“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 caveronous 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 its their money, and then can spend their budgets where they decide – it’s 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.

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“It’s not my job to dress for the audience I don’t want”

Another week, another twitter thread about “titty streamers”. Occasionally I find myself tagged in a group response that describes me as part of a “virtuous” group of crew neck devotees; “but these respectable ladies stream in wimples! They’re not like all those other girls.”

“Exactly: nun clothes – it’s for the fetishists! Such thottery does not belong on Twitch!” hisses the reply. (There’s just no pleasing some people.)

“Women on Twitch?! But girls don’t like games! Except Candy Crush, but that doesn’t count as a real game. Actual games have guns, or mana. Man-a. They’re just exploiting teenage boys.”

Twitch streamers are entertainers. On television, in cinema, onstage and in our social media, entertainers the world over perform in outfits that range from casual to skimpy. They sometimes draw outrage – Little Mix will be criticised for wearing crystal or pleather leotards, because the finger pointer found their debut single Wings empowering several years ago and doesn’t think the girl band’s output should change with their age.

But, for the most part, we don’t bat an eyelid at a person in the public eye wearing a low cut number as they host the National Lottery draw, or enter the Big Brother House – because these people are on camera and, understandably, they want to look their best. Being conventionally attractive is an asset – and woe betide anyone who doesn’t appeal to at least a sub section of society.

But when it comes to Twitch – a platform where “creators”, as the company calls them – broadcast gameplay, creative ventures or conversation – a vocal group has strong views on the presentation of female streamers. These women, who feel comfortable in their bodies and may feel at their best in a tank top, have been lumped into a group they did not volunteer for; the “titty streamers”. Meanwhile, women who wear jumpers are routinely set up in opposition, whether we like it or not. And let me be clear – as flattering as it is to have my channel recommended, I do not agree with being weaponised to attack other women. (And yes, I bite back.)

As a host, I can literally make a joke about my tit tape on an awards show broadcast and not be grouped in this “shameful” society – but appear in leggings and a “modest” top playing for high scores in Just Dance, and I become part of the gang. Because this isn’t about tits. Not really. This is about the unhappy voices feeling unheard; lacking self-esteem so much that they think an attractive woman’s content is being held in higher regard than their own. It is jealously that has blindsided detractors to the point that they can’t see why they have a problem.

People will watch who they want – and maybe people do watch me because they find me attractive – but they won’t stay if I don’t entertain them and cultivate a community that focuses not only on me, but the familiar usernames in chat and the people behind them; the moderators who maintain a sense of humour as they ban offenders, the updates from our respective lives, the cries as I cry out at a surprise frag and I accidentally blow a load of ear drums.

It’s not my job to dress for the audience I don’t want.

For all the arguments people have against streamers wearing what they want, every one can be shut down with a link to the Twitch community guidelines. Although Twitch Partners have an agreement in place to make money from streaming, we are self-employed; our bedrooms are our offices and we set the dress code. If it doesn’t fit your standards, switch off.

#PUBGChickenCarry – Thank You

On 30th September, the Twitch community raised over £3,000 for the mental health charity Mind as part of the #PUBGChickenCarry.

Despite a nervous week or two prior to the event, when me and over half the would-be carriers discovered I’d bloomin’ booked my event on the same weekend as the qualifiers for Twitchcon’s Broadcaster Royale (my bad), we managed to pull off an event that raised money and awareness – with over 3,000 viewers watching concurrently at the broadcast’s peak (thanks to a cheeky host from Sacriel).

PubgCarryAnnounce (1) final final

Without further ado, here’s a list of some of the incredibly generous people who helped me put the first ever #PUBGChickenCarry together…

The carriers… Scoom, Weefreemen, Annabanana_TV, Cyanide, MrTweeday, AndyPyro, Spamfish, Two Angry Gamers, Sacriel, Esquire, TechGirl, MrAlexDanger, Henry “BigTruck” Cartwright, and channel community members The Saiint, ThatHawko, Unas84, verity45, Zaramath and FreeloaderHS.

The hosters and raiders… there were a load of generous Twitch channel hosts from the community – so to each and every one of you – thank you so much. Raids from Sacriel, and TSM’s Rawryy and Break were particularly huge boosts for the stream.

The donators… from £5 to £200 – I can’t quite get my head around the generosity of you lot. (You can still read their messages and donate here.)

