct email, but by an email that went out to brand departments not even associated with the radio station while I was in bed on antibiotics with tonsilitis.) Another habit to watch out for is someone using this method to take credit for your success.

6. Micromanagement that obstructs your larger responsibilities

By focusing on that missed comma in a one-on-one meeting, pulling you up on small, inconsequential moments, only delegating you admin tasks and disapproving of your individual decisions. Ignoring the data you’ve collected to support an approach and simply deciding they prefer their own direction. Not giving you any autonomy over your role despite years of experience, and making you reliant on their approval for every small decision. Even gaslighting.

I was once given a dressing down because my email – unbenknowst to me – had been searched by management and they found a single email where I told a potential interviewee I’d reply in the morning. As far as I’m aware, there was no complaint on their part – the meeting took place after they had been interviewed and appeared on the show. It’s true that I should have just left it to the morning to reply, but it was a very bizarre situation to know I’d been spied on despite no issues with my work.

It is the foundation of good management to give your direct reports responsibilities and a sense of purpose. These managers will cut you out of the chain you were hired to be a key link in and leave you floundering. It removes your sense of workplace indentity, and given that we spent so many hours of our weeks working, it impacts your overall identity. It is a form of mental manipulation that can lead to stress and worse. It is ten years since I left the most toxic workplace I have ever encountered, during which I developed a painful food intolerance – I wasn’t paid much, so was eating some form of tinned beans twice a day, unaware that it was causing the mysterious agony I experienced on the daily. Obviously there are worse things in life than losing your ability to comfortably indulge in houmous, but ladies if you find you’re developing stress-induced IBS on the job, you need to make changes before you come the liability of every caterer, restaurant and dinner party throwing friend you come across.

7. Specifically treating you differently because you are a woman

From verbal assumptions you would not want to be involved in something because “women don’t like that sort of thing”, to organising male-only activities (after work football is fine, but open it up to everyone), calling adult women “girls” because the word “women” makes them “uncomfortable”. Declaring your working relationships with third parties benefit from your percieived attractiveness or presumptions your relationships with them are personal.

So, what can we do about it?

In the case of the first toxic environment I encountered, the answer was simply to leave. I couldn’t make it better – it was too small a workplace and I was too broken to put myself back together. Instead I went to London on a short term contract with a broadcaster where I learned my enthusiasm and willingness to throw myself in head first were very much wanted.

In the second, older and finding some of the will and resolve that had previously been beaten out of me, I refused to toe the line and indviduals in my workplace took it upon themselves to help me, such as changing my manager. I found people I could trust to discuss the behaviour with and we gradually improved my surroundings. I do also think that was down to the wider company environment being a place that truly wanted women to work there, and I really liked the people I worked with. Also the boss who caused the issues was given a female manager and left not long after. In contrast, when I spoke to the CEO of the other company about the issues I was facing, I was ejected from the building three days later – my nine months of paid employment meaning I had no protection from contract termination, despite a solid professional track record. And you know what? I did so much better as a result. Still can’t eat a pot of houmous without catastropic results, but I’m happy.

I know it is awful to have to think about, but if there aren’t people you can trust at your dream job, then maybe it isn’t your dream after all. Research and take steps to find out where you could find the place that deserves you and your skills.

Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum

Advice for interviewers in esports

I’m sat in the interview area of IEM Cologne fresh from writing scripts and prepping for three interviews we’ll be prerecording today. It’s a different environment to the IEM’s I worked on in 2019, when I was a new face on the CS:GO scene. (I worked three events in 2018, but IEM Katowice the following year was when the majority of the community saw me working for the first time.)

Some of my approaches and thoughts on interviews were formed during interview training in my work experience days at the BBC and from watching other interviewers at work. Rather more painfully, I’ve learned from watching myself back and by taking the ocasional risk, lucky enough to work with productions that allow me to do so.

