I think I’ve fallen into a K-pop hole

Recently I have developed a thing for girl groups.

Actually that’s not true – I’ve always loved a great girl band and probably been overly harsh towards those that don’t impress me in the same way – Girls Aloud? Yes please. The Saturdays? Hmm, I’ll allow one or two of their songs. I even did a podcast episode about the greatest songs by girl bands (which I probably would change because great songs get released all the times).

(Listen to my girl group playlist from the aforementioned podcast here)

So really I should say; I’ve developed a thing – nay, a fascination – with BLACKPINK, the South Korean K-pop quartet.

I’m not sure when I first became aware of Jennie, Jisoo, Lisa and Rosé. Their group name was on the fringes of my conciousness for a while (probably aided by the success of League of Legends’ fantasy K-pop act K/DA), but when I heard their collaboration with Lady Gaga, Sour Candy, I still didn’t realise their status as the world’s most popular girl group. Then one night, home alone and not feeling like going straight to bed after a long day of watching and working on a CSGO broadcast, I saw Blackpink: Light Up the Sky on Netflix and instinctively hit play.

If you’re not familiar with the K-Pop idol industry the documentary gives a good overview; tweens and teenagers are auditioned by management companies (BLACKPINK are a YG Management act) where success means taking a place in a training boarding school, but does not guarantee a trainee a “debut”, where they are unveiled to the world as part of a new act, or that they won’t be cut during one of the managements’ monthly showcases. Some trainees learn their craft for the best part of a decade, learning the art of singing and performing choreography at the same time. Dancing is a hugely important part of the training school – BLACKPINK’s songs are hard to imagine without the iconic dances that accompany them and there is even a “lead dancer” role in the group, attributed to multitalented rapper Lisa.

The standard set for and by these idols seem impossible; impossibly thin, impossibly perfect. Moves on point, epic delivery. In some ways you should not relate to these women because you cannot be them. Their girl power anthems are about how they are “pretty savage”, as opposed to how you are beautiful on the inside and should love yourself. And it’s intoxicating; do I want to love myself for who I am, or do I want to go out and show how awesome I can be? BLACKPINK most certainly strive for the latter; they go out and slay, and rather than be torn down for their confidence, they are worshipped for it.

However, in their Netflix documentary, we actually get to see behind the precision and polish witnessed in their numerous performances. (I’ve been binging them on YouTube to pass the time during weight training over the past week, discovering that the group’s discotography is shorter than their global domination would suggest.) We understand that these women have grown up together – unlike the pop groups seen on Top of the Pops in the noughties – and we see their initial auditions for YG Management, which show talented but fairly normal young girls who might be passed over by X Factor producers, let alone reach Simon and co.

However, reaching the goal that is unattainable to most can mean sacrificing who you are, in order to become who you are needed to be.

In one scene, Rosé is seen playing her keyboard and talking about her insomnia. Later, in one of the more vulnerable moments of the film, the emptiness experienced after performing to a packed arena is explained. I think that’s the moment that most resonated with me and led to the obsession. Because last year, the year of travelling the world doing my dream job, was the loneliest of my life.

But I’m not a k-pop superstar, I’m someone who talks to star players and tells their stories. At LAN events , I watch them strive for the top, achieve their goals or fall short. And then I go back to my hotel room and prepare to do it again the next day. In the arena I soak up the emotions of the people I speak to, take a plane home and spend two days (if I have them) either in a weird void where I can barely communicate as the adrenaline suddenly drops off, or buried in my laptop preparing for the next trip. In Cologne recently the best nights were the ones where I got to play CS with people I knew, replacing the rush of being live with the excitement of trying not to die in a virtual environment.

This year, when everyone’s plans changed, isolation and FOMO set in and continues its hold on me and many more. Now I weight train to BLACKPINK. Skid on the floor in my socks mimicking their DDU-DU-DDU-DU fingerguns. Google what the “netizens” (internet citizens) are saying about Jennie in an attempt to understand why she’s somewhat controversial. During my pre-show hair and makeup routine, I’ve discovered rapper CL of BLACKPINK’s precursor 2NE1, who doesn’t have a 24 inch waist like most of her peers, but does have the flow and the stage presence of a global superstar, holding court in a way I could only dream of.

I’ve found escapism in the fantasy worlds portrayed by these women in their performances. Where you can be a “bad bitch” and be celebrated for it rather than feared or despised, and selling yourself short is unheard of. I indulge in those three minute moments of musical joy, knowing deep down, it’s an illusion, but one that’s easier to attain than loving myself for who I currently am.

Next week I’m recording a song in an actual recording studio – something I never imagined I’d get to do. Working with a producer who sent me an instrumental he was working on, I’ve written a lyric and melody that – like a K-pop song – reflects the person I wish I was, rather than who I am. But I’m hoping in the studio I can become her. When I walk out at the end of the session, I’m going to try and take that with me.

Why being your best is a team effort

Last night the Esports Awards announced their on screen talent nominations for 2020. Featuring host, analyst, colour caster and play-by-play casters shortlists, there are many notable names who didn’t make the list, but probably would have if COVID-19 hadn’t swept the world and scuppered our collective plans.

I guess having finished off 2019, when the eligibility period began (the panel didn’t just consider 2020 broadcasts) with a healthy dose of CS:GO and having cameos in Call of Duty League (CDL) and Overwatch League (OWL), I’m fortunate to have been seen on a variety of broadcasts, and so I believe that’s why I made the list.

While I won’t win, I very much appreciate everyone who nominated me, and being shortlisted by the panel – I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes, given how difficult it is to narrow down categories featuring so many games and voices. So, if your favourite broadcaster didn’t make the list and you feel strongly about it – show them some love, because they deserve it. But equally, be kind to those who made the decisions and those who were given a spot, because those names are at the top of their respective games and I consider myself incredibly lucky to be among them.

