Can the UK ever win Eurovision again?

I’ve harboured a not-so-secret ambition to be part of the UK’s Eurovision entry for a number of years now, my closest moment being liveblogging the UK’s “Song for Europe” style show Eurovision: You Decide on BBC Four back in 2016 when Joe and Jake’s “You’re Not Alone” won the public vote. A song with a decent start and a Coldplay-like piano line, it whimpered before the U2 inflections of the second verse guitar kicked in due to – quite frankly – a cheese fest of a chorus and a totally unambitious, charisma-vaccum approach to its vocal performances. Musically the mood of the time was the sparse beats of Zayn’s Pillowtalk and Drake’s infectious One Dance. Meanwhile, You’re Not Alone seemed to reference a school talent show.

The Joe and Jake entry, despite earning enough points to place 24th out of 26th rather than the hallowed “nul points” is an excellent example of what doesn’t work at Eurovision as it breaks the unwritten rules of what near-guarantees failure in this modern era of Eurovision – we’re talking 2012 onwards, so don’t send me Olsen Brothers clips ok? Here’s some of them:

Two singers aren’t better than one

Contestants in Eurovision have three minutes to sell themselves to 39 territories. It’s hard enough to discover one personality in that time, let alone two. Serbia also made this mistake in 2021. The only way to differentiate between their singers for the uninitiated was hair colour. Meanwhile, Malta’s entrant Destiny didn’t have the most original or standout song of the competition with Je Me Casse, but was marked out for success by the potent energy of its 18-year-old performer’s star power. In fact, if she’d carried the Lizzo style of the bridge through as the running theme of the song rather than the dated electro swing power pop of a few years ago, she might have had even more impact. As it was, she only able to win the battle of powerful women in fringed bodysuits. But you’ll remember her. Do you remember Jake and Paul? Joe and Jake?

Keep it current

Ever wondered why Sweden typically does well each year? Well, apart from throwing talent at the situation and having a well-established talent selection show Melodifestivalen, dating back to 1959, they are a pop powerhub, known for pioneering the EDM sound made popular in the last decade. This year Tusse’s entry referenced a slowed down version of The Weeknd’s Starboy, but without the edge or essential bite to drive home such a mid tempo track. (I’ll talk about earnest numbers in a bit.)

Sweden’s decision to stick to what they know, despite disco being the biggest pop trend to return in 2020 (think Dua Lipa), leaded them to sound underwhelming rather than stunning. On the other hand The Roop’s Discoteque, Lithuania’s entry, perfectly encapsulated the current music era (think BBC 6 Music rather than Radio 1), like a sped-up Gorillaz style production in the chorus (look up the track Stylo) with the intensive beat of a Chemical Brothers number and the oscillating ingeunity of Kraftwerk.

In fact, so good was Lithuania’s effort that I’m geniunely affronted by the 55 total points awarded across the national juries. Thank you general public for seeing sense with your 165 points. Lithuania, you were genuinely robbed. As was Switzerland’s Gjon’s Tears, whose Tout l’Univers was my winner for managing to convince me that future Bond songs should all be sung in French and giving me my only goosebumps of the evening. I’m convinced this would have won in 2019 if up against the Duncan Lawrence’s Acade. Sorry Netherlands.

(The look on Gjon Muharremaj’s face as he sings that last line when he realises what he’s pulled off hits me right in the feels.)

This year Italy’s winning entry sounded like something you’d hear on the radio today because, in the words of Måneskin’s lead singer “rock and roll never dies”, it just references the past over and over, taking influences from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Black Keys and Rage Against the Machine. (Finland, step away from the noughties nu-metal next year and you could have a crack at the top.)

Europe doesn’t give a shit about world peace

Or messages for togetherness. They simply want to feel something. That could be awe like EDM peak popularity winner Heroes by Måns Zelmerlöw with his magic interactive light show accompanying the rising urgency of the song’s production, Loreen’s Euphoria making her audience feel exactly that in 2012, or Barbara Pravi’s sheer passion in her delivery of French entry Voila. In 2016 Jamala’s 1944 brought home the trophy for Ukraine through the sheer power of its storytelling and its dignified anguish. It wasn’t a cheesy call to “come together”, it was a demand for a better future. Unfortunately Joe and Jake and Molly’s 2014 “power to the people!” chanting in Molly’s 2014 entry UK Children of the Universe sank failed to spark a result.

