A work-in-progress reflects on TI10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

“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…

“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.

The war of Wonder Woman vs Captain Marvel

The following post contains spoilers for the Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel films – you have been warned…

Last week was all about getting stuff done; because I travel a lot for events, surrendering my passport to get visas could mean missing out on work. It was suggested to me by someone recently (most likely Paul “ReDeYe” Challoner) that I should apply for a second passport.

With just over a week in the UK before heading off to São Paulo for BLAST Pro Series, I made like a woman on a mission, and got my legal eagle mate to certify some mug shots, filled in a form and booked a pricey premium appointment. (By the way, it turns out not all Post Offices have photobooths anymore… or the forms required for apassport – and those forms don’t actually have a space for second passport, but you still need one as it can’t be done online… I digress; I found a form at the fourth Post Office branch I visited thanks to Stephen on the PO Twitter account.)

Passport interview complete, I needed to get more clothes for the stretch of events I have coming up (and I can’t tell you what they are but travelling and video games are involved), and for once in my life, I had four hours to kill.

“BINGO!” I did not exclaim out loud outside Victoria station – “I shall trundle to the cinema”. Given the crossover between the comic book industry and video games (I’m currently OBSESSED with Insomniac Games’ Spider-man and have finally caught all 12 of those blasted pigeons), I felt like it was the responsible thing to go and see Captain Marvel.

12pm is a glorious time to go to a screening; myself, a heavily pregnant lady and five guys settled into the Curzon Victoria to watch Captain Marvel. I’d heard mixed things about the origin story, but also knew this would be essential viewing before Avengers: Endgame comes and shows us that the most obvious theories about how Thanos’ defeat were bang on the money. Being the Curzon, I bought a coffee in a cup with a genuine saucer and made sure that the food I snuck in was 100% pure M&S.

And the film? Well I loved it – it wasn’t perfect; but I also recognised that the climax of the film wasn’t Carol Danvers’ (Brie Larson) protecting the world from being blasted by alien missiles, but discovering that Jude Law’s Skree captain Yon-Rogg’s has been limiting her power, rather than being the person who bestowed it upon her. His idea of emotion as a weakness, trying to manipulate her into his preferred form of combat leads to his comeuppance. The moral of Danvers’ story personifies what can happen when you rebel against the mould the patriarchy has set for you; you become limitless.

“I don’t need your approval” (Carol Danvers)

And yes, I’m the target audience, so this film genuinely spoke to me – I loved Larson’s strong, witty performance. She doesn’t overplay the humour, but infuses it into Danvers’ personality and actions. Seeing her imperfectly beat the bad guys as she comes to terms with her new abilities shows her humanity – even if the pace of her saving humanity is a little too swift for it to be fully satisfying.

One Twitter follower told me that Danvers is too powerful – that in the comics, “even Thor was stronger”. And while I do see critiques of Danvers’ crazy powers as valid – surely she’s basically unbeatable now – I don’t see the point in comparison. And talking of comparisons…

The nature of having so few lead female roles in superhero movies of course leads to comparisons – as a lack of female representation leads to comparisons in the media generally. And so apparently, just like Marvel vs DC, you have to take sides in the war of Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel.

As previously discussed, Carol Danvers is a human hero, despite bleeding blue and you know, being able to fly, breathe in space and shoot flame-like energy waves from her fists. Prior to her transformation, we saw her talents were being wasted due to the US Air Forces not allowing women in combat in the early nineties (when the movie is set). She has been pitted against men her entire life, and struggled with those expectations. Finally freed from needing to meet Yon-Rogg’s expectations, she essentially becomes the most powerful being in the universe.

Wonder Woman’s Amazonian warrior Diana, on the other hand, has grown up in a world free of this mould. As such, she is already powerful – and because she has never been told her voice is less valued, she makes an instinctive leader on the battlefield; something that had me mentally cheering in the cinema for. She’s big on death-defying drops, deflecting bullets and lassoing her enemies; markedly different abilities from Captain Marvel. And of course, her world is turned upside down when men invade it – but their presence does not lead her to question her own strength.