It’s rare that I get extended time with my interviewees, given that in my sideline reporter role I usually have an average of 90 seconds to two minutes to draw information from a player on camera. Ocasionally I’m lucky to do slightly more relaxed formats – with the promise of an editor you can take more time to make your subject comfortable and have the opportunity to expand on your chosen topics.

I often get asked how you become an interviewer, but not how you become a good one, so I thought I’d share some thoughts on what to keep in mind if you ever find yourself on the sidelines, microphone in hand.

Photo by Adela-Sznajder for Dreamhack, Dreamhack Masters Malmö 2019

1. Prep, but don’t be stuck on your agenda

Before you do an interview, you’ll want to look at recent other interviews by your player, their performance and any notes you’ve made on their matches so you can find an angle. You may have also been asked to focus on a specific topic by production. However, if you go in determined to stick to the three questions scribbled on your cue card, you may miss the opportunity to expand on interesting details that haven’t been explored before, which brings me to my next point…

2. Look out for the details

You’d be surprised by how much impact the question “tell me more about that”, can have. In your prep you might have discovered something that relates to what you’ve just been told by a player – or maybe they’ve mentioned an issue that could be a much bigger problem going forward if they don’t fix it. You’re always hunting for something new when you’re interviewing – working on an esports broadcast, you want to find talking points for the desk, so make sure you keep their narrative in mind also.

3. Cut to the chase

You have limited time on the sideline so you want to get as much information as you can from your interviewee. Forgo long introductions – in some cases you can dispense with them entirely depending on how your segment is being placed within the broadcast. If you let them tell the story, rather than telling it for them, that means you can keep your questions short. On stage interviews, context can be a brilliant way to get a reaction from the player and the crowd as you sum up their achievements, but backstage you’re not working a crowd, you’re having a much more direct chat. The chances are, if you throw an open question about a half or whole map to start with, they’ll touch on what you were going to discuss – if not, you can follow up with it.

4. Closed questions can be killer questions

Closed questions – questions with binary options (ie yes/no) can shut down a conversation, but also can be a great way to end an interview definitively, or lead into something more.

5. The interview starts before the record

If I’ve not worked with certain players or teams before, I try to seek them out and introduce myself, rather than my first encounter being with them in a lightening quick interview between maps. It’s important that players feel as comfortable as possible on camera, and a significant part of your job is enabling them to do that. When players join me for interviews post gameplay, I’ll always try and take the setup time to talk to them and find out how they’re feeling – if I they tell me something I think the desk and the audience will be interested in, I’ll say “I might ask you about that” – but it’s also to strike up that rapport and get them ready to be recorded.

6. Value your relationships

You’re highly unlikely to be best friends with the players – that’s not what you’re there for. However, if you’re working in one tournament circuit, you’re likely to work with the same players. In fact, it’s one of the best parts of the job. Therefore, always consider the longterm – do you want players’ trust and respect and to build a working relationship, or do you want to make your name with a shock interview that means you’ll never get to do an interview with that player again? When I started interviewing in CSGO in 2018 I didn’t shy away from bold questions, but my interviews are far better now because they are far less dependent on what I say and more about what the player actually wants to tell me. However, because I am aware that the players respect me, I will still challenge some of their answers. Still, I’ll keep it fair; I don’t come out all guns blazing!

7. Not every interviewee is the same

Some players have never spoken English on camera before, others are seasoned pros. As you get to know players, you’ll learn what they respond well to and how to approach topics with them. With players who aren’t feeling confident about their English, I’ll typically let them know what we’re going to discuss and I’ll speak a bit slower – I also tell them before the interview that I’ll repeat anything they are unsure about, because that’s on me, not them. I have also learned from my own mistakes that using colloquial phrasing can be very confusing to players who don’t regularly speak English, so I try to avoid it. With new players, I’ll talk to them and their team about starting them with interviews – we aim to get them on camera at least once during the group stage when the stakes are lower so that they can experience what it’s like without too much pressure.