A short disclaimer before I continue: I guess I’m known for being outspoken about certain things I notice in our esports bubble. I didn’t set out to be a boat rocker and I’ve not really changed anything at all by sharing my opinions; I’m bobbing along just in the water, trying to stay afloat. However, I will still write about the things I’m mulling over in this web space because I have ownership over it – unlike Twitter where I’m in others’ feeds and riling people up with my thoughts, people have the choice whether to visit this space or not – and it’s a space large enough for me to attempt to write more nuance than the limited characters offered on social media.

A little while ago, Froskurinn – who picked up nominations in both the analyst and colour caster categories and risked her career to speak out against LEC’s now-cancelled NEOM deal – posted on Twitter about “shine theory” and how it benefits a broadcast.

There are many unsung heroes in esports – there is no producer award, for example – and when a team really works together, from the behind the scenes team to the host anchoring the desk, each of those roles is elevated, and the broadcast becomes better.

The LEC is the perfect example of this – when Machine and I joined the broadcast a week after completing the Katowice CSGO Major in 2019, the team rallied round to make sure we could do our best on the broadcast, providing us with stats and storylines in the office and then during the matches. In exchange for their efforts, Machine did such a fantastic job, he’s been back since, impressing a worldwide audience hosting the Worlds 2020 Play-ins, and I er… well I (temporarily) wore a false moustache and gave it my all on the show floor.

You can see the synergy and how different skills from each individual on the LEC results in end products such as their recent music LECtronic music video – each broadcaster knows their strength and production knows how to execute the ideas with an often impressively tight turnaround.

When I moonlighted on other broadcasts – such as the aforementioned CDL and OWL, people went out of their way to make me feel part of the show, as opposed to a temporary stop-gap. OWL host Soe “Soembie” Gschwind – dealing with horrendous personal circumstances – made time to send me the primary storylines of each NA team I’d be covering in the playoffs, while behind the scenes Chris Jansen – a person so vital to the broadcast, the team got together to buy him a replica Infinity Gauntlet – was there every moment I had a question or request about the broadcast, no matter how small or silly it sounded. On CDL in February, while I was watching matches behind the stage (we had no green room on day one), the team sent me messages of encouragement to let me know I was on the right track.

There’s been times where burnout and insomnia has hit hard – like PUBG Mobile in Berlin last July where I got through a show that involved reading out 64 multi-national player names at the start of each day despite two sleepless nights – because I had many of the PUBG faces I kicked off my hosting career around me to get me through it and a fabulous makeup team to create an illusion of a fresh face for the cameras.

The smallest of guestures can make a huge difference – Chad “Spunj” Burchill bringing me food back in Kyiv in 2018 when 14 hour shifts and meaty snacks meant I couldn’t eat properly on Starseries, or Connor “Scrawny” Girvan dropping me a message to say he enjoyed the final interview at DreamHack Masters Malmo last year, even though he wasn’t part of the event. That humanity means something because there are people on the internet who do not realise you are human and are keen to let you know they do not want you in their world, but also because when you succeed and when you fail in this job there is a record of it. Knowing there are people who do have your back, and want to work with you goes a long way.

So, when I look at those nominations, I feel incredibly proud to be considered worthy of being amongst those names, but I also want you to know that there are so many people that set me up to succeed and got me to that place. Esports has grown thanks to numerous team efforts, so thanks to everyone who has had me be part of theirs.

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.

How you doin’?

It’s a scary thing to “admit you’re not good”.

There’s a game a friend of a friend used to play where they would jokingly torture (in the lighest sense of the word) each other while shouting
“ADMIT YOU’RE NOT GOOD!”

And while I’m not comparing social media to someone trying to make me hilariously uncomfortable, in the present situation there’s certainly a parallel.

I’ve never understood how anyone can stream full-time. After three hours I can often be found yawning mid-game, as the afternoon takes it out of me. I wouldn’t say it’s out of laziness – bear in mind a 12-14 hour broadcast day isn’t unusual in my typical line of esports hosting work. Maybe it’s something to do with the constant splitting of focus between chat, your technical setup and the game itself. I have to shut everything out except my team to play to a fraction of the ability of most of my peers, and usually I’m solo queuing with people who don’t communicate in game. But I’m not skilled enough to play with people I know, and I’m also not brave enough to ask – because what if no one wants to?

Even before the COVID-19 crisis swept the world we were all in uncertain times. And yet, for once I had the stability of an events calendar with work in place – process from my first couple of years when it was far more ad hoc and when I may be booked for an event a couple of days before it kicked off. Sometimes it was a struggle – with my OCD, the uncertainty around work over the previous two Christmas pushed my mental health towards the boundary where I have had to reach for the timeout button (literally during a public holiday; OCD is not a pragmatic condition). But as the plane landed from IEM Katowice into Stanstead, I felt a freeing optimism I hadn’t for a while.

I’m totally aware that people are being made redundant, being furloughed, having events and freelance jobs cancelled the world over. People are dying. It makes me feel guilty to even think about not enjoying some of my streams. I’m not unique. I’m not the only one. I’m not alone. I have that perspective. And yet, my brain – so used to hits of adrenaline from live CSGO and broadcasting – is confused. Isolated. One second it was going to Malta to cover CS:GO for a month, and then it wasn’t.