The designer and the coder… Nicholas Brigando put together the amazing promotional and overlay graphics together (see some of his work above), while my friend from Production.GG Adam Mumfrey created code to pull in the Just Giving donations into the overlay. (The wonderful Okaydrian also hooked me up with coder Ehsan Kia, who I hope I get to work with in the future – you two are ace.)

The sponsors and the platform… Dan Whittal – the EMEA community manager for PUBG, my agent Ben Woodward and the team at Code Red, and Amahni Evans from Twitch – your support means everything. Also, to Doug, who patiently read out 20 weapon skin key codes to me as I logged them into a spreadsheet for giveaways.

THE MOD SQUAD! Isobelle77, JT5ingh, QuantumDelta – ❤ ❤ ❤

The swag givers… Simms, Sacriel (what an MVP) and Simon.

To everyone who watched and spread the word… thank you.

(We had a laugh, didn’t we? Shall we do it again sometime…?)

The Charity Chicken Carry

A year ago, I said goodbye to my friend Ben on the train back into London from Luton Airport.

A group of us had just spent the week in Southern France and Italy. I’d flown straight from the chaos of running the Twitch Stage at gamescom 2017.

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Somewhere that's green…

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It had taken me time to adjust to being abroad for holiday, rather than work, one day bordering on a panic attack as we swam in actual seawater on an otherwise idyllic boat trip, powered by Aperol and a French skipper, (who had casually mentioned jellyfish before our group jumped in). Ben had noticed my fear and paddled towards me, guiding me back to the boat. He was not someone who left his friends behind.

I didn’t realise that the last time I would see Ben would be on that train.

And yet – here’s the thing – Ben was never going to not be around. He lives on at gatherings, in the WhatsApp group his devoted friends created in his memory. In stories, impersonations of his unique mannerisms and phrasings, and in the bizarre newspaper articles we send each other that he would undoubtedly have discovered first for our amusement.

How my boyfriend Matt managed to deliver the eulogy at Ben’s funeral, I’ll never know. It’s available to read online at an initial fundraising page set up last year, and reading it still makes me sway dramatically between laughter and tears.

I’ll never be able to understand the decision of taking away one’s own life, but I know that it is an internal debate that effects so many people. Therefore, I’m planning to hold a fundraiser for Mind (a UK-based mental health charity) in October, and I want to call on members of the PUBG community to get involved.

If you’re a competitive PUBG fan, you may have seen me pop up at various PUBG tournament desks, or brandishing a mic onstage. I love talking about the game at its highest level, and the teams involved.

However, if you’re familiar with my Twitch stream, you’ll also be aware that I’m a horrible PUBG player.

I panic, I wail and scream, I shoot bushes. Oh, and never, ever let me drive. Seriously.

So I thought I’d call on the pro players I get to discuss at events such as DreamHack and WSOE, and see if they’ll give up a bit of their time to try and make me a better player, along with the talent I share the stage with – my chicken dinner count is currently two and during the first of those my computer died mid game, so I wasn’t even there to see it. It’ll be an arduous task for them, so in a way, you’re kind of sponsoring them more than me…

Although the details are still flexible, the action will most likely play out over an eight hour stream on my Twitch channel, while my fellow squad members will be encouraged to stream and do some fundraising of their own (I’ll likely invite Twitch streamers to join also). I’ll be rotating squads every hour. I currently think Saturday 29th September Sunday 30th September may be a good date, but there may be clashes with online leagues, so will be happy to take feedback on whether this date is suitable.

I’m looking for pro players and Twitch Partners who are interested in joining me to get in touch asap – a DM on Twitter or emailing me is the best option. The same for sponsors, or anyone who would like to be involved in some way.

Thank you.

Dealing with downtime

The Summer so far has been hectic so far…

…Or at least it was, until August. Suddenly I’ve found myself with a few weeks of respite (bar the odd shoot for the Nintendo Labo UK YouTube Channel or episode two of the Omen Esports Report)

After I got back from PGI (PLAYERUNKNOWN’S Battleground’s Global Invitational in Berlin) I was ready to keep running, until one day I wasn’t; I decided to record some voice lines as a favour to someone and then just stop. (And by stop, I mean playing video games offline, rather than on my Twitch channel.) In some ways, I was scared of a pause, in case I decided to extend it. However, I had a Google Keep list to keep up with, and so there were tasks awaiting my attention (“blog” has been written on it for ages).