8. Adapt to the environment

Stage interviews are very different from sideline interviews. Usually on stage in an area you’ll have a IFB – this is a communications device (if you do stage work, invest in custom ear molded earphones to block out area echo) where you’ll have the programme feed (the show sound, including your own) and a direct line to the producer. Typically the player you’re with will not. If the crowd is loud, I may decide to give the player an idea of what I’m going to ask. I also don’t put as much emphasis on specific gameplay moments because the stage is a place of emotion and the bigger picture, whereas the sideline is more about the small, crucial details.

If you’re interested in stage hosting, I’d suggest looking at OJ Borg and Smix. OJ is gifted at creating intimate moments, despite being in an arena packed with 10,000 people. He may put a hand on a player’s back to guide them into focusing on his questions, which always help the player tell the most compelling story. Smix is a master at setting the scene of the what her interviewees have just achieved and making them consider the accomplishment and what it means to them, simultaneously establishing this for the viewers at home and giving space for the crowd to celebrate and react.

9. Don’t worry if people criticise your questions

The most important part of what you do is the answers you get. There are always going to be people out there who will claim you “only ask yes/no” or “the same questions”. Ignore them. Take your feedback from the people you work for.

10. Remember what you’re there for

Sometimes the interviewing role can be tough. You tend to work longer hours than other broadcast talent, especially if you’re filling more of a “reporter” role – ie writing and recording scripted pieces. Analysts and casters (and desk hosts, if they’re lucky) may get to work in shifts due to the level of focus required and vocal strain. If there are no breaks between matches – which you’ll be watching as closely as possible to find threads for your interviews – then keeping up your own focus can be really difficult. You also will need to balance out your intuition and desires for the interviews with what production and the rest of the broadcast team needs from you.

In the aftermovies and when people look back at the big moments in your chosen scene, you won’t be remembered. You’ll rarely – if ever – hear your voice. You can be disconnected from the rest of the broadcast talent due to locations of the LAN and you’ll have to be very self-motivated to get your daily prep work done. Sometimes you’ll have to disagree with your peers or production because you know a subject will risk your relationship with a player.

But – and this is the most important thing to remember – in this role, you will often be the first to witness players achieve their dreams. You’ll meet some of them at their first tier one LAN events and later see them lift their first trophies. In times when there isn’t a global pandemic limiting travel, you’ll follow their stories across continents. It is a rare privilege and should not be taken lightly.

By the way! I have a new podcast out! It’s called Save Your Game – the Red Bull Gaming Podcast. Find out out to listen on the Red Bull website (it’s on all good podcast platforms.)

Can the UK ever win Eurovision again?

I’ve harboured a not-so-secret ambition to be part of the UK’s Eurovision entry for a number of years now, my closest moment being liveblogging the UK’s “Song for Europe” style show Eurovision: You Decide on BBC Four back in 2016 when Joe and Jake’s “You’re Not Alone” won the public vote. A song with a decent start and a Coldplay-like piano line, it whimpered before the U2 inflections of the second verse guitar kicked in due to – quite frankly – a cheese fest of a chorus and a totally unambitious, charisma-vaccum approach to its vocal performances. Musically the mood of the time was the sparse beats of Zayn’s Pillowtalk and Drake’s infectious One Dance. Meanwhile, You’re Not Alone seemed to reference a school talent show.

The Joe and Jake entry, despite earning enough points to place 24th out of 26th rather than the hallowed “nul points” is an excellent example of what doesn’t work at Eurovision as it breaks the unwritten rules of what near-guarantees failure in this modern era of Eurovision – we’re talking 2012 onwards, so don’t send me Olsen Brothers clips ok? Here’s some of them:

Two singers aren’t better than one

Contestants in Eurovision have three minutes to sell themselves to 39 territories. It’s hard enough to discover one personality in that time, let alone two. Serbia also made this mistake in 2021. The only way to differentiate between their singers for the uninitiated was hair colour. Meanwhile, Malta’s entrant Destiny didn’t have the most original or standout song of the competition with Je Me Casse, but was marked out for success by the potent energy of its 18-year-old performer’s star power. In fact, if she’d carried the Lizzo style of the bridge through as the running theme of the song rather than the dated electro swing power pop of a few years ago, she might have had even more impact. As it was, she only able to win the battle of powerful women in fringed bodysuits. But you’ll remember her. Do you remember Jake and Paul? Joe and Jake?