Outside of the streams I am producing shows, content, seeing what works, taking meetings and renovating the house. I try and exercise in the confines of my kitchen, somehow avoiding kickboxing plates to the end of their lives. I attempt to calculate how much I am worth if I’m hosting from home to prevent potential work from falling through if I propose the wrong figure. I face the universal experience of the freelancer. I dream ideas. I wait. My to-do list mounts up while I procrastinate on what to start first. Outside my study while I stream, my boyfriend works on progressing the state of of our house. He often cooks, helps out at a food bank some days. He brings me food and tea during my stream. He fixes things while I fizzle out.

Often streams are really fun. I’m getting better at Counter-Strike, although the past week or so has seen me miss opportunities in game I know I could have captialised on. I have started doing training maps and relax a little on my no backseating rule when testing flashes. But I’m firm in stopping it once the matches start.

You’re pretty much always going to get odd comments in Twitch chat. Sometimes there’s little things and hey, who cares! You’re fragging out. You’ve got this. And sometimes the steam roll begins, the brainwaves flatten out, your instinct to keep smiling fails you. And then you’re self loathing, dealing with losing on the server and trying not to lose it at the faceless username telling you to relax, while another types “WTH. WAS. THAT!?”.

I enjoy letting my emotions loose in-game. I rage, I let it out and I get on with it. Or I try to. But when you’re streaming you’ve got a whole host of people trying to either influence your emotions (tilting you, insulting you), or policing your behaviour – ie “relax”, “don’t sing”, “you should do X, Y and Z”, “if you took my advice you’d be better”. When you’re hosting, you can avoid Twitch chat and Reddit – and you learn very quickly that it’s healthier for you and everyone around you (although slip-ups are inevitable). When you’re streaming, you can be faced with a wall of people telling you that you suck, in real time where you’re on camera. You can’t hide from that.

But then you also have the supporters. The novel names that become familiar and that you look forward to seeing. The incredible mods who voluntarily keep things going. The subs and viewers who often join me for games. The chatters who keep newcomers in check and don’t make me feel bad when I put someone in their place. Who metaphorically nod and confirm that yes, they did understand I was joking when I explained to the troll that of course my hair is better than my in-game skills, because my hair is awesome.

So here I am. Aware that I’m in a much better position than many, but admitting I’m not good all the same. It was something I needed to do last year when my OCD was as it’s deadliest and I couldn’t do it then; I had a job to do, and then another and another, and even though I was busy and working, I was far more alone then than I am now.

I want you to know that, no matter your situation or its ups and downs, you’re going to be OK too. You will be good. And if you’re not good now, try to think of the one person you trust most and tell them.

And then watch the following clip from The Chase. (It’s a classic.)

“She Wins These” – the collection

Last year I was contacted by a couple of different parties who wanted me to partner with them on merch stores. I didn’t really see the point – why would anyone want anything with my name on?

However, in January I was approached by artist Paul Tysall and I had a rethink. He had a few ideas he presented to me, but I’d begun to think about a phrase I’d seen in my Twitch chat and wanted to see what he could do with it. In what seemed like a ridiculously quick turnaround, we had two designs agreed on.

“Defuse”

The phrase that inspired Paul’s designs, “she wins these”, started popping up during my streams when I found myself facing clutch situations. I’m not a high ranked CS:GO player – in fact, I have everything to work on, but I’m improving steadily. However, what formerly held me back in game (and still can) is the belief that I can’t win (as discussed in a previously published blogpost). But once I started to take fights and believe I could actually come out on top, I actually did.

“Last Woman Standing”

I hope that whoever wears them – male or female – will be reminded that a bit of self-belief goes a long way – whether on a virtual battlefield, or outside of it.

There’s a unisex tshirt style and a ladies style – I’m wearing the unisex style in these photos as I’m all about the highwaisted jeans and the 80s hair! I also asked Paul to create “pocket” styles for wearers who prefer their logos a little smaller. There’s a variety of colour options to choose from, except for the pocket version of Last Woman Standing, which is currently only available in white, but we’ll launch a different colourway if there’s demand for it.

“Defuse” – pocket print

The “She Wins These” collection is available from Teespring and ships worldwide.

Why I went into the HLTV off-topic forums

One of the first things you are told when you start hosting or playing in Counter-Strike tournaments is to avoid the HLTV Off-Topic Forums at all costs.

HLTV.org is an indispensable resource, with match pages for every tier 1 and 2 tournament, and great editorial content such as interviews and news articles. None of the broadcasters I work with could do their jobs as well without it.

But when you visit HLTV on a device larger than mobile, you also get treated to the website’s very own “sidebar of shame”, a column that pulls in the latest popular forum posts – many of which are pulled in from the Off-Topic subsection of the forum.

When I work CS:GO events, I’m often amused by the bizarre titles some of the forum posts have, and horrified by posts that appear about myself and my colleagues. Players don’t escape the scrutiny of users either.

But sometimes posts appear that – genuinely or otherwise – request help from the HLTV hive mind. While many of the posts can be downright toxic, most likely due to young users vying for attention – some of them are endearing in their questions, and occasional confessions. Like Reddit, HLTV provides a space where a community has formed. And I decided to reach out to it via YouTube…

What I discovered were that many posts were simply about how to talk to girls. I’ve been female for 30 years, so I figured I might have a little bit of insight to share. I’ve also been made redundant twice in my career and had my fair share of heartbreak. And also, like the users of the forum, I love CS:GO (even if I’m terrible at playing it).

Travelling around the world going from event to event can be a surprisingly lonely experience, and so I totally understand that need to find a space where one can reach out to find others on their wavelength. That’s why I’ve come to realise that not every post in the HLTV forums comes from a bad place. I hope I’ve treated the post writers with enough respect, and I’m aiming to give actual advice. There are some worrying views on the forum, and perhaps I’ll tackle those more controversial subjects in future episodes.