Staging is important, but camera work even more so

Remember what I said about getting a personality across earlier? The best way to do this from a technical perspective is camera work. The audience at home are voting, the audience in the arena are enjoying the show. Everything about Barbara Pravi’s performance for France was choreographed to perfection, from a subtle hard guesture in the second verse captured in close-up, to the frenzied physical arm guestures of the final chorus. When there is such a tight focus in the performance, every detail can be made to count. Meanwhile 2013’s Danish victor Emmelie de Forest’s Only Teardrops lacked fancy choreography but made the audience fall for its simply dressed singer with shots that priorities her over her backup drummers and Netta played her quirks directly into the camera to bring it home for Israel with Toy in 2018.

The best songs come out on top (or at least, top five)

One of the things to always remember about Eurovision is that it’s a song contest. The clue’s in the title. There is something to be said about political voting, and yet countries without the UK’s unpopularity have still struggled to bring the contest home – Italy’s previous win was in 1990 (although in that time they did have a 14 year absence) and France have competed at 63 of 65 competitions but haven’t won since 1977. 2021 had barely any duds in the pack. James’ Newman’s UK number Embers was too dated in its synth sax stylings to make a true impression, channelling a 2015 Jess Glynne. So while it didn’t deserve the humiliation of “nul points”, it didn’t deserve to win and would never have picked up the points it to either.

In conclusion, the UK really can win again

We need to think carefully about what will win, rather than sitting on our arses and going “what do you mean we got nul points again!?”

I confess in 2016 I met Hugh Goldsmith, who led the search effort back then and he gave me his email address – and I didn’t email him – because I’m an idiot who didn’t think I could have an impact and didn’t want to overstep. But every year I watch, analyse what works, what doesn’t and I regret my lack of chutzpah. I, putting it bluntly, sat on my arse. So if there was any way I could write, perform or just somehow be part of the UK’s next Eurovision effort, you can bet I wouldn’t waste the opportunity. Pick me, BBC!

Tits on Twitch

Between the ages of 18 and approximately 23 I was a happy-go-lucky Tits McGee. And what I mean by that, is I didn’t feel a wave of self-conciousness and judgement for wearing a strappy top or having a visible décolletage. I was, for the most part, comfortable with how I looked. Even aged 17 when a possessive boyfriend repeatedly hissed the code word “ELEPHANT, ELEPHANT!” across his family’s dinner table freaking out that a crack of cleavage may have been slightly visible, I just saw him for what he was; insecure.

(One day, upon turning on his gaming computer, which was a self-built rig with approximately 13 fans, I accidentally discovered he was more of a bum man anyway.)

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Aged 22 in a floor length skirt and a bargain bin cardi from Primark on a visit to my friend’s student houseshare

As I’ve got older and social media has taken hold, it feels like the rules have changed. Women who post pictures of themselves at their most attractive on public spaces have become “egirls”, as if their digital footprint has consumed their identity and made them nothing more than a one-dimensional smattering of pixels. Boys who once cried mammal over mammaries have been replaced by a generation who dissect and recontextualise these images. They both worship and go to war with what they see on screen, forgetting the reality of the person who hit publish or the go live button.

Perhaps it is not strange that I feel more self-concious than I did at 32 than 17. I am on camera almost daily and see my presence welcomed and criticised. I get more comments based on the way I look than the work I do. My personal style has morphed from my student jumble of vintage and sale-rack H&M to jumpsuits, jumpers and jeans. But when I head offline and out of the door, I feel self-concious about being “dressed up”. I almost exclusively associate my own low cut attire with awards shows now – battleboobs, primed and ready to be made the punchline of a joke about tit tape, or to cheekily protest the now defunct streaming platform Mixer’s ridiculous rules about broadcasters’ spaghetti straps requiring an age rating. (It’s also because I wear a lot of suits, dresses and jumpsuits on stage, so it’s nice to wear something I wouldn’t wear on a broadcast to these shows. Less “poli-tits”, more wanting to feel like I’m not on duty.)

All boobs are brilliant, mine included. Mine aren’t so large that they make a high neckline look like I’m smuggling a shelf, but for many friends I know, it may look or feel restrictive to wear these kinds of tops, given that we’re all different shapes and sizes. Something lower cut may be a more comfortable option, and also what they feel at their best in. For me, that’s currently a turtle neck, because I can tuck it into a high waisted jean, pair it with a chain and pretend I’m the Rock.

A friend who is a very successful streamer once told me “I want to look at my most attractive when I’m streaming”, and why wouldn’t she? When you are putting yourself on camera you want to be confident – it’s what your audience wants too. While nerves are natural, as a viewer you’re more likely to stick around for someone who is happy with who they are and sets a tone for their community.