Keep it current

Ever wondered why Sweden typically does well each year? Well, apart from throwing talent at the situation and having a well-established talent selection show Melodifestivalen, dating back to 1959, they are a pop powerhub, known for pioneering the EDM sound made popular in the last decade. This year Tusse’s entry referenced a slowed down version of The Weeknd’s Starboy, but without the edge or essential bite to drive home such a mid tempo track. (I’ll talk about earnest numbers in a bit.)

Sweden’s decision to stick to what they know, despite disco being the biggest pop trend to return in 2020 (think Dua Lipa), leaded them to sound underwhelming rather than stunning. On the other hand The Roop’s Discoteque, Lithuania’s entry, perfectly encapsulated the current music era (think BBC 6 Music rather than Radio 1), like a sped-up Gorillaz style production in the chorus (look up the track Stylo) with the intensive beat of a Chemical Brothers number and the oscillating ingeunity of Kraftwerk.

In fact, so good was Lithuania’s effort that I’m geniunely affronted by the 55 total points awarded across the national juries. Thank you general public for seeing sense with your 165 points. Lithuania, you were genuinely robbed. As was Switzerland’s Gjon’s Tears, whose Tout l’Univers was my winner for managing to convince me that future Bond songs should all be sung in French and giving me my only goosebumps of the evening. I’m convinced this would have won in 2019 if up against the Duncan Lawrence’s Acade. Sorry Netherlands.

(The look on Gjon Muharremaj’s face as he sings that last line when he realises what he’s pulled off hits me right in the feels.)

This year Italy’s winning entry sounded like something you’d hear on the radio today because, in the words of Måneskin’s lead singer “rock and roll never dies”, it just references the past over and over, taking influences from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Black Keys and Rage Against the Machine. (Finland, step away from the noughties nu-metal next year and you could have a crack at the top.)

Europe doesn’t give a shit about world peace

Or messages for togetherness. They simply want to feel something. That could be awe like EDM peak popularity winner Heroes by Måns Zelmerlöw with his magic interactive light show accompanying the rising urgency of the song’s production, Loreen’s Euphoria making her audience feel exactly that in 2012, or Barbara Pravi’s sheer passion in her delivery of French entry Voila. In 2016 Jamala’s 1944 brought home the trophy for Ukraine through the sheer power of its storytelling and its dignified anguish. It wasn’t a cheesy call to “come together”, it was a demand for a better future. Unfortunately Joe and Jake and Molly’s 2014 “power to the people!” chanting in Molly’s 2014 entry UK Children of the Universe sank failed to spark a result.

Staging is important, but camera work even more so

Remember what I said about getting a personality across earlier? The best way to do this from a technical perspective is camera work. The audience at home are voting, the audience in the arena are enjoying the show. Everything about Barbara Pravi’s performance for France was choreographed to perfection, from a subtle hard guesture in the second verse captured in close-up, to the frenzied physical arm guestures of the final chorus. When there is such a tight focus in the performance, every detail can be made to count. Meanwhile 2013’s Danish victor Emmelie de Forest’s Only Teardrops lacked fancy choreography but made the audience fall for its simply dressed singer with shots that priorities her over her backup drummers and Netta played her quirks directly into the camera to bring it home for Israel with Toy in 2018.

The best songs come out on top (or at least, top five)

One of the things to always remember about Eurovision is that it’s a song contest. The clue’s in the title. There is something to be said about political voting, and yet countries without the UK’s unpopularity have still struggled to bring the contest home – Italy’s previous win was in 1990 (although in that time they did have a 14 year absence) and France have competed at 63 of 65 competitions but haven’t won since 1977. 2021 had barely any duds in the pack. James’ Newman’s UK number Embers was too dated in its synth sax stylings to make a true impression, channelling a 2015 Jess Glynne. So while it didn’t deserve the humiliation of “nul points”, it didn’t deserve to win and would never have picked up the points it to either.