I’m also hoping to find some other guests from the Counter-Strike scene to come and guest on the series, and I’ll do little tweaks such as screen grabs of the original posts. I also need to wear an crease-free t-shirt and sort my hair out prior to recording the next episode…

How crying at Glastonbury cured me

Last week I stuffed some stuff in a Twitch holdall, slung some wellies in a car boot and made my way down to Glastonbury Festival.

The last time I visited the world’s largest music festival, it was 2010. I was 21 and about to move to Newcastle to do my first full-time job as a radio producer and presenter.

KThat year it was unbearably hot and I didn’t really get how to “do” Glastonbury yet. I packed my least fabulous clothes, didn’t stay out late and actually slept. Although I went with friends and had a reasonable time, it’s safe to say I was a little lost, despite my excitement as we initially approached the massive site.

Roll forward to 2019 and things were the opposite. Stressed and – dare I say it – a tad burnt out from everything I’ve been up to this year (I hadn’t quite recovered from the depressive dip I slipped into during my few days off in Dallas earlier in June), I was very apprehensive about whether I would enjoy things. Having time off and a pretty open calendar after July was playing on my mind.

Luckily, I had bar work and the group cameraderie of my boyfriend and our friends, who were decked out in a variety of different medieval costumes, to distract my dizzy brain. We set to work in the Avalon Inn on Wednesday, the bar newcomers such as myself trying to remember how to do basic mental maths as we served our first customers.

Thursday was tough – with no acts and a shift from 10pm – 3am, the unusual environment led to inner self-loathing and restlessness. My hayfever went crazy – I took three tablets but the itching and sneezing was relentless. I queued for the pharmacy to discover they didn’t take cards, and I’d already run out of cash. The pharmacist kindly put an order of the last nasal spray on site and a bottle of eyedrops to one side. I waited in the queue hoping my boyfriend could bring me some, letting more and more people go in front of me as it dawned on me I could be late for my shift. (Being late for work is somewhat of a phobia for me.) After ten minutes, a girl in the queue behind me noticed my distress and to my surprise offered to buy the eye drops for me as she could see how worried I was. “I hope someone would do the same thing for me,” she said kindly.

I can’t just put the turnaround of the event down to this person, but it was absolutely a factor. Glastonbury, with its focus on charity, the environment and celebrating life, can absolutely bring out the best in people. Perhaps I had judged it on the people who camp out all day at the Pyramid stage with large chairs or legs spread on the ground, tripping up people trying to find their friends in the anxiety-inducing crowd, but when I explored it more this year I discovered that, away from the larger attractions, there’s the magic of human spirit and kindness to be found.

On Friday, I managed to take in Grace Petrie‘s set on the Acoustic Stage before I headed to my late afternoon bar shift. Grace is following in the footsteps of fellow protest folk singer Billy Bragg, calling politicians to rights with her powerful voice and emotional lyrics, matter-of-factly pointing out that people are dying in our oceans trying to find peace or beg for enough to eat at food banks, while individuals born into priviledge sleep soundly at night in palaces.

The last time I saw Petrie was at Latitude in 2015 (she was kind enough to give me and my then-boyfriend a lift to the station post event), and since then she’s been finding a loyal following with her humourous appearances on the Guilty Feminist podcast and has released a stellar album, Queer As Folk. I pretty much cried during her entire set, and was absolutely relieved when my friend Igraine turned to me after set highlight Black Tie to say “oh, I’m glad you’re crying too!”.

As well the music giving me the feels, I’m particularly susceptible artists’ reactions as they witness the crowds who have turned out for them. Petrie, of course, was one of them – seeing the results of her hard work and steely determinedness to call our lawmakers and bigots to account paying off. Imagining how they could take her to even bigger stages in future makes me well up thinking about it, as does the utterly empowering beacon of fabulousness that is Lizzo – who occasionally paused her superstar, breathless Saturday set to laugh in disbelief at once of the largest audiences West Holts has most likely ever seen.

Put both of these women on the Pyramid Stage next time, Glastonbury – you won’t regret it.

Full disclosure; Lizzo was so utterly phenomenal that I quickly moved on from the fact that I’d got someone else’s… deposit(!) on my hand using a dreaded long drop loo prior to her set. (No one told me off when I skipped the sink queue to wash my hands, fully freaked out – thanks guys.)

Post-shift I’d expected to be too knackered to go out, but I knew I needed to make amends for my 21-year-old self. So off I went, in an Austrian dirndl dress (yeah I know, kind of cheating the medieval bar theme) to dance around Arcadia.

The very large resident of the Arcadia field at Glastonbury

For those not familar with Arcadia, it’s a dance music destination (ie, a field) which used to be home to an “anatomically-incorrect” spider. This year, the aracnid had been replaced by a new longterm resident; a massive crane that used to be put to work at Bristol Docks, but now puffs out the ocasional smoke ring and snows little blobs of foam, as a DJ performs within its open belly.

Saturday presented a Sophie’s Choice of headline acts – did we go for Hot Chip or Chemical Brothers? The latter, headlining the Other Stage for the fifth time, won out. Squeezing into the crowd, past a woman who had seemingly brought her weekly big shop into the thick of the throng and couldn’t comprehend why this might be a bad idea, we positioned ourselves far enough away to avoid the neck ache of looking up at the stage’s massive LED screens, but without much view of where the performers would be. Not that we realised at the time how solid a play this was.

Suddenly the screens burned brightly into life and Tom and Ed – the Chemical Brothers kicked things off with Go. And there began the best live show I have ever seen, ending with me rendered unable to speak like Bishop Brennan after he’d be kicked up the arse.

(If You’re UK-based, watch it on iPlayer before it’s gone, I beg of you.)

