There is a photo of me circulating on the forums of Counter-Strike website HLTV – a website I visit daily as it’s a brilliant resource for anyone who works in CSGO.
Whether the photo is actually me is slightly questionable – someone has taken an Instagram photo (embedded below) and has disturbingly scrubbed at my face. The effect is jarring; that’s my face they have tampered with to produce something that isn’t me. But they are saying it is me and there’s nothing I can do about it. Usually that’s not too much of a problem – it’s the HLTV forums, after all – but then someone on Twitter sent me a new thread where the comments are sexually graphic, inspired by this photo, and the lack of agency bothered me.
As my follower count has grown on Instagram, so has the complexity of my relationship with the platform and how I feel about what I post there. These days it’s just my face, face, face, face, photo of me with a horse/dog/miscellaneous animal, face, photo with a pro player, face (and repeat).
Full disclosure – I love a filter; professionally taken photos will commonly have colour balance and exposure levels adjusted, so I don’t have an issue popping a filter on. I don’t tend to use filters at full whack, but adjust as needed. The most doctoring comes in Instagram stories, where the “one-swipe-to-the-right” filter Paris gives me more confidence in posting no-makeup selfies or videos (I never go to shows with makeup on as a professional is going to sort me out once I arrive). It’s a personal choice to use apps like FaceTune, and that’s not a choice I make.
Yesterday I posted a photo after filming was done for the day and a user requested an “OG” photo. When I asked them to clarify they said “og means original photos, i. e. without any makeup, natural”.
To me, the phrase “original photo” actually implies “without any filter” (given the request this user may very well have come across from the HLTV forums), and so in the interests of transparency and this blog post, I’m happy to feature both the Instagram post and the unfiltered photo below.
You can see the filter I’ve used has brightened up my face, masking some of the tiredness I refer to in the photo caption (also some of the mascara has started to smudge, so the extra exposure has eliminated some of the greyness). Like many photos I’ve posted, I’m using natural light by my window – I’d recommend this to fellow selfie-takers; windows are your friends!
As far as I’m concerned, this is my face. If you have a problem with the idea of me wearing makeup, that’s your problem, and not mine.
Certain things perform well on Instagram; behind-the-scenes photos can do well, but only if I’m prominent in the photo. Professional shots aren’t typically as popular as selfies. Close-ups inspire more comments than full-length. And understandably, if I’m in my show clothes and make-up, I get more of a reaction. My 92% male following have predominantly followed me after seeing my work in esports, so it makes sense. Unless it’s a very popular player, images of me featuring another person – especially a man – do not attract likes.
The makeup-free selfies I post aren’t hugely popular and often aren’t related to shows, so there isn’t too much need to post them, but I assure you they exist. Look! Here’s two totally unedited shots taken in different lights from today. (In other lights I’ll look totally different, I’m sure.)
In front of – yep, you guessed it – a window
Taken in the bathroom with no natural light
Right now I’m working back-to-back shows, and have visited five continents in the space of six weeks. I am knackered and have a tendency to look it, and what given that I know what works on my Instagram account, I’m not going to post photos like these there.
No makeup is associated with my days off, when I have privacy and play games offline or catch-up on Netflix. Or visit Aldi, or the dentist. The online world isn’t entitled to see that face, no more than they are entitled to doctor photos and pretend it’s me.
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 hauloften. 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).
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…
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.
The following post contains spoilers for the Wonder Woman and Captain Marvelfilms – you have been warned…
Last week was all about getting stuff done; because I travel a lot for events, surrendering my passport to get visas could mean missing out on work. It was suggested to me by someone recently (most likely Paul “ReDeYe” Challoner) that I should apply for a second passport.
With just over a week in the UK before heading off to São Paulo for BLAST Pro Series, I made like a woman on a mission, and got my legal eagle mate to certify some mug shots, filled in a form and booked a pricey premium appointment. (By the way, it turns out not all Post Offices have photobooths anymore… or the forms required for apassport – and those forms don’t actually have a space for second passport, but you still need one as it can’t be done online… I digress; I found a form at the fourth Post Office branch I visited thanks to Stephen on the PO Twitter account.)
Passport interview complete, I needed to get more clothes for the stretch of events I have coming up (and I can’t tell you what they are but travelling and video games are involved), and for once in my life, I had four hours to kill.
“BINGO!” I did not exclaim out loud outside Victoria station – “I shall trundle to the cinema”. Given the crossover between the comic book industry and video games (I’m currently OBSESSED with Insomniac Games’ Spider-man and have finally caught all 12 of those blasted pigeons), I felt like it was the responsible thing to go and see Captain Marvel.