In conclusion, the UK really can win again

We need to think carefully about what will win, rather than sitting on our arses and going “what do you mean we got nul points again!?”

I confess in 2016 I met Hugh Goldsmith, who led the search effort back then and he gave me his email address – and I didn’t email him – because I’m an idiot who didn’t think I could have an impact and didn’t want to overstep. But every year I watch, analyse what works, what doesn’t and I regret my lack of chutzpah. I, putting it bluntly, sat on my arse. So if there was any way I could write, perform or just somehow be part of the UK’s next Eurovision effort, you can bet I wouldn’t waste the opportunity. Pick me, BBC!

Tits on Twitch

Between the ages of 18 and approximately 23 I was a happy-go-lucky Tits McGee. And what I mean by that, is I didn’t feel a wave of self-conciousness and judgement for wearing a strappy top or having a visible décolletage. I was, for the most part, comfortable with how I looked. Even aged 17 when a possessive boyfriend repeatedly hissed the code word “ELEPHANT, ELEPHANT!” across his family’s dinner table freaking out that a crack of cleavage may have been slightly visible, I just saw him for what he was; insecure.

(One day, upon turning on his gaming computer, which was a self-built rig with approximately 13 fans, I accidentally discovered he was more of a bum man anyway.)

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Aged 22 in a floor length skirt and a bargain bin cardi from Primark on a visit to my friend’s student houseshare

As I’ve got older and social media has taken hold, it feels like the rules have changed. Women who post pictures of themselves at their most attractive on public spaces have become “egirls”, as if their digital footprint has consumed their identity and made them nothing more than a one-dimensional smattering of pixels. Boys who once cried mammal over mammaries have been replaced by a generation who dissect and recontextualise these images. They both worship and go to war with what they see on screen, forgetting the reality of the person who hit publish or the go live button.

Perhaps it is not strange that I feel more self-concious than I did at 32 than 17. I am on camera almost daily and see my presence welcomed and criticised. I get more comments based on the way I look than the work I do. My personal style has morphed from my student jumble of vintage and sale-rack H&M to jumpsuits, jumpers and jeans. But when I head offline and out of the door, I feel self-concious about being “dressed up”. I almost exclusively associate my own low cut attire with awards shows now – battleboobs, primed and ready to be made the punchline of a joke about tit tape, or to cheekily protest the now defunct streaming platform Mixer’s ridiculous rules about broadcasters’ spaghetti straps requiring an age rating. (It’s also because I wear a lot of suits, dresses and jumpsuits on stage, so it’s nice to wear something I wouldn’t wear on a broadcast to these shows. Less “poli-tits”, more wanting to feel like I’m not on duty.)

All boobs are brilliant, mine included. Mine aren’t so large that they make a high neckline look like I’m smuggling a shelf, but for many friends I know, it may look or feel restrictive to wear these kinds of tops, given that we’re all different shapes and sizes. Something lower cut may be a more comfortable option, and also what they feel at their best in. For me, that’s currently a turtle neck, because I can tuck it into a high waisted jean, pair it with a chain and pretend I’m the Rock.

A friend who is a very successful streamer once told me “I want to look at my most attractive when I’m streaming”, and why wouldn’t she? When you are putting yourself on camera you want to be confident – it’s what your audience wants too. While nerves are natural, as a viewer you’re more likely to stick around for someone who is happy with who they are and sets a tone for their community.

For a couple of years now I’ve seen the online community rage on Twitter over the subject of female streamers on Twitch – from arguing that attractive women are manipulating money from vulnerable young men, to trying to pit women against each other; “you’re a real gamer though, you don’t have your tits out”, “these women with their tits out ruin it for the real streamers!” etc.