Still in awe, a few of my friends and I stumbled across towards Shangri-La with a cup of white wine and discovered the camp-as-Christmas Sensations stage, compered in that moment by Miss Frisky, known to many as the big voice of comedy cabaret double act Frisky and Mannish. Between belting pop mash-ups, Frisky invited different acts onstage, who did an inifinite number of jawdropping things with their bodies, from rolling around and freewheeling in a giant hoop, to setting nipple pasties on fire and whipping flames across the stage, and all while we danced along in appreciation.

Sunday brought on the waterworks again as I finally got to witness Self Esteem playing live tracks from her brilliant, horrendously underrated album Compliments Please. It’s an enigmatic album full of alternative pop bangers like The Best and (Girl) Crush, with lines such as “what I might have achieved, if I wasn’t trying to please you” that strike directly to the core of many Millienial women like me. (In my work as an esports host and reporter, I’m essentially trying to please a male dominated audience as I talk about video games, so I’m tempted to get the lyric “remember you don’t owe them anything” tattooed somewhere I can see it before I go live…)

Rebecca Taylor, who initially found success as one half of indie duo Slow Club, has soundtracked my life for the past ten years. Back in 2009, Slow Club’s debut LP featured a secret track called Boys On Their Birthdays, which ended with Taylor confessing that she’d “always wanted to be a rapper”, and although this record doesn’t feature rapping, it’s accompanied in person with fiercely powerful dance routines performed by Taylor and her backing vocalists that give the sense that she’s finally making her destiny happen. There’s a confidence from the artist that doesn’t just control the room, but compells it to go forth and conquer.

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Rebecca Taylor, aka Self Esteem, in action

(Also, fuck yes to that outfit.)

Knowing the BBC would be covering the larger stages, I felt safe in forgoing the crowds of Kylie and Miley Cyrus to watch This is the Kit perform on the West Holts and soothe souls, before my final bar shift.

Being a Sunday night, the Avalon Inn’s bar nearly ran dry, so we decided to entertain the punters in a new way;I got to live my dream of performing at Glastonbury, via the medium of a Spotify playlist and a little crowd of have-a-go perfomers who each took their turn on the stage. Hopefully we can make it a proper thing in 2020…

Usually I’m happy to head home after sweating in a field for a week, but this time I felt a tinge of melancholy as our car crawled its way out of Somerset and back to London; I didn’t want the magic to end. I’m someone who used to go to four or so live gigs a week (sometimes playing my own) during my short stint at Amazing Radio, and rarely get to gigs anymore, and Glastonbury had reminded me never to take it for granted again.

But on sorrow’s flipside, I was happy to be taking a new found optimism back to the capital with me. Glastonbury might have a destination called the Healing Fields, but it’s possible to find restoration in any one of its varied pastures.

Did you head to Glastonbury, or watch the BBC’s coverage? Let me know who your favourite acts were – I’d love to hear your memories too!

Streaming CS:GO & answering Twitch Chat’s FAQs

I’m in the middle of some rare time off. It turns out this doesn’t come naturally to me, although this time round I’ve relished the opportunity to stop treating Spider-Man on PS4 as a to-do list (get the rucksacks! Beat up the criminals in their hideouts! Catch pigeons etc…) and actually have the time to enjoy and finish the surprisingly emotional storyline.

I know I need to reset – the issue is that I feel horribly guilty if I don’t have Twitch open with ESL Pro League [EPL] on watching every moment like my life depends on it, but I need to get trains and see family I’ve barely seen in the past year or so, go out with friends before they think I’ve abandoned them (or disappeared entirely) and play some games for myself offline.

However, I’m also trying to get in at least one game a day of League of Legends to learn more about the game, and streaming CS:GO whenever I can. And when I stream it on my Twitch Channel, I’ve noticed the same comments and questions frequently popping up. So, while I watch a rerun of Luminosity v MIBR playing in Montpellier from the comfort of my sofa, I thought I’d answer a few…

“Why are you streaming and not watching EPL right now?”

I’m now trying to find a balance when I have time at home, adding streaming into the mix so I can start playing CS:GO for myself and learn the callouts I’m less familiar with, feel the effects of patch changes and enjoy the feeling of getting better – I have approximately 23-24 hours in the game; I have quite possibly watched around 400 hours this year at eight events spanning five continents – some days I could be watching for up to 14 hours if it ends up being a 16 hour broadcast day, so those hours do add up.

We’re very lucky in CS:GO to have HLTV. I can look at at least any tier 1 or 2 match and see the story of that series in numbers form, plus highlight clips. Essentially, it means I can retell the story for myself if I can’t watch every tournament. It’s a bit like when I’m covering A stream matches as an interviewer, and can’t watch the B stream as closely – I’ll recap those results at the end of the day and add them to my notes.

Also, fantastic podcasts such as Richard Lewis’s By the Numbers and HLTV Confirmed are brilliant for deeper analysis as well as a wider view for what’s going on in the scene. I’m desperately awaiting the return of Globally Offensive, from HenryG, Stunna and Spunj, as it’s a joy to listen to when I’m travelling.

CS:GO isn’t just my occupation – I genuinely do love it, and now I’ve started playing, I can’t stop thinking about my next opportunity to hit the server.

How are you a host in CS if you can’t play the game?

Just because I’m currently playing barely above the level of “horrible”, it doesn’t mean I don’t understand what’s happening when I’m watching CS – the more I cover the scene, the more I’m learning. I also get to work with fantastic analysts who I can ask about things that happen in game that I need breaking down. However, I do understand what I’m watching, and I do a ton of research before each event and have formed working relationships with the teams.