12pm is a glorious time to go to a screening; myself, a heavily pregnant lady and five guys settled into the Curzon Victoria to watch Captain Marvel. I’d heard mixed things about the origin story, but also knew this would be essential viewing before Avengers: Endgame comes and shows us that the most obvious theories about how Thanos’ defeat were bang on the money. Being the Curzon, I bought a coffee in a cup with a genuine saucer and made sure that the food I snuck in was 100% pure M&S.
And the film? Well I loved it – it wasn’t perfect; but I also recognised that the climax of the film wasn’t Carol Danvers’ (Brie Larson) protecting the world from being blasted by alien missiles, but discovering that Jude Law’s Skree captain Yon-Rogg’s has been limiting her power, rather than being the person who bestowed it upon her. His idea of emotion as a weakness, trying to manipulate her into his preferred form of combat leads to his comeuppance. The moral of Danvers’ story personifies what can happen when you rebel against the mould the patriarchy has set for you; you become limitless.
“I don’t need your approval” (Carol Danvers)
And yes, I’m the target audience, so this film genuinely spoke to me – I loved Larson’s strong, witty performance. She doesn’t overplay the humour, but infuses it into Danvers’ personality and actions. Seeing her imperfectly beat the bad guys as she comes to terms with her new abilities shows her humanity – even if the pace of her saving humanity is a little too swift for it to be fully satisfying.
One Twitter follower told me that Danvers is too powerful – that in the comics, “even Thor was stronger”. And while I do see critiques of Danvers’ crazy powers as valid – surely she’s basically unbeatable now – I don’t see the point in comparison. And talking of comparisons…
The nature of having so few lead female roles in superhero movies of course leads to comparisons – as a lack of female representation leads to comparisons in the media generally. And so apparently, just like Marvel vs DC, you have to take sides in the war of Wonder Woman or Captain Marvel.
As previously discussed, Carol Danvers is a human hero, despite bleeding blue and you know, being able to fly, breathe in space and shoot flame-like energy waves from her fists. Prior to her transformation, we saw her talents were being wasted due to the US Air Forces not allowing women in combat in the early nineties (when the movie is set). She has been pitted against men her entire life, and struggled with those expectations. Finally freed from needing to meet Yon-Rogg’s expectations, she essentially becomes the most powerful being in the universe.
Wonder Woman’s Amazonian warrior Diana, on the other hand, has grown up in a world free of this mould. As such, she is already powerful – and because she has never been told her voice is less valued, she makes an instinctive leader on the battlefield; something that had me mentally cheering in the cinema for. She’s big on death-defying drops, deflecting bullets and lassoing her enemies; markedly different abilities from Captain Marvel. And of course, her world is turned upside down when men invade it – but their presence does not lead her to question her own strength.
Diana and Danvers both want justice; Diana seeks vengeance for her people, while Danvers seeks a home for the people she has ignorantly hunted as part of the Skree forces. And in both women, emotion provides a foundation for their instincts. Their capacity for love and compassion is at the core of their powers. They represent hope for humanity and lead me to question why we don’t see more female heroes celebrated in the real world, when seeing one onscreen feels so right.
Despite the aforementioned similarities, both heroes strike me as being different – their origin stories strikingly so, and yet it feels like we must pick a side; perhaps the one thing harder than being the first woman to breakthrough is to be the second; to follow in the footsteps and bear the expectations established by one’s predecessor. I’m seeing few direct comparisons to other movies in the MCU or DC universes, and that’s disappointing. This is a superhero movie; “female superhero movie” is not a genre. I’ve also seen criticism of Captain Marvel as lacking characterisation, when what I saw in the movie was a character who had energy, compassion, strength and believable motives. I totally understood her friendship with Maria, and Maria’s daughter “Captain Trouble”.
Wonder Woman meant a lot to me because I was willing the film to succeed – to break the disappointing DC streak of movies and to show female superheroes can make bank at the box office – and it did. I cried multiple times in that film as I realised how good it was, and how flippin’ fabulous Diana (Gal Gadot) is .
Captain Marvel, with Danvers’ relatable story, meant even more on a personal level; why fight on someone else’s strengths, when I have my own? To quote Danvers herself; “I don’t need your approval”.
When my niece is old enough, I’ll beg my sister for babysitting duties and I’ll show her both – and tell her how these two superheroes led the way for more women to follow – because these two characters from different universes compliment each other and I can’t wait to see more outings from them in future.
It also happens to be International Women’s Day while I’m here – a public holiday in Germany – so I wanted to take the opportunity and say thank you to my fellow women in esports and gaming. Some I’m lucky to call friends – and all of them are inspiring.
