On being a woman in esports

I spent much of last year alone. Staring up at the ceiling of foreign bedrooms, willing myself to sleep. Sat in green rooms unable to share how I was really feeling. In friendship circles at home, a world far removed from the aiport-hotel-arena esports cycle I spent much of the year embroiled in.

Moving into very visible role in esports as a woman, I was aware it would be tough, but I worked hard and earned the jobs. One thing I didn’t account for, however, was the loneliness.

If someone I vaguely knew slid into the messages on my phone and said something that was unnervingly flirty I would laugh them off (“Ha!”) for fear of alienating a connection I might require later, and to prevent finding myself on the wrong end of a subtweet or industry rumour. I sought to cease any conflicts by settling anything bordering on a dispute off social media. When a producer called me a “pain in the ass” at an afterparty after a stressful week of lacking production details I needed to do the best job possible, I walked back to my hotel with a friend, wondering if I would ever be invited to work with them again, as opposed to thinking whether I should. When the CEO of an esports org insisted I fly out to meet them for a face-to-face meeting, and rejected my requests for an initial remote call instead, I should have declined to work with them there and then, especially when they were determined to talk via DMs than business email. When they sent some Instagram DMs about my appearance in a couple of stories, I should have set them straight. But I didn’t. Instead I gave them an idea I had been wanting to develop for years and spent two uncomfortable days filming it. Unsuprisingly, the project was doomed from the start.

While I have spoken up online about problematic language, the audience perception of women in esports broadcasting roles and my own experiences of growing up, I worry if I could have done more behind the scenes. When you are the only woman on a talent line-up, as is often the case at the events I host, you have to pick your battles for fear of losing a war you didn’t ask for. Simply by being who you are, you represent “the future”, a new, distinctively different face sitting next to the established ones on a talent announcement post. You are the reason a man did not get the job.

I came into the gaming industry in a position of power. As a producer at Twitch, the most trouble I encountered was having a (now former) staff member look at a presentation for a show I was planning featuring four male and four female Twitch partners and tell me there were “too many women” on the line-up. As someone who worked very closely with Twitch Partners in the UK, the most difficult thing for me was narrowing the names of those four women down, not finding them in the first place. Later that year, my first annual review explained; “Frankie works hard for equality and, while this trait is admirable, she needs to understand that we should always hire the best person for the job”.

Putting it bluntly; in that role you could not fuck with me. If you did, you would not appear on a Twitch stage again. Internally however, that aforementioned member of staff did everything he could to block me from meetings about the event stages I was producing. He needed to minimise my power. He very nearly succeeded.

As a freelance host, I have more visibility, but I am also competing for jobs. No matter how good a job I do, a tournament organiser does not have to hire me again. Multiple event contracts are rare, but hugely desirable, given the work-life balance they provide – booking holidays is a minefield I do not tresspass in for fear of missing an important job. If I am seen to be difficult, a diva or disliked by my peers, I’m out. And so I lie awake in my hotel room at night, not thinking about how well I did on camera that day, but how I was behind the scenes; did I make a joke no one understood? Was I too firm in saying I needed something? Should I have said anything at all?

An industry peer once said in an interview that I “make interviews about myself”, for me reflecting that the very nature of my on camera personality is always under scrutiny. I wonder if you took a transcript of my interviews and looked at the content, rather than my presence on camera, whether the opinion would still hold weight. I love and have fun with my job, but in the last year I have developed a fear of going on camera underprepared, scared of providing ammo to the faceless voices who do not want me there.

A few weeks ago, after feeling unnerved about my roles being discussed by men without my input or visibility, I finally decided to leave my agency and look after my own affairs. I had made, found and earned my work. It was time for me to take more control of it. While I may sign with an agency again in future, I’ve decided to represent myself for the time being and see how it goes.

In Counter-Strike, my primary esports scene, I have never experienced sexual harrassment. This week I lay awake in the comfort of my own bed thinking of others in the industry and the trauma they have experienced. Wondering how we stop this. Thinking I am lucky, when luck should not come into this.

At times I am aware I have disrupted the balance – when you’re a woman and you choose to write about why you believe you were hired for your ability over your feminimity – you raise eyebrows and rock some boats. But the water is calm now. Under lockdown, despite the distance from my work, I have become closer to my crew. They are not just colleagues, they are friends.

So now I have to be at peace with the fact that my views may make some feel uncomfortable at times, but that does not mean I am wrong to express them. By the very nature of being a woman onscreen in esports, my presence is political. Every time I get a message from a girl or a woman who says they like the work I do, I’m determined to stick around.