For a couple of years now I’ve seen the online community rage on Twitter over the subject of female streamers on Twitch – from arguing that attractive women are manipulating money from vulnerable young men, to trying to pit women against each other; “you’re a real gamer though, you don’t have your tits out”, “these women with their tits out ruin it for the real streamers!” etc.

I didn’t even know about the so-called “chaturbate” content currently lighting up my Twitter feed until it was posted about there. From a glance, it appears to be shorthand for streamers in hot tubs on the Just Chatting channel. So I visited the Just Chatting category on Twitch to see if this “wildfire of wantoness” was spreading. And yes, I found a couple of inflatable hot tubs a la Argos, but also far more streams of cooking, travelling and working out. I even found indentical Russian twins called Oleg and Kostya cooking topless except for aprons with cute cats emblasoned on the front. And funnily enough, I didn’t feel threatened by any of it. Not by the gain-getting twins, and not by Canadian streamer Faith, who on popping briefly into her hot tub stream, was just having regular conversations about pop culture with her chat. She just happened to be doing it in a bikini.

Gaming culture is filled with provocatively drawn avatars of ladies and female human/mythical being hybrids that are fiercely protected in their skimpy state by a vocal community, therefore it doesn’t really feel out of place to have sexy women enjoying that culture themselves – either by dicussing it, emulating it or both.

Final Fantasy XV’s mechanic Cindy, who tried to make the visible g-string happen again. Image credit: Square Enix

Last year we witnessed a furore over a female character in the Last of Us Part II, Abby and her strong arms. Her strength is empowering and achieveable for women who weight train – a shape is unashamedly not for you but for that person’s own purpose. It was not something that could be controlled by players, and it made them angry. I wonder if that’s why some people have issues with women in the Twitch space. They can’t be them and they can’t control them – only Twitch can by invoking their terms of service.

Twitch is a private entity, not a public service broadcaster. It’s owned by Amazon, a corporation whose skill at making money and not paying much of it back out in taxes is unparalled. Thankfully, it doesn’t feel like an Amazon machine, but it still needs to make money; it is going to exercise its rights with business in mind.

Confident women unsettle in a way confident men don’t – it’s less than 100 years in the UK since women were allowed to hold and dispose of property on the same terms as men (the law changed in 1926) – in other words, until fairly recently, women were second class citizens. It’s a conditioned idea of women as property that dissatisfied women are scratching away at, irritating our way to being viewed on equal terms and having our own agency unchallenged. We should question why we’re expected to be sexy with the caveat of this only being so in the spaces set out for us; these are our bodies, after all.

Streaming on Twitch for people is a way to make money in a time when our access to work and each other is very limited. I confess I found an image of a streamer doing a sauna-based Just Chatting stream in a white clear-strapped bikini that resembled sellotape and kitchen towel quite funny, just because that’s where my banal imagination went. But did it offend me? Not at all. I stream myself being average at Counter-Strike on my own channel where I mostly offend people by forgetting to buy kevlar. People will always find ways to be angry, no matter the content.

I think that’s what people forget – at the end of the day, we’re all individuals crafting communities. Focus on what compells your audience to come back – or support the streamers you want to by showing up and subscribing if you can afford to. Twitch isn’t just a gaming platform any more, just like its predeccesor Justin TV wasn’t. It hasn’t been for years. It serves to give you the opportunity to be yourself, and profit from it.

Observations from a year of home broadcasts

It’s been almost a year since the world as we knew it changed and yet esports tournaments have adapted through the challenges and continued to entertain a global audience. Despite the disappointment from everyone concerned – tournament organisers, players, broadcast teams and the fans – we’ve managed to compromise and keep going. It’s something to be celebrated.

However, as someone lucky enough to be able to take part from my home office, I wanted to share some thoughts on what I’ve experienced as a host on these productions so far – both good and bad – in the hope that they might be useful for future broadcasts. Some of these thoughts apply to offline broadcasts too.

Before I get started, let me say that I know it’s tough and full-on for the team working behind-the-scenes too. I’m so grateful to each and every one of you who keeps things moving and puts up with the likes of me!