At the start of this week, fresh from a wedding between two beautiful friends in Ludlow, where for once I managed to avoid checking my social media into the double figures, I felt myself coming down with something… But I also had eaten everything and anything I fancied for the past week; I needed to go to the world’s most strenuous gym class, prep a video pitch and stream. Then an early start on Tuesday for a Nintendo shoot in Britstol. Wednesday was for buying new hosting clothes (my word, the amount of clothes you need for events is astounding), prepping for gamescom and yoga. Sure, I felt a bit wobbly, but I’d just work through it, right?

It turned out Thursday would be for learning my lesson and croakily not being able to get out of bed… so apologising to my Twitch community for my absence, I propped myself up with a couple of pillows and finally got round to editing a vlog from PGI.

I wasn’t enjoying being ill, and yet… something about it gave me an added sense of urgency. Instead of doing the most urgent things on my to-do list, I was mopping up the bits I’d relegated into the unessential zone.

Case in point; it had taken me over two weeks to finally get down to editing and publishing my latest showreel. I had everything I needed – including relatively good health – but something always “cropped up”, until I silently pledged not to stream until it was done. In a way, it reminded me of those development tasks I had in previous jobs where I knew I could get it done, but pushed it back time and time again.

But feeling poorly… well now I was obliged to not do anything, and it sucked. I’m writing this on Friday, after another day of cold-angst and it still sucks. This isn’t like the old days of being ill, putting on an out of office and shutting out the world. (Freelancers everywhere – I get it now.)

So I made a deal with myself; rest today, and you may very well leave the flat by tomorrow evening. Amazon Prime has kept me firmly on the sofa for all ten episodes of UnReal series one. Running up and down the stairs has been kept to a minimum. By this evening I had decided some gameplay capture for a future video would be fine; but no voice chat. No audience. (And yes, I allowed myself to write this blog – because the only thing I love more than a to-do list, is crossing things off it.)

Hopefully the respite has worked its magic, and I’ll be right as rain tomorrow, or at least by next Tuesday – that’s when I head to gamescom, where I’ll be hosting the Omen Challenge PUBG tournament alongside ace casters wtfmoses and Matrym.

In fact, it’s especially important for this reason; when I decided to give full-time hosting a shot, gamescom was my first “milestone” to mark that I could do this for the long-haul. Being asked to go is a confirmation that I’m on the right path – but I’m also aware it’s one event, and the hard work will never be over… except for this week’s attempted pause – which may have turned out to be the hardest task of all!

Getting started in hosting

One of the questions that keeps reccuring in my DMs on social media is; “how did you get into hosting”.

I don’t tend to reply to message requests from people I don’t know (I have email for that), so I wanted to try and give this topic a bit more space on the blog instead.

I’ve been hosting full-time since I left Twitch at the end of March, so I’m by no means the absolute authority on this – there are a variety of ways people have got into this sort of work, so I reckon the best thing is to explain my personal experience.

At university, I was desperate to work in radio, but ended up not being able to get work experience, so moved into online. However, in my third year a blog I had written about new music and BBC Introducing led me to be picked up to produce and present a show for Amazing Radio, a then-digital radio station. I moved to Newcastle before my official graduation and worked as a producer and presenter. I was let go nine months into the role very suddenly, and ended up heading to London to work at Channel 4 as an online producer. I podcasted and dabbled with YouTube and an interactive platform called Touchcast, but had no idea how to work as a presenter again.

Towards the end of my four years at the BBC, I started trying again. I enjoyed working as a producer on various different bits and pieces, but now I was tempted by presenting again. I’d worked on the BBC coverage of the 2015 League of Legends World Championships and realised how much I loved the idea of working in gaming. I started attempting to talk to my co-workers at BBC Three about the possibility of pitching something about esports, but there was no interest (or perhaps my hints were not strong enough). The BBC Academy were kind enough to take on my interactive video idea Strangecast (a behind-the-scenes interactive look at drama series Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell), and let me host a podcast, but I still didn’t have the experience outside of my own external projects (some of which you can see in an old showreel, embedded below).