However, I do hope that playing CS:GO more regularly will help me even more when I’m working – I’m not perfect and there are areas in my role that I would like to strengthen. I can lack confidence discussing gameplay, despite knowing what I’m talking about – so I want to be more fearless with the questions I ask, and be more direct.

Why does she look down at the keyboard? She doesn’t play video games!

I’m still learning a few of the key binds. When I first learned to play Overwatch a few years ago, I had a similar issue – I just started playing it off stream so no-one saw the most awkward stuff… Also, as I keep playing, I really don’t do it much anymore – in a few streams, my movement has noticeably improved as those things become more intuitive.

In terms of playing games, I’ve been playing since I was five years old, starting out on Monkey Island II on my dad’s laptop and Sonic the Hedgehog on the SEGA Master System,

What’s wrong with your crosshair?

Nothing. I haven’t felt the need to change it, and just because it offends you, doesn’t mean I have to change it. Same with knives, skins etc…

Why aren’t you [insert unsolicited gameplay advice here]?

I’m not taking tips from Twitch Chat. I spend far too long when I start each CS stream communicating with backseat players. I’m getting better as I keep going; sometimes I’m playing a map for the first time – today I played Inferno for the second time. And it’s REALLY hard. Overpass and Mirage are currently my favourites – I’ve only played Overpass twice and Mirage four, maybe five times; the latter is my most-played map.

Luckily, I’ve watched so much CS that certain aspects of rotating, positioning on the CT sides come naturally – but I don’t know every single callout yet, so I’m trying to learn those, but it can lead to stupid mistakes where I look offscreen at a callouts diagram and get shot in the back – I’m going to download something to add this to my actual radar to solve this issue going forward.

And I didn’t buy kevlar just then because I decided to buy more firepower instead.

Why are you so rude?

When people ignore my requests for them to let me enjoy playing and learn through experience, and keep writing “tips” and critiques in chat, then I will be a lot firmer in how I dismiss their feedback. It quite simply isn’t valuable to me and it’s patronising. It’s my stream, so I set the rules. I have a mature channel warning that displays when you first visit my stream – I swear quite a bit.

I’m 30 years old. I have no fucks left to give.

What rank are you?

I don’t have one. I don’t play ranked. Less than 25 hours in the game, mate…

Why don’t you play ranked? It’s the best way to learn…

I had such a bad experience solo queuing before I started streaming CS, that I’m going to avoid that route for the foreseeable; I play video games because I enjoy them. What I enjoy is playing with viewers and having a laugh when I fail – and I get so excited seeing my teammates and opponents make incredible plays too. At the start of each match, I post a PopFlash link in my Discord and Twitch Chat so that the community can jump on and play – and it means I don’t fill up my Stream friends with people I don’t know personally.

Everyone I’ve played with from the Twitch community has been funny and supportive – and that’s exactly why I’m facing public humiliation by learning the ropes on stream; I’m becoming better because of these fantastic people, and I’m very lucky to have volunteers willing to join me on the server.

Here’s a few clips to show some of that progress… And it gets a bit sweary, sorry kids.

I’ll be streaming CS:GO in the near future on my Twitch Channel – so if you fancy playing, give me a shout in Twitch Chat!

“When am I not competitive? When I don’t think I can win”

I am ten, eleven years old in my final year of primary school. Michelle (year five) and I have been bestowed the honour of being a “whole player”. The other girls on the playground only count as “half a boy”. I know I will never be passed the ball and so, determined to get a touch, am constantly prepared to run full-stream at a “whole player” and take it from him.

On Tuesdays, myself and a dozen or so girls pay two quid to a man who runs a venture called Club Brazil Girls’ Football. I pay for football because Thursday football club, free and run by the local vicar, clashes with netball practice. I was admitted into the netball A team, alongside a girl called Natalie, a year before our peers. I know I won’t make the football B team (Michelle is more than good enough but never gets to play for them either). Even though I love football, and own a full England ’97 kit I am fast growing too big for, plus Umbro boots from Woolworths, I stick to the sport I know I’ll get picked for.

My first pair of blades are given to me for my 15th, and I adapt them to make them fit for street skating. Visiting an indoor park without them, I borrow my friend’s cavernous size 9 soft boots and try dropping in multiple times, landing in quick succession on my right elbow. The result is a haematoma (“swellbo”) that I call my “third boob”. The doctor mentions that this could have been more serious had it been elsewhere – people die from haematomas. Fear stops me from trying things out, but I keep skating with my friend Maz and a group of boys from the town. It’s something to do and I know I’ll never be good at it – I’m “just a girl” – so I don’t try.

Going into my final year of GCSE I enter a relationship with someone I meet at the skate park. He slaps me on my arms when I say sorry, tells me he should swap me for Maz, who is dating another friend, and tells me he will never love me. We go to an extreme sports festival, and I go out skating on my own and make friends with some Welsh skaters. I escape for the evening, become my own person again, and return to accusations that I’m a whore on my return. I go from being happy and confident, to someone who cries and who can’t stop saying sorry. When I’m dumped for another girl after a few months, I buy a DVD of Clueless with my Sports Direct earnings and celebrate. Skating eventually stops too. Isolated in the countryside, I spend two weeks in bed after my exams playing Final Fantasy X on my Playstation 2.

When I enter Sixth Form – where boys are admitted to our otherwise girls’ grammar school in Maidstone – I finally get to play football again. Age 17, I am called “GIRL” by the boys in the year above. I haven’t played football for years, but when I’m not working on Music Tech coursework, choir, or other clubs I’ve committed to my entire time in secondary education, I’m out there, beetroot red, curly hair flying, knowing the ball won’t come to me unless I take it for myself. Over a year I fall in love with the boy who plays in goal, who shares Broken Social Scene and Bright Eyes with me. (He is different to our friend, my year 12 boyfriend, who would shout “ELEPHANT” across a dinner table at me if my top was deemed too low, and decided Counter-Strike wasn’t for me.) We play music together. It’s magic. I am the only girl studying A2 Music Tech. On recordings, I sing in a way I think the other boys will want, rather than how I truly sound. When I leave for university my boyfriend will end up with the girl whose stairs I once threw up on at a party. I call it karma.