I first discovered how utterly brilliant women in this industry are working on the League of Legends World’s coverage back in 2015 (sorry, yes I know I mention this quite a lot). Julia Hardy was presenting online videos, including interviews with the players, and as we roamed around Wembley Arena, she introduced me to Becca Henry and Kirsty Endfield who were working with Riot at the time – Henry is now VP of Communications for Misfits, while Endfield runs her own gaming PR agency, Swipe Right PR. We also walked past Eefje “Sjokz” Depoortere, who was hosting the show, and Julia explained just how much Depoortere was (and still is) loved and respected by the LoL community.
When I moved from the BBC to Twitch, Brit Weisman was always there to show me how to slay at work, leading by example on the Twitch Studios team – I miss putting the world to rights with her over frequent Google Hangout meetings. She gave me courage in my convictions and still has my back. One of the other highlights of being at gaming expos is being able to catch up with Twitch Marketing Managers Kelsey Christou and Caroline Westberg – I have no idea how they run massive projects, whilst also managing incessant requests for Twitch party wristbands… I also had the opportunity to work alongside producer and zombie slayer Mary Kish and Nadja Otikor – the latter of whom taught me about “keeping my poops in a group”. I also met one of my favourite people in the entire world, publicist Rochelle Snyder, while working on a PUBG-focused documentary (which Mary also helped to produce on location at the Game Awards in LA).
From initially working with the ESL UK team as a Twitch producer, to working for them as a host, I’ve witnessed Caroline Oakes go from taking care of the business side of things, to front of camera as an esports host for events like the ESL UK Premiership – she’s recently joined PCGamesN as a full-time presenter.
While at Twitch I also worked with Anna Robinson – one of the best public speakers I’ve ever witnessed – and started to meet esports hosts like Rachel “Seltzer” Quirico (who can turn her hand to any esport) and Kelly Link, whose positive energy radiates onstage. Kelly was one of the first people to tell me she thought I could be a good host – I’ve never forgotten it.
Producing one of my first event stages for Twitch gave me the opportunity to work with Soe Gschwind-Penski – who I’d go on to team up with at the Overwatch World Cup at Blizzcon 2018 (along with Emily Tang, Mica Burton and Fiona Nova) and is, quite frankly, and icon for young esports fans around the world, and Marcelle “Nysira” de Bie, who is finding deserved success with her own motoring show in her native Netherlands. The following year I’d end up loving Paola “Pancakepow” Alejandra‘s energy on the Twitch x gamescom 2018 stage, as I booked her alongside the multi-talented ShannaNina.
After I was booked for the DreamHack Austin PUBG Showdown last year and the standard talent WhatsApp group was setup, Lauren “Pansy” Scott was the first to welcome me on board. At the afterparty, I got to properly meet Sue “Smix” Lee for the first time, as producer Dagny Veinberg bought us a round of the largest shots I have ever seen. (No regrets, Dagny.)
It was a month later that I finally met Sjokz in person – grabbing the lift to the dressing room at the Mercedes-Benz arena at PGI Berlin, she ran up to the lift just to tell me she thought I was doing a great job. We’ve kept in touch ever since (and I shall lobby for her to host every Esports Awards henceforth so we can have more nights out in London). Having her seal of approval means everything as she’s an inspiration for pretty much every host in the biz – and I really hope we get to appear at the same event in future.(Tournament organisers, that is definitely a hint.)
Awards shows are great places to actually meet other women in the industry – at the Esports Awards I first met regular LEC interviewer Laure Valée, while the Stockholm International Esport Awards was where I initially encountered League analyst Froskurinn – who I’ll be working with this weekend.
Something I observed at IEM was the constant comments on Reddit and HLTV that were desperate to complain and compare me to other women in my field. The thing that no one seemed to observed is that we were all there! Smix hosted the Starcraft II finals – including a beautiful winner’s interview, and Freya Spiers brought her trademark class and knowledge to the Intel Challenge stage. Other women rocking it in Katowice were Sheever (when does she ever give less than 110%?) reporting for Dota 2, and Lottie Van-Praag curating Miss Harvey and Potter on the Intel Challenge desk. To my delight, I was lucky enough to bump into Ukrainian StarLadder host Tonya Predko backstage as she filmed with Na’Vi, and I got to catch-up behind-the-scenes with ESL UK member Kat, ESL Junior Product Manager Sabrina, ESL Poland Product Manager Marlena and ESL UK’s Head of Communications Heather “Naysayerz” Dower. (There are a HUGE number of women working behind-the-scenes in esports.)