I needed to leave; and so I did. Moving to Twitch as a producer was such a fantastic experience. I wasn’t thinking of hosting at this point, but more about how to immerse myself within the Twitch community. I started streaming and learning as much as I could about the eco-system of Twitch. I worked with a lot of Twitch Partners to bring them onto our stages, but often didn’t have the budget to hire enough to cover a typical 8-10 hours of hosted content, and so ocasionally I’d pop up onstage to help fill in. Bit by bit, the hosting bug came back. And yet – I loved my job; it paid well, I felt confident and my colleagues were fantastic. Why leave a safety net you enjoy falling into?

I decided to do bits and pieces in my spare time, asking agency Code Red to take me on as a client and writing to contacts to suggest they consider me for gigs. I cobbled together a showreel from my various Twitch stage cameos and waited. Nothing much came my way until I did an interview with GINX TV at gamescom about the Twitch Stage, joking about the pink stain on my bum from the cake I’d recently had to scrape off the stage, post Steve Aoki appearance. A few weeks later I was in their London studio being trialled for live weekly show The Bridge as a co-host; I got the role.

The Bridge gave me the experience (and examples of work) I needed to get my face out there. I’d already built up a network within the industry as a producer, but my work on the show now meant I had video evidence to show I could hold my own on live TV, interview and be part of a general esports conversation. I didn’t get to lead host until earlier this year, covering for usual anchor Frank, but again, that was a huge opportunity to prove my worth in the lead host’s seat. I also spoke to ESL UK about trying to host and they asked me to come and host the ESL UK Hearthstone Premiership Finals in January. It would later transpire that my stage hosting at this show would spotlight me for my co-host role at the PC Gaming Show at this year’s E3.

I’d just completed my most recent showreel when I found out my job post was to be closed at Twitch. After a bit of steady breathing and a quick chat with my Dad, I headed to a generic coffee shop chain to start emailing contacts to make it clear I was ready to work. Then I headed to GINX to co-host my final episode of The Bridge.

Since April, I’ve filmed in London, Bristol, Stockholm, Katowice, LA, Austin, Las Vegas, Berlin and Bath. I’ve covered titles such as NHL 18, CSGO, Overwatch, Fortnite, PUBG and a game where you get to play as a shark. Oh, and co-hosted with a duck. But if I hadn’t had to leave my day job, I might not have experienced any of it. I’d be happy, but quite possibly not as happy as I am now. There’s no safety net anymore – but maybe in the end it was less of a net, and more of a wall.

Tips for breaking into on screen esports roles

  • Decide what you want to do; stage or desk host? cast or analyse? What’s your expertise? You could do a bit of each, but then how will you make people see you as the go-to for a particular role? I’ve mostly desk hosted in the past few months, with a bit of stage hosting on the side. Currently TOs (tournament organisers) are considering me where they think I’ll fit in based on my “brand” (see below).
  • Be vocal about who you are and what your “brand” is. Before breaking into gaming, I was asked this by someone during a BBC careers session, and I honestly didn’t know. Now, I think you get a good idea from my showreel – I marry energy and humour with knowledge, am able to control what’s happening during a broadcast (no matter what goes wrong), without it feeling dry, and I can “charm and disarm” my guests.
  • Build a showreel that showcases your values and your versatility. My showreel is due an update, I admit, but what it does do is distill what you can expect from me in less than three minutes – and the latter part is key. Keep your reel to less than three minutes. When I was a producer, I would make up my mind about hiring someone in less than 90 seconds. You don’t need to include all your work in there – feature the work that sums you up best, and shows you in the roles you want to be considered for in the future (ie. stage, desk, casting etc). As a host, I can work across multiple games on stage, and on the desk, and my reel shows that – although my next reel will feature more esports desk hosting, and less consumer roles, as that’s the route I’d like to go down in future.
  • No footage? Make your own work. Some events, such as the recent PGI 2018, will let you co-stream their feed so you can add your own commentary. You can also start a podcast, create and stream a chat show on Twitch, or make YouTube videos on your phone. This will be vital for developing your skills, too.
  • Get involved in the community you want to be part of. PUBG is one of my “first loves”, esports-wise. I’m regularly engaging with discussions on social media about the game, and I stream myself playing it with others, too. Maybe you could stream some scrims or charity events to get some valuable practice and showreel footage.
  • Approach grassroots events to gain experience. I’m not necessarily saying work for free, although money might not be amazing at first (which is another reason why I was lucky my previous job let me freelance on the side, taking annual leave to work). In the UK, epic.LAN and Insommnia are great events to try and approach.
  • Be professional and be nice! Whether working as a producer or presenter, I always try and give back the support I receive. Although esports is growing, the UK community is still small; you can get to know people quickly and make lasting connections. When I work with production teams I’ve worked with before, it’s like family. Always contribute to the team effort; rehearsals aren’t just about your performance, they are also for the benefit of everyone in production too. If you have feedback, think about whether it’s time urgent or would be of more value at the end of a broadcast day, or even the event itself. In terms of presenting yourself externally, I’m really lucky to have people approach me at events for photos and such – I always try and have a conversation, rather than just a seflie when I don’t have to rush off to film; someone has spared time to come and speak to me, so I like to try and find out a little bit about them, even if it’s as simple as “who is your favourite team?”.
  • Be good at what you do, but work towards being better. Now I’m full-time as a host, I’ll stream at home to get to know my audience, write posts like this, produce my podcast, and review footage from events to pick up on any weaknesses – I’ve been working to erase words like “basically”, for example. When I first started out I’d practically dance on the spot, or shift erratically in my chair. Even watching back PGI I can see a few phrases I repeated when reporting and interviewing and I know to be more concious of this – because I was in an unfamiliar role, my lack of experience showed through via habits I might not fall into on the desk, for example. If you’re worried about Twitch chat comments, just minimise chat, and focus fully on the VOD. Twitch chat are not the people that hire you – their support can mean a lot, but just because they think your hair is gross, doesn’t mean it actually is (ahem).