I didn’t even know about the so-called “chaturbate” content currently lighting up my Twitter feed until it was posted about there. From a glance, it appears to be shorthand for streamers in hot tubs on the Just Chatting channel. So I visited the Just Chatting category on Twitch to see if this “wildfire of wantoness” was spreading. And yes, I found a couple of inflatable hot tubs a la Argos, but also far more streams of cooking, travelling and working out. I even found indentical Russian twins called Oleg and Kostya cooking topless except for aprons with cute cats emblasoned on the front. And funnily enough, I didn’t feel threatened by any of it. Not by the gain-getting twins, and not by Canadian streamer Faith, who on popping briefly into her hot tub stream, was just having regular conversations about pop culture with her chat. She just happened to be doing it in a bikini.

Gaming culture is filled with provocatively drawn avatars of ladies and female human/mythical being hybrids that are fiercely protected in their skimpy state by a vocal community, therefore it doesn’t really feel out of place to have sexy women enjoying that culture themselves – either by dicussing it, emulating it or both.

Final Fantasy XV’s mechanic Cindy, who tried to make the visible g-string happen again. Image credit: Square Enix

Last year we witnessed a furore over a female character in the Last of Us Part II, Abby and her strong arms. Her strength is empowering and achieveable for women who weight train – a shape is unashamedly not for you but for that person’s own purpose. It was not something that could be controlled by players, and it made them angry. I wonder if that’s why some people have issues with women in the Twitch space. They can’t be them and they can’t control them – only Twitch can by invoking their terms of service.

Twitch is a private entity, not a public service broadcaster. It’s owned by Amazon, a corporation whose skill at making money and not paying much of it back out in taxes is unparalled. Thankfully, it doesn’t feel like an Amazon machine, but it still needs to make money; it is going to exercise its rights with business in mind.

Confident women unsettle in a way confident men don’t – it’s less than 100 years in the UK since women were allowed to hold and dispose of property on the same terms as men (the law changed in 1926) – in other words, until fairly recently, women were second class citizens. It’s a conditioned idea of women as property that dissatisfied women are scratching away at, irritating our way to being viewed on equal terms and having our own agency unchallenged. We should question why we’re expected to be sexy with the caveat of this only being so in the spaces set out for us; these are our bodies, after all.

Streaming on Twitch for people is a way to make money in a time when our access to work and each other is very limited. I confess I found an image of a streamer doing a sauna-based Just Chatting stream in a white clear-strapped bikini that resembled sellotape and kitchen towel quite funny, just because that’s where my banal imagination went. But did it offend me? Not at all. I stream myself being average at Counter-Strike on my own channel where I mostly offend people by forgetting to buy kevlar. People will always find ways to be angry, no matter the content.

I think that’s what people forget – at the end of the day, we’re all individuals crafting communities. Focus on what compells your audience to come back – or support the streamers you want to by showing up and subscribing if you can afford to. Twitch isn’t just a gaming platform any more, just like its predeccesor Justin TV wasn’t. It hasn’t been for years. It serves to give you the opportunity to be yourself, and profit from it.

Observations from a year of home broadcasts

It’s been almost a year since the world as we knew it changed and yet esports tournaments have adapted through the challenges and continued to entertain a global audience. Despite the disappointment from everyone concerned – tournament organisers, players, broadcast teams and the fans – we’ve managed to compromise and keep going. It’s something to be celebrated.

However, as someone lucky enough to be able to take part from my home office, I wanted to share some thoughts on what I’ve experienced as a host on these productions so far – both good and bad – in the hope that they might be useful for future broadcasts. Some of these thoughts apply to offline broadcasts too.

Before I get started, let me say that I know it’s tough and full-on for the team working behind-the-scenes too. I’m so grateful to each and every one of you who keeps things moving and puts up with the likes of me!