This year I’m going to try and work harder on featuring women on my interview series My Life in Pixels – so far we’ve had Ray Gaskin – who has since left Red Bull to head up esports at Right Formula, Rochelle Snyder, my infamously hardworking host and cosplaying friend Tabitha “Artyfakes” Lyons, Women of Esports founder and journalist Saira Mueller, and Lottie Van Praag. You can listen to the podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or find episodes for Android devices at acast.com/getfrank. I also need to get Sam “Tech Girl” Wright involved in a future episode – she’s a prominent host and caster from South Africa you may know from Overwatch Contenders Europe and CS:GO. Oh and Marissa Roberto – who is one of Canada’s most prominent voices in esports.
Despite the fact that there appears to be an infinite number of talented women in this industry, there is still a very vocal portion of the esports community who appear resistant to our existence. They overlook our resilience and focus on rating our looks, rejecting us not for our work ethic, but on their personal ideals. And I won’t deny that I want to look presentable on camera – that’s an element of the job – but I’m never intending to distract from the work I am actually doing; none of us are. Instead a mob mentality can ensue – kids behind keyboards bond by uniting in their angst at our involvement.
Laure Valée recently gave a very interesting, heartfelt interview to the Shotcaller YouTube channel at the LEC studios on this topic, revealing how the horrendous comments she had aimed at her during her time so far on the show had kept her awake at night and shattered her confidence. A few weeks earlier, in an eye-opening episode of the LEC podcast EUphoria, Sjokz and Froskurinn also discussed the treatment of women by esports viewers.
Both of these interviews struck a chord with me – hearing a community question my abilities (often before they’ve even seen me on a broadcast) has led me to various confidence problems in the past. Visiting HLTV during the IEM Katowice Major became a nightmare as I’d see negative forum posts about me pulled onto the front page as I checked out the latest headlines, while Reddit featured commenters calling me unprofessional (even before I made a joke of nicking a bit of pizza in the final week, which led to intense vitriol). As someone who puts the necessary hours of prep in, never misses their call time and treats production with the respect they deserve, it was comments like these that particularly struck a chord.
Something I’ve found at previous events is that I’ll go out of my way to prove my knowledge, when often my job is usually to ask questions – I don’t need to provide the information, I need to know how to find it. That’s not to say I don’t have insight, but it does mean I shouldn’t fret about what people think of me; my feedback should come from production and my peers, not people who aren’t on my team or paying my invoices. As that’s how jobs usually work, I’m going to apply it to my own occupation going forward; I think it’ll help with my performance in the long run.
It’s a hard thing to improve and grow in a role that is so public, and I am very grateful for the positivity that has been sent my way – from the women I’ve mentioned above, to the people who send me tweets to say they enjoyed my involvement in events such as IEM. This year, I hope I can support these women back – we’re stronger together, and this industry is stronger for having us in it.
LEC Week 8 kicks off on Friday March 8th at 5:30pm CET, and concludes at 4:30pm on Saturday 9th March Riot Games’ Twitch channel.
Don’t be fooled by the title of this blog; I don’t have the answers or the ultimate advice for the perfect interview. In fact, the “perfect” interview surely doesn’t exist.
I say this, because not everyone will enjoy an interviewer’s style. Luckily, that’s something I am aware of – especially when my work is predominantly on Twitch, where feedback is instantaneous with the live broadcast.
Interviewing is a role that leaves you vulnerable due to its unpredictable nature; will your interviewee take kindly to your questions? Will they be able to articulate their thoughts under the pressure of performance and environment? Do they even want to speak at all?
The CS:GO Major at IEM Katowice is my only my second time delivering CS:GO interviews (the first occasion was at StarSeries 6 in Ukraine in October of last year). Usually I try and pre-interview teams – even if I’m in a desk hosting role – and there are a multitude of reasons for this, including finding out the story a team wants to be told, their English language skills, and to also find out how best to interact with different players on camera. There are multiple players at the Major (particularly in the Challenger stage) who have never been interviewed before – therefore my responsibility is to guide them more carefully on camera into representing themselves as they would want to. And in terms of even the more experienced players, if we’ve not spoken on camera before, I need to establish a sense of trust.
My aim is to ask fair questions – and yes, if a team is having terrible T-sides, despite being seen as a top five team, then it is fair to ask them why. If I ask a player an open question (ie. a question without a binary yes/no answer), and they give me a one-word response, I will more than likely enquire further. And if I do ask a closed question, it’s usually to cut quickly to a point that I want to expand on, or (more often than likely) a sharp way to end an interview before throwing to the desk.