Diana and Danvers both want justice; Diana seeks vengeance for her people, while Danvers seeks a home for the people she has ignorantly hunted as part of the Skree forces. And in both women, emotion provides a foundation for their instincts. Their capacity for love and compassion is at the core of their powers. They represent hope for humanity and lead me to question why we don’t see more female heroes celebrated in the real world, when seeing one onscreen feels so right.

Despite the aforementioned similarities, both heroes strike me as being different – their origin stories strikingly so, and yet it feels like we must pick a side; perhaps the one thing harder than being the first woman to breakthrough is to be the second; to follow in the footsteps and bear the expectations established by one’s predecessor. I’m seeing few direct comparisons to other movies in the MCU or DC universes, and that’s disappointing. This is a superhero movie; “female superhero movie” is not a genre. I’ve also seen criticism of Captain Marvel as lacking characterisation, when what I saw in the movie was a character who had energy, compassion, strength and believable motives. I totally understood her friendship with Maria, and Maria’s daughter “Captain Trouble”.

Wonder Woman meant a lot to me because I was willing the film to succeed – to break the disappointing DC streak of movies and to show female superheroes can make bank at the box office – and it did. I cried multiple times in that film as I realised how good it was, and how flippin’ fabulous Diana (Gal Gadot) is .

Captain Marvel, with Danvers’ relatable story, meant even more on a personal level; why fight on someone else’s strengths, when I have my own? To quote Danvers herself; “I don’t need your approval”.

When my niece is old enough, I’ll beg my sister for babysitting duties and I’ll show her both – and tell her how these two superheroes led the way for more women to follow – because these two characters from different universes compliment each other and I can’t wait to see more outings from them in future.

Happy International Women’s Day to my fellow women in esports!

On Friday 8th March I kick off my guest appearance on LEC in Berlin.

It also happens to be International Women’s Day while I’m here – a public holiday in Germany – so I wanted to take the opportunity and say thank you to my fellow women in esports and gaming. Some I’m lucky to call friends – and all of them are inspiring.

I first discovered how utterly brilliant women in this industry are working on the League of Legends World’s coverage back in 2015 (sorry, yes I know I mention this quite a lot). Julia Hardy was presenting online videos, including interviews with the players, and as we roamed around Wembley Arena, she introduced me to Becca Henry and Kirsty Endfield who were working with Riot at the time – Henry is now VP of Communications for Misfits, while Endfield runs her own gaming PR agency, Swipe Right PR. We also walked past Eefje “Sjokz” Depoortere, who was hosting the show, and Julia explained just how much Depoortere was (and still is) loved and respected by the LoL community.

When I moved from the BBC to Twitch, Brit Weisman was always there to show me how to slay at work, leading by example on the Twitch Studios team – I miss putting the world to rights with her over frequent Google Hangout meetings. She gave me courage in my convictions and still has my back. One of the other highlights of being at gaming expos is being able to catch up with Twitch Marketing Managers Kelsey Christou and Caroline Westberg – I have no idea how they run massive projects, whilst also managing incessant requests for Twitch party wristbands… I also had the opportunity to work alongside producer and zombie slayer Mary Kish and Nadja Otikor – the latter of whom taught me about “keeping my poops in a group”. I also met one of my favourite people in the entire world, publicist Rochelle Snyder, while working on a PUBG-focused documentary (which Mary also helped to produce on location at the Game Awards in LA).

From initially working with the ESL UK team as a Twitch producer, to working for them as a host, I’ve witnessed Caroline Oakes go from taking care of the business side of things, to front of camera as an esports host for events like the ESL UK Premiership – she’s recently joined PCGamesN as a full-time presenter.

While at Twitch I also worked with Anna Robinson – one of the best public speakers I’ve ever witnessed – and started to meet esports hosts like Rachel “Seltzer” Quirico (who can turn her hand to any esport) and Kelly Link, whose positive energy radiates onstage. Kelly was one of the first people to tell me she thought I could be a good host – I’ve never forgotten it.