  1. Broadcast talent have now become technicians. While we’re from a technical background in the sense that many of us build a PC or could at least tell you the difference between an SSD and a HDD, different productions require different broadcast setups (VMix! Parasec! Google Hangouts! Discord! Unity (no, not the game engine), Zoom!) so it would be really useful for the plan around how talent will be sending feeds to be communicated as soon as possible. Casters may have questions about feed delay and desk hosts will want to know if they’ll have in-ear comms (a producer voice) or will have to have a chat window open within view for messages about matches or breaks being ready to throw to.
  2. We’re all working within different spaces. Some of us are in bedrooms, some have offices. Sizes of rooms and backgrounds will vary. I, for example, am fortunate enough to have a small office to broadcast from. The downside is the distance of one metre between the edge of my desk and the wall. As soon as you book talent, have a video call and find out what space you have to play with; do you need a banner or is the background useable with perhaps a bit of set dressing?
  3. The same video call will help you the assess caster lighting, audio and camera. Most productions will take specs in advance, which is great, but just because someone has an Elgato key light, doesn’t mean it’s currently enough to light a wide green screen. Maybe forgo the banner budget and send your host a second light instead if their background works.
  4. I’m going to be straight-up honest before my words begin to look like thinly veiled anti-banner propaganda; I am not a banner fan. After having the sharp edges of a deconstructive massive frame that was too big to be built outside of my little office fester in my house as the agency I worked for wiped their hands of it, backdrops are on my list of enemies. (I eventually went to a contact I had from their client, who went above and beyond to remove the thing for me – to add insult to injury, they had sent TWO printed banners with it that gathered dust for months in the spare room.)
  5. To balance out the bad banner business; pull-up banners are ace. They don’t require the user to have a second person to help them get built, they’re not too heavy to lift and they’re easy to put away between broadcasts. However they are also less likely to fall on the talent during a broadcast, therefore depriving Reddit of a clip to remember.
  6. Our circumstances are not normal. Some of us (ok, me) are experiencing the dreaded “brain fog“. This doesn’t mean we can do the job you require, but it does mean we really appreciate help in getting our act together, especially when the event is last minute and we need to focus on prepping for your broadcast. Send us calendar invites for meetings and rehearsals. Manage expectations via an email that lists the requirements from your talent (this goes for offline events too). Include sponsors, formats, teams, broadcast and rehearsal start times. The run of show, if available, too. I adore producers who put everything you need to know in an email. If they put it in an email, I know I can trust them because we’re instantly on the same page, albeit virtually in Gmail.
  7. Remember that on offline productions, a talent manager would keep us organised and communicate any issues and needs. Now we’re making sure our camera works (see point one), trying to work out if and when we can grab something to eat (and what we actually have time to make), and watching matches to prep desk segments or casting them. We may leave our broadcast space a handful of times in a 12 hour period. A 12 hour broadcast from home, trying to maintain focus and energy, is far more of a challenge than being offline.
  8. This links to the above, but share wardrobe guidance in advance. We may be working from home rather than living out of a suitcase, but ironing still takes time. No one wants to have to change 30 minutes before a show. I’ve realised recently that I’m flexible when I need to be, but my frustrations on production usually stem from things that could have been communicated earlier often leaving me on my own to deal with either trying to write a script and flawlessly execute it off the top of my head live on camera 30 minutes later, understand a complicated rule change and immediately communicate it to the audience, or simply find something creaseless to throw on that fits the sudden requirements with five minutes to air. Broadcast talent are capable of all of these things, but it’s better for everyone if they don’t have to.
  9. If you work regularly with talent but online changes have altered your plans for a broadcast, communicate what you can. Will they be included or not? How has their role changed if it still exists? Dates? While we’re used to freelance life, we build up regular clients and if we don’t know we won’t be working an event, we have to hustle elsewhere or perhaps throw ourselves into a different scene and set a new course of action so we can keep doing the job we love. When you’re waiting for different tournament organisers to respond, not knowing if you’ll even work at all, it can keep you awake at night. We understand plans are changing by the minute, but keep us in the loop where you can – it grounds us in reality, but also gives us hope.

To everyone who gave me work last year and made me part of their broadcast teams. I really appreciate being included by you and hope we can work together before and after the weirdness of the pandemic subsides. There are a lot of audience members out there who benefit hugely from the efforts you make to keep esports scenes alive. Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think I’ve fallen into a K-pop hole

Recently I have developed a thing for girl groups.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Streaming CS:GO & answering Twitch Chat’s FAQs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s wrong with your crosshair?

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

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

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

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

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

Why are you so rude?

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

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

What rank are you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things I’ve learnt as a frequent traveller

Written while – yes, you guessed it – sat in an airport…

Hoodies with internal pockets (or clothing with pockets in general) are a godsend. I recently discovered a hoodie I was gifted while working at last year’s DreamHack Austin has two massive internal pockets I can keep boarding passes, passport and my phone in, with room for plenty more. Flippin’ game changer, mate.