  1. Broadcast talent have now become technicians. While we’re from a technical background in the sense that many of us build a PC or could at least tell you the difference between an SSD and a HDD, different productions require different broadcast setups (VMix! Parasec! Google Hangouts! Discord! Unity (no, not the game engine), Zoom!) so it would be really useful for the plan around how talent will be sending feeds to be communicated as soon as possible. Casters may have questions about feed delay and desk hosts will want to know if they’ll have in-ear comms (a producer voice) or will have to have a chat window open within view for messages about matches or breaks being ready to throw to.
  2. We’re all working within different spaces. Some of us are in bedrooms, some have offices. Sizes of rooms and backgrounds will vary. I, for example, am fortunate enough to have a small office to broadcast from. The downside is the distance of one metre between the edge of my desk and the wall. As soon as you book talent, have a video call and find out what space you have to play with; do you need a banner or is the background useable with perhaps a bit of set dressing?
  3. The same video call will help you the assess caster lighting, audio and camera. Most productions will take specs in advance, which is great, but just because someone has an Elgato key light, doesn’t mean it’s currently enough to light a wide green screen. Maybe forgo the banner budget and send your host a second light instead if their background works.
  4. I’m going to be straight-up honest before my words begin to look like thinly veiled anti-banner propaganda; I am not a banner fan. After having the sharp edges of a deconstructive massive frame that was too big to be built outside of my little office fester in my house as the agency I worked for wiped their hands of it, backdrops are on my list of enemies. (I eventually went to a contact I had from their client, who went above and beyond to remove the thing for me – to add insult to injury, they had sent TWO printed banners with it that gathered dust for months in the spare room.)
  5. To balance out the bad banner business; pull-up banners are ace. They don’t require the user to have a second person to help them get built, they’re not too heavy to lift and they’re easy to put away between broadcasts. However they are also less likely to fall on the talent during a broadcast, therefore depriving Reddit of a clip to remember.
  6. Our circumstances are not normal. Some of us (ok, me) are experiencing the dreaded “brain fog“. This doesn’t mean we can do the job you require, but it does mean we really appreciate help in getting our act together, especially when the event is last minute and we need to focus on prepping for your broadcast. Send us calendar invites for meetings and rehearsals. Manage expectations via an email that lists the requirements from your talent (this goes for offline events too). Include sponsors, formats, teams, broadcast and rehearsal start times. The run of show, if available, too. I adore producers who put everything you need to know in an email. If they put it in an email, I know I can trust them because we’re instantly on the same page, albeit virtually in Gmail.
  7. Remember that on offline productions, a talent manager would keep us organised and communicate any issues and needs. Now we’re making sure our camera works (see point one), trying to work out if and when we can grab something to eat (and what we actually have time to make), and watching matches to prep desk segments or casting them. We may leave our broadcast space a handful of times in a 12 hour period. A 12 hour broadcast from home, trying to maintain focus and energy, is far more of a challenge than being offline.
  8. This links to the above, but share wardrobe guidance in advance. We may be working from home rather than living out of a suitcase, but ironing still takes time. No one wants to have to change 30 minutes before a show. I’ve realised recently that I’m flexible when I need to be, but my frustrations on production usually stem from things that could have been communicated earlier often leaving me on my own to deal with either trying to write a script and flawlessly execute it off the top of my head live on camera 30 minutes later, understand a complicated rule change and immediately communicate it to the audience, or simply find something creaseless to throw on that fits the sudden requirements with five minutes to air. Broadcast talent are capable of all of these things, but it’s better for everyone if they don’t have to.
  9. If you work regularly with talent but online changes have altered your plans for a broadcast, communicate what you can. Will they be included or not? How has their role changed if it still exists? Dates? While we’re used to freelance life, we build up regular clients and if we don’t know we won’t be working an event, we have to hustle elsewhere or perhaps throw ourselves into a different scene and set a new course of action so we can keep doing the job we love. When you’re waiting for different tournament organisers to respond, not knowing if you’ll even work at all, it can keep you awake at night. We understand plans are changing by the minute, but keep us in the loop where you can – it grounds us in reality, but also gives us hope.

To everyone who gave me work last year and made me part of their broadcast teams. I really appreciate being included by you and hope we can work together before and after the weirdness of the pandemic subsides. There are a lot of audience members out there who benefit hugely from the efforts you make to keep esports scenes alive. Thank you.