I hope this helps in some way – although my DMs are closed, you can leave a comment below, contact me on Twitter or via email if you have further questions. Good luck!

A fresh start (and a new podcast)!

When I was 22, I was asked to have a meeting before my usual work start time of 11am.

My job was to produce an afternoon radio show, which had been the first show to go from pre-recorded to live on the station, and had been extended to broadcast from 3 to 4 hours each day. I also hosted a weekly hour-long specialist music show.

In the months prior to that meeting, the executive producer had kept information from me and not invited me to meetings with the presenter. I was living in the North and, although I had made friends since my move nine months earlier, in the office I would feel isolated and alone.

In the meeting, the CEO, executive producer by his side, (as well as another member of staff who was genuinely once of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with), terminated my contract. I had moments to get my things and leave; my colleagues were concealed inside editing booths – barely larger than store cupboards – upstairs. I wasn’t permitted a goodbye. As I left, the executive producer followed me; “you forgot your coat”, he said bluntly, proffering a blazer I’d left draped a desk chair that had, until 15 minutes earlier, been mine.

On the surface, I was devastated. But perhaps my subconscious knew I would be ok, leading me over the Tyne Bridge into the Newcastle branch of New Look to vacantly stare at shoes. It was the day before Record Store Day 2011 and my musician boyfriend of the time was due to record a show for the station that afternoon. En-route over the bridge, I called the London-based producer of the show and told him I’d convince the guy to still take part.

I signed on at Byker Job Centre, and ended up becoming a finalist in another radio station’s Primula Cheese recipe competition. (There’s a video evidence out there that has to be seen to be believed.) I enrolled on a last-minute place on a week-long songwriting course, and emailed CVs to people I had interned with. I kept busy, despite often being unable to stop tears forming as I walked down the street.

And then, two weeks after staring at my feet on a doorstep in Gateshead, I walked into Channel 4 as an Online Producer. I would not forget my coat again.

When my role was closed at Twitch three weeks ago, despite knowing exactly where the nearest branch of New Look could be found, I headed to a coffee shop and made a list (god, I love a list), before hosting The Bridge for Ginx TV. The sudden end of something had brought opportunity I hadn’t had back in 2011 – perhaps influenced by my previous experience I’d saved what I could over the years and realised I was fortunate enough to have the luxury of time to think about the future.

My coffee-fuelled to do list was dominated by a couple of things; firstly, I wanted to see where I could go with hosting, and secondly I wanted to start a podcast – and there was no time like the present; my showreel was good to go.

Hosting-wise, I’ve got some projects in the pipeline, I can’t wait to share with you all, including hosting PUBG at Dreamhack Austin, and another project with Ginx TV. And the podcast? My Life in Pixels is now available in iTunes. (It’s also available at Podbean for anyone who prefers not to get their podcasts from Apple.) Episode one features the great Jake Roberts, who spoke to me about his history with games in the same week he picked up a BAFTA Games Award for Best Debut in recognition of his fantastic puzzle game Gorogoa. In future, I’m hoping to speak to more developers, as well as friends from different aspects of the gaming industry. We’ll be chatting about the games that made them want to make gaming their careers.