34 thoughts on “On being a woman in esports

  1. “And so I lie awake in my hotel room at night, not thinking about how well I did on camera that day, but how I was behind the scenes”
    This was like a punch in the stomach. Privileged are the ones who are only judged by how well they do, not by how they were born. I hope you have better days ahead. As a CS:GO spectator, I really like the energy and knowledge you bring to your interviews, hope we can see you more and more.
    Great piece and stay safe.

  2. We can understand how much difficult it is for you to be in the industry as a woman but trust me you have changed many people precipitations, I wish you all the very best for future ❤️ May you get a health and Successful life ahead.

  3. For what it’s worth, I only have seen you do the PC Gaming Shows, but I think you did a great job at hosting them.

  4. Greetings from Sweden.
    Please continue doing what you do! You are awesome! Your interviewing skills are superb and one-of-a-kind, you bring a huge smile to everyone. And also, more women in esports please!

  5. Frankie, you’re one of the loveliest and most awesome on screen people I’ve seen. Keep doing what you’re doing. You always bring a smile on the face of the audience without a doubt. Not because of your beauty and gorgeous smile but because of your positive and energetic personality.

  6. Amazing and important piece. Thank you and keep doing what you’re doing. Love and respect from Canada! ❤ 🙂

  7. I like your work. I think it speaks for it self.
    And also a big part of the problems you’ve described are problems that nearly every talent has.
    Weaving them into your post without mentioning that could weaken the more important points of your text.

  8. Thank you for sharing this. I have long wondered how difficult it must be for women who pursue careers in esports, especially for onscreen talent. I can’t even imagine the amount of skilled players that we are missing out on in CSGO simply because women aren’t encouraged to participate. Hopefully it won’t be too long before that stigma changes and we see much more diversity in the teams and broadcast crews. But I know that change has to come from the hard work of people like you, so I wanted to say that I appreciate you persevering!

  9. I think you’re doing a great job covering csgo tourneys. Not many hosts can claim they did their homework and prove it like you do, and many a times you see some of them just barely ecking a valid commentary about the teams, the lineups, the strats, stats and the game.

    We face prejudism everywhere in one form or another. Do what you do and think is right, and be guided by your values you hold dear. I’m sure that there are fans of the sport who find your coverage of an event a pleasant experience because you covered it really well, professionally, and enthusiastically.

  10. Thank you for sharing this, Frankie!
    I really really enjoy your work and was always impressed by your skills. I especially remember when you came to the LEC and rocked the interviews there although it wasn’t even your main game of focus.
    Thanks for shedding light onto your experiences, and revealing these thoughts to us, the public.

  11. I’m speaking about my own experiences. I don’t need to say “while I’m sure everyone experiences this…” because I’m not saying other people don’t experience them too. I don’t have to speak for other people all the time.

  12. You 100% do an amazing job. I love your interviews and the enthusiasm you have for the game. Keep going!

  13. We’re so incredibly lucky to have you in our scene. You’re truly one in a million.

  14. „ Frankie Ward · 2 Hours Ago
    I’m speaking about my own experiences. I don’t need to say “while I’m sure everyone experiences this…” because I’m not saying other people don’t experience them too. I don’t have to speak for other people all the time.“

    In case that this was a reply to me:
    Of course you don‘t have to. I didn’t even mean to suggest that you speak for anybody else. It was just a suggestion to underline your points with a more precise rethoric.
    To get the essence of your experiences across even better. 🙂

  15. Personally I’m not keen to fill more examples. I’m not trying to point blame or accuse people. From the responses I’ve had – particularly from women, it has resonated with people. I’m not trying to make an argument here, I’m not suggesting resolutions. I’m talking about my own experiences, in my own words. I would rather keep my article concise, rather than have it outstay its welcome.

  16. Thank you for sharing this. I don’t really follow eSports that much anymore, and only see you at the PC gaming show, and I hope you return once the world is back to normal.

  17. Very cool piece Franky…
    I think you’re kind of a pioneer in the field as a woman. If you like it or not. It will take people some time getting used to women being a part of the scene I think.. and life as a talent is probably hard enough as it is. Hope you have the energy to continue improving and learning to navigate those situations and be less anxious about it. Always loved your player interviews 🙂 Keep your head up!

  18. As a male viewer (and journalist) of primarily CS:GO it’s a pleasure to watch your work. Sharp and well calibrated interviews always delivered with a energy that no the male host in the scene even comes close to. Keep doing what you’re doing and let the toxic part of e-sport shake so that the industri gets a bit closer to equality.