Producing one of my first event stages for Twitch gave me the opportunity to work with Soe Gschwind-Penski – who I’d go on to team up with at the Overwatch World Cup at Blizzcon 2018 (along with Emily Tang, Mica Burton and Fiona Nova) and is, quite frankly, and icon for young esports fans around the world, and Marcelle “Nysira” de Bie, who is finding deserved success with her own motoring show in her native Netherlands. The following year I’d end up loving Paola “Pancakepow” Alejandra‘s energy on the Twitch x gamescom 2018 stage, as I booked her alongside the multi-talented ShannaNina.

After I was booked for the DreamHack Austin PUBG Showdown last year and the standard talent WhatsApp group was setup, Lauren “Pansy” Scott was the first to welcome me on board. At the afterparty, I got to properly meet Sue “Smix” Lee for the first time, as producer Dagny Veinberg bought us a round of the largest shots I have ever seen. (No regrets, Dagny.)

It was a month later that I finally met Sjokz in person – grabbing the lift to the dressing room at the Mercedes-Benz arena at PGI Berlin, she ran up to the lift just to tell me she thought I was doing a great job. We’ve kept in touch ever since (and I shall lobby for her to host every Esports Awards henceforth so we can have more nights out in London). Having her seal of approval means everything as she’s an inspiration for pretty much every host in the biz – and I really hope we get to appear at the same event in future.(Tournament organisers, that is definitely a hint.)

Awards shows are great places to actually meet other women in the industry – at the Esports Awards I first met regular LEC interviewer Laure Valée, while the Stockholm International Esport Awards was where I initially encountered League analyst Froskurinn – who I’ll be working with this weekend.

Something I observed at IEM was the constant comments on Reddit and HLTV that were desperate to complain and compare me to other women in my field. The thing that no one seemed to observed is that we were all there! Smix hosted the Starcraft II finals – including a beautiful winner’s interview, and Freya Spiers brought her trademark class and knowledge to the Intel Challenge stage. Other women rocking it in Katowice were Sheever (when does she ever give less than 110%?) reporting for Dota 2, and Lottie Van-Praag curating Miss Harvey and Potter on the Intel Challenge desk. To my delight, I was lucky enough to bump into Ukrainian StarLadder host Tonya Predko backstage as she filmed with Na’Vi, and I got to catch-up behind-the-scenes with ESL UK member Kat, ESL Junior Product Manager Sabrina, ESL Poland Product Manager Marlena and ESL UK’s Head of Communications Heather “Naysayerz” Dower. (There are a HUGE number of women working behind-the-scenes in esports.)

This year I’m going to try and work harder on featuring women on my interview series My Life in Pixels – so far we’ve had Ray Gaskin – who has since left Red Bull to head up esports at Right Formula, Rochelle Snyder, my infamously hardworking host and cosplaying friend Tabitha “Artyfakes” Lyons, Women of Esports founder and journalist Saira Mueller, and Lottie Van Praag. You can listen to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or find episodes for Android devices at acast.com/getfrank. I also need to get Sam “Tech Girl” Wright involved in a future episode – she’s a prominent host and caster from South Africa you may know from Overwatch Contenders Europe and CS:GO. Oh and Marissa Roberto – who is one of Canada’s most prominent voices in esports.

Despite the fact that there appears to be an infinite number of talented women in this industry, there is still a very vocal portion of the esports community who appear resistant to our existence. They overlook our resilience and focus on rating our looks, rejecting us not for our work ethic, but on their personal ideals. And I won’t deny that I want to look presentable on camera – that’s an element of the job – but I’m never intending to distract from the work I am actually doing; none of us are. Instead a mob mentality can ensue – kids behind keyboards bond by uniting in their angst at our involvement.

Laure Valée recently gave a very interesting, heartfelt interview to the Shotcaller YouTube channel at the LEC studios on this topic, revealing how the horrendous comments she had aimed at her during her time so far on the show had kept her awake at night and shattered her confidence. A few weeks earlier, in an eye-opening episode of the LEC podcast EUphoria, Sjokz and Froskurinn also discussed the treatment of women by esports viewers.