I discover my love of radio at University. Aged 19, I am given the choice between managing a community radio station and then our student version. I pick the latter, after I doubt my ability to make decisions for the much older male faces around the community station table.

Less than two years later, I record my first national radio show in my Selly Oak bedroom and send it off to be played on the other side of my 21st birthday. I will move far from home to work there and be told frequently that I am only there for the way I look, and that I am annoying and arrogant because I cite case studies from past work experience at the BBC and Channel 4 in the ideas I suggest. My show will be taken away from me, only for them to give it back to me thanks to one of the producers questioning why I need replacing. I will be pitched against the other female producer, and I will be removed from conversations concerning the show I produce.

My contract is terminated, but the presenter doesn’t last much longer than the four weeks of shows (20 episodes) I have pre-produced. I return to London and slowly rebuild my life. In a BBC management training course I am asked why I’m looking at an exercise pinned the wall when I know what I’m talking about. I about turn and present to the room. In that moment I realise I’ve been burying that voice for a long time.

But not everyone is a fan of a woman with confidence. When I speak up and tell a room of colleagues “I know it’s not the decision of anyone here but only one woman in a line-up on 14 comedians isn’t enough” when we’re evaluating a project, I am taken to one side and told I am too aggressive and that I shouldn’t question something that would have already been considered. In a different job I am advised by a man that I “speak too much” in meetings, even though they are meetings about the elements of a project I am leading. At one point I will have a boss who tells me he is not comfortable calling his direct reports “women” and will therefore call us “girls” instead.

In the Twitch office when I arrive in 2016, there are five high-spec gaming PCs. My friend Iain suggests trying out Overwatch, which he is ridiculously good at; I decide to take the plunge and spend thirty quid on the game. My initial games are catastrophic; I have to learn the ability keys and get used to directional controls with my left hand (AWSD, rather than the arrow keys). At one point, I get so desperate I resort to picking up a controller and plugging it in. Iain announces – with good reason – that he will abandon me if I use it.

So I practice; I play in lunch breaks, and after work. I team up with our office manager Nell and HR manager Roisin – themselves seasoned players – and a competitive team, later called “Overlunch” forms. I move from DPS (Tracer) to support (Ana and Mercy). I build a PC so I can start playing and streaming Overwatch at home. I get Twitch Partnered and become part of the community. I am outed as a gamer to friends and my boyfriend. Sometimes I experience aggression over voice chat or someone tells me to mute my voice, but I don’t care; I’m good at this now and I know people I can play with.

When I first appear on a stage, Twitch chat turns into a stream of “GRILLS” and deleted messages. I can make worse jokes about myself than they ever could. I am stage hosting a UK Hearthstone tournament when I am noticed by PC Gamer. When my job is cut by Twitch, I write to tournament organisers and end up in Stockholm, Katowice, Austin and Los Angeles in quick succession. I script edit and collaborate with the team on my pieces to camera for the PC Gaming Show at E3 2018. One joke leads to a bump in my Instagram following. But there are still faceless voices who will object to my presence at the events I move between for the rest of the year.

In Katowice for the CS:GO Major, I see daily forum posts pulled through to the front page of HLTV that discuss my looks and what they would do to me. They compare me to my female peers and call for me to be replaced. As I attend more Counter-Strike events, the dissatisfaction wanes, but the sexual comments continue. My boyfriend Googles me to show a friend’s father what I do for a living and finds a forum post describing me as a “MILF”. We laugh about it.

I have tried playing CSGO but have been previously kicked off a public match and the experienced has stuck with me, so I have resorted to playing solo and Wingman modes.

Someone sends me a link to Pop Flash – suddenly I can get round my inability to set up a lobby and I am able to play with my community. The first 5v5 stream is fun, but in the second it appears we’re playing with at least one stream sniper, who decides to repeatedly attempt to zap me with a Zeus. I sometimes look at my keyboard because I have not played enough hours of CS for all the actions and key binds to be instinctive yet. Most of chat is supportive, but today comments declaring that “I don’t play many video games” and jokes at my glances downward strike a nerve. Usually I respond to comments with a joke, or ignore them. Today I more or less tell them to fuck off. I am impatient and I am angry; the night before I witnessed the negative reactions to a women’s tournament being organised by DreamHack and my head is ablaze.

I stay frustrated for the evening. My friend messages to see if I am ok, having heard what happened on my stream. I watch catch-up TV, but the rage stays with me and I regress into my past.

I am angry I didn’t try this sooner – that I was a solo player almost my entire life, even when supposedly in a team. That I wasn’t invited to the LAN parties. That I wasn’t encouraged to try. I am upset that I am only starting this now, but feel like I will be forever judged by it. I am outraged by seeing women dehumanised on the internet with constant debates about “females” being scientifically proven to be lesser at video games, even though there have been no specific studies detailing the differences between men and women playing the same game.

Daily, I see “males” tell women they are terrible, but then refuse to play with them, kicking them off servers or abusing them over voice comms until they can prove themselves – or calling the women that do, cheaters. I see women set up their own spaces so they can find people they can trust to play with, only for men to question why this is necessary. I see segregation as the longterm result of when the dominant part of the community has abandoned the other. I want women to be taken seriously.