Pledge allegiance to an airline, especially if you’re flying long haul often. I have decided that this is the year I politely request British Airways from the tournament organisers I work with. The higher status I earn, the easier travelling will become – I’ll start being able to reserve seats without paying, for example. (I absolutely begrudge having to pay simply to sit in a window seat when a long haul flight isn’t on a budget airline).

This is a weird one… I use the wrapping from plane blankets to bag my trainers and then I pop slipper socks on… I don’t think I have stinky feet, but I take precautions!

If a seat in your preferred location is not available upon check in, all may not be lost. The check-in desk can sometimes sort you out…

… That being said, make sure the miracle final seat you were changed to isn’t in an awkward location. I’ve been traumatised from ever sitting in an aisle seat on long haul flights ever again after I was moved to an aisle seat in the central block on an Aer Lingus flight from LA. I had been sleep deprived due to jet lag and post-show adrenaline for two weeks and was desperate to catch-up on some sweet shuteye. Unfortunately, my seat was across the aisle from the loudest airplane bathroom in existence – and my seat neighbour decided crossing his arms and forcing me sideways into the edge of my seat was perfectly acceptable. Every time someone used the bathroom or walked past by seat they would knock into me. But I couldn’t be moved because the flight was completely full. I’ll never fly Aer Lingus long haul again – it’s one of my few non-negotiable terms when accepting work overseas.

If you’re flying long haul on a budget airline like Norwegian take your own blanket and food. It’s extortionate to book an in-flight meal, so I’d highly recommend taking your own food and water. Blankets cost extra, and you’ll probably never use it again. In fact – have mine.

Research for comfort and value for money. Norwegian Airlines themselves fly the Boeing 787 Dreamliners on their LA and San Francisco routes – the same planes used by Virgin on the same flight paths, but have been subject to issues around delays and flight cancellations, so double check their policies. United Airlines premium economy offering is no more comfortable than Virgin’s economy service. Virgin premium economy is fabulous – but it’s going to cost you. Delta legroom isn’t great, but Sky Team rewards is apparently worth it. Star Alliance aren’t quite as generous with their upgrades (going by word-of-mouth on the latter insight).

Recently I was lucky enough to visit Shanghai to work with StarLadder and ImbaTV – wearing my favourite flying hoodie (photo below)

Some airlines still don’t offer vegetarian options straight off the trolley.I experienced this on KLM recently while travelling back from Brazil. British Airways’ route from Shanghai has a menu that caters to their Chinese customers, so is less likely to feature vegetarian too. As I am intolerant to the pulses usually present in pre-booked vegetarian meals, I always have a quiet word with the staff once I board to see if they can reserve me a vegetarian or fish option, and they’ve always been very helpful.

If you suffer from migraines, avoid alcohol. Ultimately, you know what works best for you, but wine and dehydration on flights usually ends in disaster for my brain…

My long haul essentials

Bring earplugs and an eye mask. Good noise cancelling headphones are worth every penny. I’m never without anti-bac gel and always have a clear wallet with my toiletries for security on my person (currently I travel so much it doubles up for taking on set in case of emergencies so it never strays far from my rucksack). Decant your favourite toiletries – miniatures are a ripoff unless you’re road testing a new product. I’ve recently invested in face masks to try and protect me from getting ill (I’m particularly susceptible it seems), but I’m lacking the courage to actually use them for an entire flight.

Almost every airport I have visited has water fountains after security. Take a recyclable bottle – particularly useful for those shorter flights where refreshments end up costing you a second mortgage. Plus, it’s better for the planet – and flying really isn’t, so I guess it’s a minor consolation.

Leave the backseat empty, please

One of the amazing things about having a growing social platform is having an instant connection to people.

But also – let’s be honest – it’s also because sometimes people invite you to things because people are following you on Twitter, and invite you to stuff.

At the start of last year very few people knew who I was. Now a handful do – I’m not famous by any means (I’m more recognised for being the “maneater from E3”, or the “girl who interviewed Doc and Shroud at that PUBG thingy”), but my social profile went from a few thousand on twitter, to five times that (my barely updated Instagram saw followers increase by 12,000 in the hour that I co-hosted the aforementioned PC Gaming Show at E3 in June).

Similarly, more people watch when I stream on Twitch – again, not massive numbers (I couldn’t maintain a regular schedule and be a full-time host), but enough to keep chat moving.

Social media is very important to what I do – it’s where I can announce which projects I’m working on next, connect with friends and followers, and keep up with news. Having a healthy number of “likes” can be the key to booking more work – and although I’m resisting being labelled an influencer so far, sometimes that’s why companies will book  me.

