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.

“Sometimes we are so convinced we aren’t loved, we miss the signs that show we are”

Towards the end of last year I mentioned on my Instagram Stories that I was due to start CBT. After an assessment by my local talk therapy service, they suggested counselling instead but gave me the option to choose. I took them up on their suggestion.

It’s been four weeks now. What is discussed and the process is private, but I did want to share something I was thinking about after the conclusion of yesterday’s session: that sometimes we are so convinced we aren’t loved, we miss the signs that show we are.

Someone innocently not replying. An ill-though through comment on social media. There are so many little signs we seek out to prove our anxious hypotheses are legitimate; we’re not mad, we’re just not liked. And social media, that feeling of being outside of the party, feeds anxiety like blood to Audrey II. In person, I have experienced unkind interactions I should have tackled in the moment but instead walked away, from, not placing the importance of my own feelings on the same level as those others, even though confrontation doesn’t have to be confrontational and clarifying tension can reveal the moment was never even intended to be taken as an attack.

So what if, instead of looking for the things that prove that we are hated and don’t belong, we open ourselves to the idea that others care for us, because the signs are there to be found. And you in turn have the power to project that care outwards too.

In this particular climate, where we are physically further apart from one another than we ever thought we could be and our personal worlds are shrinking, it’s never been easier to make someone’s day. It’s as easy as moving things away from social media, where 280 characters feels like an exchange for social currency, and going direct. You don’t need to tell your friends you love them – even messages them a photo or a link or meme works wonders – because it’s the thought that counts.

I know we can’t all afford to send flowers to everyone. But maybe you’re having a clear out and you stumble across something a friend might like. If you can’t send it right now, keep hold of it for them. Share a recipe and compare notes. Meet up online for a multiplayer game. Take turns recommending films to hate watch on the same evening and exchange voice note reviews (as they do on the Kermode and Mayo Film Review podcast with their Lockdown Correspondents).

I have one friend who is so excited about the house I’m renovating into a home with my partner that he bought us a hand wash several months ago and sent me a photo of him removing the wrapping. It’s incredibly kind of him to be so thoughtful, but I’m more touched by the fact he’s so supportive of what we’re doing and he’s keen for the project to move along. He’s top of housewarming invite list (eta 202?). (This same person, who I went to for watch advice last year for also literally made a video of recommendations simply because he appreciated being asked.)

I’ve also had a couple of moments in the past couple of months that also changed my outlook, simply by hearing from third parties about how much a guesture was appreciated. (Oh and a hilarious video of my animal-mad niece cuddling the cuddly bear I was gifted at a Brawl Stars event at the end of last year and thought she might like.)

Personally I’ve spent too long on social media feeling like I’m outside of an exclusive party, forgetting I’m actually part of a different one where people want me to be. Don’t be that past me, wasting time before you discover you’re where you need to be. Reach out to the people who are important to you and make those little moments count.

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…