  19. You’re a gem, Frankie. I always love seeing the spirit and professionalism with which you conduct interviews with CS:GO players and teams!

  20. Hey i though you did a great job at the pc gamer show, its the first time I have seen you. Love the funky attitude and strong presence. Keep you head up and move forward, and think for yourself. we need more strongheaded women like you. I have a hard time any young men in gaming would be opposed to a strong women like yourself. We are mainly opposed to the ones who enter looking to swing around a phony victim hood status as a cultural weapon.

  21. This was really tough to read, Frankie.

    Lately I’ve been thinking more critically about my own thoughts and positions in regards to societal issues, and have realized that I haven’t always stood up when I needed to. While I can say confidently that I don’t consciously try to put people down, I’ve also had to realize that we don’t wear our intentions on our sleeves, so to speak. While I am in no way in a position of power or decision-making, I hope I have never given you any reason to be anxious.

    I understand that opening up isn’t easy (this is something I struggle with myself, mostly because I devalue my own issues), but if you ever need to talk when we’re on lan, I’m a pretty good listener.

  22. I know that you must constantly feel as if people are assuming you’re in a position simply because you’re a female in esports, but as a CSGO fan I truly hope most of the community feels the same as I do; Frankie is one of if not the best. You’ve always been professional, knowledgeable, and very likable on screen, and your interviews avoid the awkward feelings and other pitfalls many fall into.

    I hope that people continue to reach out and assure you of these things, and I hope this leads to people being more open and ensure talented people always feel welcome and valued. The thought that you would worry about being asked back by an organization is disheartening, especially given the communities love for you and the quality of your work. I wish you the best representing yourself and can’t wait to see you back on stage more as events resume.

  23. I came here from this post’s reprint on the PC Gamer website, where the comments are closed. I’m disappointed that even now women in the gaming industry is still seen as a controversial topic and that we cannot have a discussion… hell, forget the discussion… a woman cannot express her views without the expectation of a hate storm.
    I don’t watch esports and I’ve only seen you co-present this year’s PC Gaming Show. I wasn’t paying attention nonstop and unless I missed something, all the developer interviews went to Day9. It felt that even when the gaming industry tries to embrace equality, it somehow manages to shortchange women. We really need to do better.

  24. As a guy who hates feminism I feel it is rediculous that people still have to deal with this. I came across this article in my news feed and have not really seen you as I don’t really follow CS:GO. However it sound like you are very adept at your job so all the best too you and what you are doing. Good luck to your future endeavors. I honestly don’t know how to put into words how i feel about this but just give it your best and don’t hold back. It’s really sad that people still have to deal with this.

  25. Hey Shaque, thanks for your comment! Day9 did the interviews because of the setup in LA. PC Gamer are the best in the biz and I absolutely did not feel short changed. In 2019 I did interviews, and I hope to return to the stage in 2021 to do more! ❤

  26. Hey Frankie, just saw ur article pop up on PCGamer and I gotta say, as someone who’s watched competitive CS for years, I love seeing you at events!! I can only imagine how challenging it’s been for you, but I hope you can keep going strong and hopefully change will come!! I’d love to hear your thoughts on anything the audience could do to support you and people like you in the future. Stay strong ❤

  27. Great piece. I always enjoy your work and as some other said, you bring a lot of energy in your interviews. which in the light of this blog post shows how dedicated you are to your job and your role as a woman in esport. There are so few woman faces in the professional scene (especially csgo) that you have this added pressure that every one of your steps are scrutinized. Stand high, you are the path to the future that esport will reach one day. Big respect.

  28. Hi Frankie,

    I just read your “On being a woman in esports” and I must say I’m astonished at how you, Frankie F*cking Ward, have been treated. Wtf does “there were “too many women” on the line-up” even mean when there are four male and four female…

    Frankly, i’m astonished that ,if i’ve understood correctly, you see it as “the reason a man did not get the job” when i’ll happily say again you are Frankie F*cking Ward one of the best hosts and interviewers i’ve seen in pro cs and if they’re having to choose over two great talent line-ups then they’re going for the who the fans like the most without having to pay for both and that means they think you are preferred by the fans.

    Don’t ever think you are a diversity hire because in this scene they really do not care. They want the best of the best and that is you!

  29. Thank you for this interresting post.
    Your work is a blessing for the scene, not only in the role of a host etc., but also as a role model and as a blueprint for what esports will look like in the future (namely: necessarily diverse).

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