But this near-constant communication with the wider world has some side effects, and one I realised when I took up one of those free invites.

I was asked if I’d like to try out a new escape room – AIM Escape in East London. I took one of my oldest friends, and we brought our other halves too. The room was dark and atmospheric. At first, we flew through the initial puzzles of the Psychopath’s Den room – team work on point. Then in the next stage, myself and my friend worked out exactly what we had to do – there was just one detail (I’m trying to be vague with the details to avoid spoilers) that we got wrong. For some reason we didn’t fix this detail right away, and that’s when I noticed it; the voice of the Psychopath was back-seating me. His robotic voice was telling me what I needed to do – even though I was clearly already doing it.

I want to put a disclaimer here before I go further; I don’t think the staff (who were fantastic) could hear me; the priority of the venue is entertainment and storytelling and the delay from the first time we got stuck, we must have lost time, so they were trying to help us catch up. I genuinely enjoyed the experience and would recommend it to everyone.

After it happened a few times, I lost it; I was being back-seated away from my Twitch screen, away from my mobile phone, away from everything. Escapism in the escape room was not going to be possible.

Would this have bothered me in a world without Twitch or Twitter? Maybe – but certainly not as much.

Recently, I’ve found streaming increasingly hard to do; “why didn’t you pick up that AR [in PUBG]?”, “Put your hips into it [Just Dance] more!”, “jumping is easy if you switch it to your third mouse button [in Half-Life]”. The instructions and critiques feel endless and never ending. As they mount up in mentions and Twitch Chat, they also become harder to ignore. People have invested their time and attention in me – and for that I am grateful – but some expect me to morph into something I am not and cannot become.

Then there’s the comments on my appearance (always from men); “that shade of red doesn’t suit you”, “this lip colour isn’t your best”, “if I found you sleeping… I would iron your hair”, “I prefer your hair when it was long” (the latter is odder when you take into account that my hair is around the same length as when I started streaming – but some keen commenters have scrolled back through three years of photos to find me fringeless with long, flat curls). If I reveal on Instagram that I’m getting my hair cut, I lose followers before they’ve even seen the results.

I’ve started to react more strongly – or even overreact – when I sense the comments are coming now. I sometimes try ignoring them, but occasionally I see things I can’t ignore, or a weariness about continuing the broadcast pervades.

So, as I begin my Half-Life 2 play through, I’m going to do my best to stop responding to the people who tell me to “press shift to run”; my stream, my rules, my right to ignore “feedback”

 

“You have the right call me anything you want”

Warning: I use some naughty words in this post.

Occasionally I see comments on social media that remind me of naive days as an eight-year-old, when insults could reflect the attitudes of a seventies sitcom.

This was back in the days when kids (and some parents) weren’t educated on what it meant to be gay – calling each other a “gay lord” was the insult of choice, second only to calling a girl a “fat bitch”.

But we are older now. We know this is wrong – we would be horrified and tell our kids so if we heard them speak the way we did on the playground.

Or so I thought.

Language is power; Martin Luther King had a dream, Harvey Milk gave us hope, a teenage Malala Yousafzai wrote words so eloquent they scared grown men. All three of these peaceful orators inspired the world – and drew such fearful opposition, they risked – or lost – their lives in the pursuit of fairness.

We live in a world where people are still killed because of the sexuality or the skin colour they are born with; sometimes both. Even in countries where steps are being made towards celebrating and championing the one publicly marginalised LGBTQ+ community, homophobic manifests itself in the most common of places; offices, public transport, street corners. It is highly likely that someone in the Western world, who has not been born with white skin, or is openly not straight, has had some level of verbal abuse thrown their way.

Certain words have been used to portray groups of people as “other” and, as language is an ever-evolving thing, these words can change, while communities can also reclaim words as their own.

Compassion is a simple thing – we can choose to feel it, to bestow it upon others, or we can decisively ignore any inclination towards it. Recently, I’ve seen people online decide that being compassionate would impact too greatly on their rights. “It is a slippery slope”, they say, “to give up words that meant so much to us growing up”.

I have the ability – nay, the right – to say whatever I like, but I also have the responsibility – particularly given the public platform I am lucky to have – to be the change I want to see in the world. The change I want is for all people to experience equality – to not face the stinging slap of a derogatory word meant to hurt someone due to a characteristic that is categorically not a flaw, but is treated by some as if it is.