Both of these interviews struck a chord with me – hearing a community question my abilities (often before they’ve even seen me on a broadcast) has led me to various confidence problems in the past. Visiting HLTV during the IEM Katowice Major became a nightmare as I’d see negative forum posts about me pulled onto the front page as I checked out the latest headlines, while Reddit featured commenters calling me unprofessional (even before I made a joke of nicking a bit of pizza in the final week, which led to intense vitriol). As someone who puts the necessary hours of prep in, never misses their call time and treats production with the respect they deserve, it was comments like these that particularly struck a chord.

Something I’ve found at previous events is that I’ll go out of my way to prove my knowledge, when often my job is usually to ask questions – I don’t need to provide the information, I need to know how to find it. That’s not to say I don’t have insight, but it does mean I shouldn’t fret about what people think of me; my feedback should come from production and my peers, not people who aren’t on my team or paying my invoices. As that’s how jobs usually work, I’m going to apply it to my own occupation going forward; I think it’ll help with my performance in the long run.

It’s a hard thing to improve and grow in a role that is so public, and I am very grateful for the positivity that has been sent my way – from the women I’ve mentioned above, to the people who send me tweets to say they enjoyed my involvement in events such as IEM. This year, I hope I can support these women back – we’re stronger together, and this industry is stronger for having us in it.

LEC Week 8 kicks off on Friday March 8th at 5:30pm CET, and concludes at 4:30pm on Saturday 9th March Riot Games’ Twitch channel.

The art of the interview

Don’t be fooled by the title of this blog; I don’t have the answers or the ultimate advice for the perfect interview. In fact, the “perfect” interview surely doesn’t exist.

I say this, because not everyone will enjoy an interviewer’s style. Luckily, that’s something I am aware of – especially when my work is predominantly on Twitch, where feedback is instantaneous with the live broadcast.

Interviewing is a role that leaves you vulnerable due to its unpredictable nature; will your interviewee take kindly to your questions? Will they be able to articulate their thoughts under the pressure of performance and environment? Do they even want to speak at all?

The CS:GO Major at IEM Katowice is my only my second time delivering CS:GO interviews (the first occasion was at StarSeries 6 in Ukraine in October of last year). Usually I try and pre-interview teams – even if I’m in a desk hosting role – and there are a multitude of reasons for this, including finding out the story a team wants to be told, their English language skills, and to also find out how best to interact with different players on camera. There are multiple players at the Major (particularly in the Challenger stage) who have never been interviewed before – therefore my responsibility is to guide them more carefully on camera into representing themselves as they would want to. And in terms of even the more experienced players, if we’ve not spoken on camera before, I need to establish a sense of trust.

My aim is to ask fair questions – and yes, if a team is having terrible T-sides, despite being seen as a top five team, then it is fair to ask them why. If I ask a player an open question (ie. a question without a binary yes/no answer), and they give me a one-word response, I will more than likely enquire further. And if I do ask a closed question, it’s usually to cut quickly to a point that I want to expand on, or (more often than likely) a sharp way to end an interview before throwing to the desk.

Screen Shot 2019-02-26 at 22.46.35Talking to players in the moment before the camera tally light blinks red is also essential; when Ninjas in Pyjamas’ Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund spoke to me after their first victory at the Challengers stage, he seemed subdued so I began the interview by asking about the reasoning behind his mixed emotions. Given that I’m often trying to capture the feelings of a player (the plays themselves can be broken down by the analyst desk, so my focus is usually exploring the emotive state of the teams and how this impacts how they played), being able to open an interview by asking them to share what’s on their mind is a way to then lead into what actually happened on the server; did a misbuy in what would otherwise have been an eco-round happen because the team had a disagreement or lost confidence? Is group resilience something the team need to work on before their next match?

