A work-in-progress reflects on TI10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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