While you have the right to say what you want, the choices are there; your friend being a dickhead doesn’t make them gay; it makes them a dickhead. Therefore, why not just call them a dickhead? (And besides, it’s hardly fair to tar the gay community with the brush that is your annoying friend.)

When I’m streaming and find myself in a spot of bother, the f-bombs come flying out of my mouth. But I’m directing the aggressive language at myself, or at the game I’m playing. It can be funny – but I’m not tearing anyone down at the same time.

Bringing things back to compassion; people make mistakes – just like my generation did on the playground way back when. I don’t believe people should be hunted, or lose their jobs, or suddenly find the world at their Twitter handle if they do use these words. And besides, these moments are usually followed by a public apology where the issue is highlighted, hopefully making more people aware that their favourite derogatory term maybe isn’t worth holding onto anymore.

At the end of the day, you still have the right to call me anything you want, but when I’m being a dickhead, call me one.

Things I learned before 30

At the end of this year (27th December to be exact), I’m turning 30.

When I tell people this they often want to relay their deepest sympathies, or feign shock; “but you don’t look older than 26!” etc. (By the way, I enjoy this – keep it coming, people.)

Oddly, it’s not the birthday I’m fearing, it’s simply “the end”. My OCD likes to latch onto the smallest seed of dread and replay it in my brain until the echo becomes too much to ignore. Late into the night, my mind calculates my life expectancy and the eventual absence of everything once it’s all over. And it simply started because I one day realised I had reached a level of happiness I hadn’t experienced in years.

I’ve been trying to be better recently at taking in my surroundings, enjoying seeing the world as part of my job, and – perhaps my age is a factor in this – I’ve become far more aware of my environment. Instead of inwards thinking, I’ve moved towards the opposite, and the idea of losing it is terrifying.

It turns out that the hardest part of being a freelance host is the downtime – I love working, I love being busy. Suddenly at home in an empty house, while friends work towards the weekend, I find myself thinking too much.

But I was always a self-starter – and so now I need to kick myself into touch and make something of my time off; be it heading into the outside world, streaming, podcasting and writing.

So let’s reflect on the good stuff; here are some of the life lessons – frivolous or otherwise – that I’ve learned so far.

WORK

Girls are natural born leaders, but we’re told to be quiet and commonly called “bossy” as a negative trait as soon as we start speaking. This often follows us through our teenage years and even into the workplace. After being bullied for years at my primary school, I took the 11 Plus exam and ended up going to a totally different school from everyone else bar one girl, and found my voice. I’ve lost it again in previous workplaces, but I’ve found it again in the past year or so and it’s incredibly freeing.

Losing a job doesn’t mean losing everything. Admittedly the biggest heartbreaks I’ve experienced have been from work rather than relationships. I’m absolutely someone who throws themselves into work – especially given that it takes up so many hours of the day. However, just because you didn’t “fit” somewhere, or there wasn’t a perceived need for your area of expertise, there’s a place for you and people who will love you and your work.

age 21
I’m 21 in this photo. It would be another five years before my fringe made its debut.

If you want to do something, do it. So, if you want to be a writer, write a blog – practice and publish. In this day and age, there’s no reason why not. If you want to be an esports caster, cast your friends playing a competitive match or watch out for events that allow you to “co-stream” tournaments with your own commentary. Although my break into hosting was through standing in for people onstage when I was a producer, I also made my own video content for years and got practice through interviewing people, so when I did stand in, it wasn’t obvious I was new to being onstage in that kind of environment.

Endings can make the best starting points. Work hard, and be good to those you work with and it’ll pay off when you really need it to.

That said… If someone isn’t nice to you, you don’t have to be nice back. It’s not unprofessional to not pander to someone who is making your life and your job difficult. Be firm, and stay focused on your own lane. And make sure you share your experience of this behaviour with someone you trust, so you know someone has your back when the going gets tough.

Focus on your strengths. Don’t worry so much about “weaknesses” – collaborate with others and delegate according to each others’ strengths. Team work makes the dream work, after all.

LIFE

When I was younger, all I wanted was a place of my own. I managed it – buying a shared ownership place in Bow when I was 23, with savings and by selling some shares my late granddad had left to me and my sister.

However, in the process I sacrificed freedom to move; I could not leave my place for long periods of time or take risks in work. But the same time, I loved living by myself – with subsidised rent I wasn’t paying any more than any of my other friends in London; I could play guitar, bake without feeling guilty about taking up space and exercise freely.