Talking to players in the moment before the camera tally light blinks red is also essential; when Ninjas in Pyjamas’ Christopher “GeT_RiGhT” Alesund spoke to me after their first victory at the Challengers stage, he seemed subdued so I began the interview by asking about the reasoning behind his mixed emotions. Given that I’m often trying to capture the feelings of a player (the plays themselves can be broken down by the analyst desk, so my focus is usually exploring the emotive state of the teams and how this impacts how they played), being able to open an interview by asking them to share what’s on their mind is a way to then lead into what actually happened on the server; did a misbuy in what would otherwise have been an eco-round happen because the team had a disagreement or lost confidence? Is group resilience something the team need to work on before their next match?
The fantastic opportunity of the Major extends beyond the fact that it’s the freakin’ Major; three weeks of intensive CS:GO (eight Bo1 matches in a day can mean twice as many interviews where time allows for pre-match interrogations) offers the opportunity for development. I’m very fortunate that CARMAC – aka ESL’s king of the Intel Extreme Masters events – gave me invaluable feedback over the first couple of days about how to make my interviews more dynamic; when I watched back footage I saw my energy was lower than normal when trying to speak slowly for non-native English speakers, and my questions sometimes had too much preamble. (Oh, and I was stood so far away from players that my left arm got a microphone-based workout!) Now I try to keep things to the point where I can, and actively listen for points that I can explore further – something I was fortunate to learn about in BBC interviewing training way back in my BBC Blast Arts Reporter days.
Something that’s new to me for this event is working more closely with the desk to generate talking points in my player interviews. We discuss topics that they want to explore in their analysis during matches, and I can then hunt for that info when talking with my subject. I always listen to commentary too – casters will know the game inside out and will call out successes and problems I can then question teams about after the game concludes – or cross-reference with notes from previous games to detect patterns in teams’ play styles and recurring issues.
I’m also getting to grips with doing interviews between maps – stage manager Oli will do his best to grab a player or coach from one of the teams after the conclusion of a game so we can discuss what has happened so far in the series, and look ahead to the next map. These questions are almost entirely gameplay focused, which leaves the end interview to allow players to reflect more on the bigger picture (ie their “journey” in the tournament and their ambitions). It’s one of my development areas for the remainder of the event – especially as I need to learn to guide the thoughts of players who are overwhelmed by their achievements (imagine making the playoffs of a Major for the first time – you’d be speechless too!) – but it’s also exciting to be very much involved in telling teams’ stories as they unfold.
Tomorrow, I start my role as a reporter at the Intel Extreme Masters Katowice Major.
This will be the biggest esports event I’ve ever been part of. When I found out I had been booked, I was genuinely emotional; it’s less than a year since I decided to see if I could make full-time hosting work, and I never imagined people would be so welcoming. I’ve been given brilliant opportunities thus far, and do my best to work hard and justify people’s decisions to hire me.
I don’t think I’m hired solely because I’m a woman – and I definitely feel like I’ve proved myself as an asset to a broadcast line-up – but if I am, it doesn’t mean I’m going to do a bad job. And maybe, seeing my face in a line-up will encourage other women to aspire to be onscreen too.
That’s why it can be disappointing to see comments from people who don’t know who I am deciding that I’m just there to fill a quota, and that there’s no need to look at the reasons beyond that. Especially as there’s an awareness as a woman in this business that your performance could affect how other women are viewed; you’re not just representing yourself. So you work extra hard, because there’s an extra layer of responsibility.
Also, to be perfectly honest, it’s simply a lazy attempt at scoring points on social media to just post that, because you don’t know who I am (and I don’t expect you to), that I’m not capable of doing the job I’ve been hired for. (There’s a handful of last year’s credits on my agency’s website if you’re really concerned.) I can only win you over if you’re open to it.
The great news is, when I’m asked the common question “what’s it like being a woman in esports?” I get to speak highly of my colleagues and folks in this industry who have never made a thing about my gender, and have invited me to be part of their shows; I don’t get treated differently because of being female. And, when it comes down to it, tournament organisers are the ones who pay me, not Twitch Chat.
And so to tomorrow – I’ve researched as best as I can, and I’m hoping the nerves will help rather than hinder. To everyone who has believed in me, thank you. I’ll do my best not to let you down.
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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In this episode, I chat to one of esports’ most in-demand hosts and casters, Alex “Goldenboy” Mendez. Initially starting out with his sights on being a pro player, Alex talks about the event that set him on his path as a caster, and his future role on primetime NBC entertainment show The Titan Games, alongside Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.