But I can’t go back to solo queuing because I need people to play with who won’t kick me and I want to stream, so I resolve to keep streaming. I’ve only just started, and I’ve discovered I’m extremely good at head-shotting my own team with a Scout, and at least hitting something is promising. I remember that I stumbled upon the esports world in 2015, and now I get to be part of it. That I only started FPS a few years ago, and I ended up reporting on coach strategy at the 2018 Overwatch World Cup – a dream come true as a devoted player. I get paid to play and talk about video games. The voices that post graphic opinions of my body, or that tell women they aren’t entitled to play for a $100,000 prize pool – what do they get paid for? It’s not that, and they certainly don’t get paid to do what I do.

Together, we can level the playing field – all of us. We need to remember that the women who are playing CSGO and other shooters haven’t necessarily been playing it as long as men. That, particularly in the past, girls weren’t always invited to play with boys. That women need to be scrimming against male rosters in order to have opportunities in the same tournaments, and when scrims occur, both sides take it seriously and don’t pick up the Zeus. We need to bear in mind that for women to learn CS in the first place, they need to not be kicked from servers upon hitting the push-to-talk button. We need to let women know that if they want to play, they are welcome, and that they can succeed.

As star female players break through, we should see them considered by more orgs with the money to support their growth. When female-only tournaments happen, we need to remember that sponsors actually want to support the growth of talent and it is their money, and then can spend their budgets where they decide – it is not taking money away from established male players. In fact, it’s putting money into an area of the scene that’s been under-resourced and needs to grow.

We are often told that women don’t have a competitive streak, that we don’t want to put ourselves out there and go for titles; “it’s not in our nature”. But when am I not competitive? When I don’t think I can win; women like me are told their entire lives that they cannot win. We are led to believe that any competitive quality is undesirable and our confidence is chipped away from being told we are not good enough.

To the ladies reading this – you are good enough, despite all of those personal experiences throughout your life that told you otherwise. You deserve to be confident and do what is best for you without judgement. So if you think that an all-female scrim server is for you, ignore the dissent and join one. If you want to work in esports but worry you’ll be rejected for being a woman, join the Women of Esports Discord group, and trust me when I tell you that there is more than enough room for you here. And if you’re looking for people to start playing CS with, come play with me. I promise that if I shoot you in the head, it’ll be totally accidental.

Instagram and going unfiltered

There is a photo of me circulating on the forums of Counter-Strike website HLTV – a website I visit daily as it’s a brilliant resource for anyone who works in CSGO.

Whether the photo is actually me is slightly questionable – someone has taken an Instagram photo (embedded below) and has disturbingly scrubbed at my face. The effect is jarring; that’s my face they have tampered with to produce something that isn’t me. But they are saying it is me and there’s nothing I can do about it. Usually that’s not too much of a problem – it’s the HLTV forums, after all – but then someone on Twitter sent me a new thread where the comments are sexually graphic, inspired by this photo, and the lack of agency bothered me.

As my follower count has grown on Instagram, so has the complexity of my relationship with the platform and how I feel about what I post there. These days it’s just my face, face, face, face, photo of me with a horse/dog/miscellaneous animal, face, photo with a pro player, face (and repeat).

Full disclosure – I love a filter; professionally taken photos will commonly have colour balance and exposure levels adjusted, so I don’t have an issue popping a filter on. I don’t tend to use filters at full whack, but adjust as needed. The most doctoring comes in Instagram stories, where the “one-swipe-to-the-right” filter Paris gives me more confidence in posting no-makeup selfies or videos (I never go to shows with makeup on as a professional is going to sort me out once I arrive). It’s a personal choice to use apps like FaceTune, and that’s not a choice I make.

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Ah Instagram Stories’ Paris filter, never leave me…

Yesterday I posted a photo after filming was done for the day and a user requested an “OG” photo. When I asked them to clarify they said “og means original photos, i. e. without any makeup, natural”.

To me, the phrase “original photo” actually implies “without any filter” (given the request this user may very well have come across from the HLTV forums), and so in the interests of transparency and this blog post, I’m happy to feature both the Instagram post and the unfiltered photo below.

You can see the filter I’ve used has brightened up my face, masking some of the tiredness I refer to in the photo caption (also some of the mascara has started to smudge, so the extra exposure has eliminated some of the greyness). Like many photos I’ve posted, I’m using natural light by my window – I’d recommend this to fellow selfie-takers; windows are your friends!

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This is the photo I uploaded to Instagram – I’ve had to recrop it as it wasn’t originally a square

As far as I’m concerned, this is my face. If you have a problem with the idea of me wearing makeup, that’s your problem, and not mine.

Certain things perform well on Instagram; behind-the-scenes photos can do well, but only if I’m prominent in the photo. Professional shots aren’t typically as popular as selfies. Close-ups inspire more comments than full-length. And understandably, if I’m in my show clothes and make-up, I get more of a reaction. My 92% male following have predominantly followed me after seeing my work in esports, so it makes sense. Unless it’s a very popular player, images of me featuring another person – especially a man – do not attract likes.

The makeup-free selfies I post aren’t hugely popular and often aren’t related to shows, so there isn’t too much need to post them, but I assure you they exist. Look! Here’s two totally unedited shots taken in different lights from today. (In other lights I’ll look totally different, I’m sure.)

Right now I’m working back-to-back shows, and have visited five continents in the space of six weeks. I am knackered and have a tendency to look it, and what given that I know what works on my Instagram account, I’m not going to post photos like these there.

No makeup is associated with my days off, when I have privacy and play games offline or catch-up on Netflix. Or visit Aldi, or the dentist. The online world isn’t entitled to see that face, no more than they are entitled to doctor photos and pretend it’s me.