Frankie holds cupcakes
The results of baking in my first proper home

Being a single woman in a city like has its disadvantages. Pre-Uber I’d want to get the night bus home but I’d also be terrified of walking late at night on my own. I armed myself with door keys and occasionally ran part of the way on the nights I did “risk it”. One time, I even went into the MacDonalds at Bow Roundabout and stuffed my valuables in my bra before I took the 4am trek.

I look back now on my fervent savings and my fear of the dark and wonder how much I missed on my “responsibility-free 20s”. (It’s probably why I rarely miss an after party these days.)

Exercise is a tough habit to form, but feels awful to break. Although I did some ballroom dancing classes at uni, I didn’t really have a routine as such. Several years ago I discovered Davina McCall DVDs and got hooked. I do associate my thinnest periods with my saddest – nightly solo DVD workouts followed by a lonely microwaved fish fillet in Willesden Green is apparently an incredibly fast way to lose weight (do NOT see this as a recommendation) – but I’m bereft without my near-daily sessions of Fitness Blender or Yoga with Adriene videos on YouTube. Exercise puts me in control of my body, and gives me energy; dumbbells have made me feel powerful, and public classes have pushed me to give it my all.

When you lose a friend, they’re never truly “gone”. My friend Ben passed away just over a year ago. I’d never experienced the death of someone so young before, or so unexpectedly. Without him, life continues, but when those milestones – weddings, christenings and the like – arrive, we raise a glass to our absent friend, and in the day-to-day we see him in the most ridiculous of observations.

My older sister recently gave birth to her first child. My impatient niece arrived a month too early while I was in the middle of a production meeting about the Overwatch World Cup. I finally got to meet her a couple of weeks later and, while it was lovely to finally see the new arrival, I was also very much overcome with just how incredible my sister is – I’ve never been prouder of anyone my entire life.

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bq2ByxIBzvx/

WOMEN

It appears to be a horribly unfair reality that a lone woman in a workgroup of men will represent “all women”. Whereas if there is more than one woman, then they will be pitched against one another. When I appear onstage or play games online I always have that lurking within my subconscious. However, I also use it to drive me forward; if you want to place me on that “all women” pedestal, I’m going to show that women can absolutely knock this out of the park.

Women are also pitched against each other in contemporary updates of the “whore/madonna” parallel. I can hardly see my friends’ posts on Twitter for a sea of dirge – boys (and sometimes grown men) projecting their fears via critiques of how women present themselves. Notice that they don’t critique how other men are appearing on stream.

LOVE

It’s very easy to give up part of your life to accommodate your partner’s. It’s not even always your partner’s fault – women in particular will make the effort on entering their other half’s life and feel guilty about asking their partner to reciprocate the effort. Don’t lay your identity down for anyone. After years of automatically doing this, I had the most “selfish” year of my life, spending long weeks (often consecutively) away from home – and it turned out my boyfriend just wanted what would make me happy. And when he was offered a three-month theatre tour, I supported him back.

If you start to feel like a shadow of your former self, leave. Even if you’ve got a mini break to Venice booked and you know for a fact he’s already bought you a Christmas present.

Just cos your mate fancies him, doesn’t mean you have to fancy someone else.

Jealousy is natural. Making someone change the way they behave because you don’t trust them isn’t. If you can’t get past that sinking feeling, maybe they’re not “the one”.

Nan knows best. Or at least she does in my case – she decided my boyfriend was a catch when they first met six weeks into what became a long-term relationship. Although explaining you met on Tinder to someone close to 90 is quite the challenge.

Dating apps aren’t bad, but they get repetitive. Although I’ve not used Tinder for close to four years now, I lost count of the number of profiles that featured men skiing, surfing or in groups where you couldn’t determine who the eligible bloke was. Sometimes profiles were solely comprised of the latter. I have only met one man who I couldn’t impose my Tinder profile feedback on (I’ll admit, I’m terribly nosy on this front).

Arguing doesn’t mean you’re going to break up – just don’t be stubborn and talk it through. If both sides aren’t out there, it’s going to be hard to move forward.

If someone doesn’t like you, that says more about them than it does you. That goes for all aspects of life.

I realised recently that my boyfriend is my best friend. It’s quite helpful as we share many things (including moisturiser, inventing our own catchphrases and doing impressions of Tom Hardy in the vastly overrated BBC drama Taboo), but if anyone wants to know our “secret”, I think our relationship works because we’re privileged enough to be able to afford a cleaner.

Finally, if you want a damn fringe but your hairdresser won’t give you one, find a stylist who will. Bloomin’ gamechanger. (Although, don’t do DIY highlights on your own… trust me on this one.)