I’ve been very fortunate in the past few weeks to have had some tremendous support from the online community – from Twitch streamers, audiences and peers. This is something I didn’t have all those years ago, and it’s definitely a key reason why I’m able to see positivity in this experience. So if you’re one of those people who’ve called, emailed, Tweeted or commented, then you forever have my gratitude. Thank you.

How to build a PC: a guide by Frankie Ward

Recently I did something I never thought possible; I built a PC.

Despite what one misogynist visitor to my Twitch stream, women can build PCs – we have hands and brains just like men do (whaddya know)!

However, I would be honest and say that for this individual, PC building wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, so I’ve compiled this handy help guide in case you get a hankering to put your own rig together.

1. After saving for months on end, peruse Amazon and get mind blown by how many varieties of Intel i7 Core Processors are, what a PSU is (power unit, it turns out) and how much wattage you actually need to get the final thing to turn on.

2. Settle for a *slight* shortcut by buying a bundle from a third party Amazon vender called Components for All, featuring the CPU (Intel chip), CPU cooler (a fan), motherboard (brain) and RAM (not a sheep). Realise after buying that this lot is going to be put together by the company, meaning you’re less likely to blow the bloody metaphorical doors off and can just ‘stick it in’ to the case.

3. Order PSU, case, graphics card and settle on hard drive (HDD) because you don’t realise SSDs (solid state drives) can actually work without one. Then buy Windows on a USB stick because Linux would be a step too far.

4. Speak to dad. Audibly sense the disappointment in his voice when he discovers you’re owning something not created by Apple (that could one day end up in his graveyard collection of Macs).

5. Find initial enthusiasm of components arriving wears off very quickly when the various instructions in each box is ridiculously vague.

6. Find internet also ridiculously vague. What’s BIOS when it’s at home?

7.  Put motherboard into case. Get confused by instructions about PCIe. Cry out “What’s a  PCIe? WHY DIDN’T I BUY A PCIe?” Routinely hug the case, partly because of worries about static and the need to ground oneself, partly because everyone needs a bosom for a pillow, and if you haven’t got one a cold metal case will have to do.

8. Discover you own a PCIe in the shape of a graphics card. Spend 20 minutes wondering how to take off PCIe cover from case. Finally have guts to peel metal off while crying about how much this business has all cost, in money and tears.

9. Broadcast a Twitch IRL stream to get advice from lovely community about order of I/O front panel connectors. Then give up for the night.

10. Discover that it would have been an extremely good idea to connect those little front panel cables in the case up to the motherboard before the graphics card went in… Give a moderate scream as the cables keep popping out.

11. Breath a sigh of relief as build ends. Connect up to fancy BenQ screen.

12. Let out a scream of insanity as nothing happens.

13. Realise that part of the motherboard was lacking power. Discover from colleague and all-round life coach Iain that this was due to the 8 point cable from PSU was plugged into graphics card instead and actually this 8 point cable splits into two parts, one of which now goes into the motherboard, with a modular cable used to power the graphics card. Rage that none of this information was included in the PSU instructions box.

14. Try again; lights on front and the graphics card now turn on, as does the CPU cooler, but nothing happens on the screen. Scream. Repeat stage 6 and the latter part of stage 8.

15. In airport on way to Dreamhack Leipzig, speak to lovely man on phone from Components 4 All. He mentions that actually, the problem is probably using the wrong side of the 8 pin split and that’s why the thing isn’t turning on.

16. Get home from work trip, now a massive fan of German Twitch broadcasters and a self-confessed pretzel addict (I’ve gone cold turkey). Switch side of 8 pin in motherboard. Try to boot again. Light turns on, fan turns on… but nothing happens on screen. For once do not panic as nice man from step 15 also mentioned trying to turn on again without the graphics card.

17. Take out graphics card. Plug power and screen in again and switch on.

18. Scream, because this time it works and YOU’RE IN BLOODY BIOS!

19. Get Windows installed, put graphics card back in again, install Overwatch as a matter of urgency.

20. Stream on Twitch from your shiny new PC the first time.

21. Suck a Strepsil and enjoy.

Thanks to everyone who helped me in the painful process of building my PC – you can see it in action on my Twitch channel!