The fantastic opportunity of the Major extends beyond the fact that it’s the freakin’ Major; three weeks of intensive CS:GO (eight Bo1 matches in a day can mean twice as many interviews where time allows for pre-match interrogations) offers the opportunity for development. I’m very fortunate that CARMAC – aka ESL’s king of the Intel Extreme Masters events – gave me invaluable feedback over the first couple of days about how to make my interviews more dynamic; when I watched baScreen Shot 2019-02-26 at 22.45.17ck footage I saw my energy was lower than normal when trying to speak slowly for non-native English speakers, and my questions sometimes had too much preamble. (Oh, and I was stood so far away from players that my left arm got a microphone-based workout!) Now I try to keep things to the point where I can, and actively listen for points that I can explore further – something I was fortunate to learn about in BBC interviewing training way back in my BBC Blast Arts Reporter days.

Something that’s new to me for this event is working more closely with the desk to generate talking points in my player interviews. We discuss topics that they want to  explore in their analysis during matches, and I can then hunt for that info when talking with my subject. I always listen to commentary too – casters will know the game inside out and will call out successes and problems I can then question teams about after the game concludes – or cross-reference with notes from previous games to detect patterns in teams’ play styles and recurring issues.

I’m also getting to grips with doing interviews between maps – stage manager Oli will do his best to grab a player or coach from one of the teams after the conclusion of a game so we can discuss what has happened so far in the series, and look ahead to the next map. These questions are almost entirely gameplay focused, which leaves the end interview to allow players to reflect more on the bigger picture (ie their “journey” in the tournament and their ambitions). It’s one of my development areas for the remainder of the event – especially as I need to learn to guide the thoughts of players who are overwhelmed by their achievements (imagine making the playoffs of a Major for the first time – you’d be speechless too!) – but it’s also exciting to be very much involved in telling teams’ stories as they unfold.

Next week, I’ll be diving into the crowd and getting fans to share their stories – it’s another challenge, and one I can’t wait to get stuck into.

I’ll be adding behind-the-scenes snaps to my Instagram stories, so be sure to follow for updates!

Am I really just a token woman?

Tomorrow, I start my role as a reporter at the Intel Extreme Masters Katowice Major.

This will be the biggest esports event I’ve ever been part of. When I found out I had been booked, I was genuinely emotional; it’s less than a year since I decided to see if I could make full-time hosting work, and I never imagined people would be so welcoming. I’ve been given brilliant opportunities thus far, and do my best to work hard and justify people’s decisions to hire me.

I don’t think I’m hired solely because I’m a woman – and I definitely feel like I’ve proved myself as an asset to a broadcast line-up – but if I am, it doesn’t mean I’m going to do a bad job. And maybe, seeing my face in a line-up will encourage other women to aspire to be onscreen too.

That’s why it can be disappointing to see comments from people who don’t know who I am deciding that I’m just there to fill a quota, and that there’s no need to look at the reasons beyond that. Especially as there’s an awareness as a woman in this business that your performance could affect how other women are viewed; you’re not just representing yourself. So you work extra hard, because there’s an extra layer of responsibility.

Also, to be perfectly honest, it’s simply a lazy attempt at scoring points on social media to just post that, because you don’t know who I am (and I don’t expect you to), that I’m not capable of doing the job I’ve been hired for. (There’s a handful of last year’s credits on my agency’s website if you’re really concerned.) I can only win you over if you’re open to it.

The great news is, when I’m asked the common question “what’s it like being a woman in esports?” I get to speak highly of my colleagues and folks in this industry who have never made a thing about my gender, and have invited me to be part of their shows; I don’t get treated differently because of being female. And, when it comes down to it, tournament organisers are the ones who pay me, not Twitch Chat.

And so to tomorrow – I’ve researched as best as I can, and I’m hoping the nerves will help rather than hinder. To everyone who has believed in me, thank you. I’ll do my best not to let you down.

My Life in Pixels – episode 13: Alex “Goldenboy” Mendez

The latest episode of My Life in Pixels is here!

In this episode, I chat to one of esports’ most in-demand hosts and casters, Alex “Goldenboy” Mendez. Initially starting out with his sights on being a pro player, Alex talks about the event that set him on his path as a caster, and his future role on primetime NBC entertainment show The Titan Games, alongside Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Follow Alex on Twitter, Twitch, and YouTube.

You can now listen to My Life in Pixels on more platforms than ever before…