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On being a woman in esports

(Image credit: Future)

I spent much of last year alone. Staring up at the ceiling of foreign bedrooms, willing myself to sleep. Sat in green rooms unable to share how I was really feeling. In friendship circles at home, a world far removed from the airport-hotel-arena esports cycle I spent much of the year embroiled in.

Moving into a very visible role in esports as a woman, I was aware it would be tough, but I worked hard and earned the jobs. One thing I didn’t account for, however, was the loneliness.

Frank talk

(Image credit: PUBG Corp)

When not hosting esports events, or our own PC Gaming Show, Frankie can be found streaming on her own channel, where she plays a mix of CS:GO, Just Dance, PUBG, and recently Valorant. You can find her at  twitch.tv/frankie.

If someone I vaguely knew slid into the messages on my phone and said something that was unnervingly flirty I would laugh them off (“Ha!”) for fear of alienating a connection I might require later, and to prevent finding myself on the wrong end of a subtweet or industry rumour. I sought to cease any conflicts by settling anything bordering on a dispute off social media. When a producer called me a “pain in the ass” at an afterparty after a stressful week of lacking production details I needed to do the best job possible, I walked back to my hotel with a friend, wondering if I would ever be invited to work with them again, as opposed to thinking whether I should. 

When the CEO of an esports org insisted I fly out to meet them for a face-to-face meeting, and rejected my requests for an initial remote call instead, I should have declined to work with them there and then, especially when they were determined to talk via DMs rather than business email. When they sent some Instagram DMs about my appearance in a couple of stories, I should have set them straight. But I didn’t. Instead I gave them an idea I had been wanting to develop for years and spent two uncomfortable days filming it. Unsurprisingly, the project was doomed from the start.

While I have spoken up online about problematic language, the audience perception of women in esports broadcasting roles and my own experiences of growing up, I worry if I could have done more behind the scenes. When you are the only woman on a talent line-up, as is often the case at the events I host, you have to pick your battles for fear of losing a war you didn’t ask for. Simply by being who you are, you represent "the future", a new, distinctively different face sat next to the established ones on a talent announcement post. You are the reason a man did not get the job.

Putting it bluntly; in that role you could not fuck with me. If you did, you would not appear on a Twitch stage again.

I came into the gaming industry in a position of power. As a producer at Twitch, the most trouble I encountered was having a (now former) staff member look at a presentation for a show I was planning featuring four male and four female Twitch partners and tell me there were "too many women" in the line-up. As someone who worked very closely with Twitch Partners in the UK, the most difficult thing for me was narrowing the names of those four women down, not finding them in the first place. Later that year, my first annual review explained; “Frankie works hard for equality and, while this trait is admirable, she needs to understand that we should always hire the best person for the job”.

Putting it bluntly; in that role you could not fuck with me. If you did, you would not appear on a Twitch stage again. Internally however, that aforementioned member of staff did everything he could to block me from meetings about the event stages I was producing. He needed to minimise my power. He very nearly succeeded.

As a freelance host, I have more visibility, but I am also competing for jobs. No matter how good a job I do, a tournament organiser does not have to hire me again. Multiple event contracts are rare, but hugely desirable, given the work-life balance they provide – booking holidays is a minefield I do not trespass in for fear of missing an important job. If I am seen to be difficult, a diva or disliked by my peers, I’m out. And so I lie awake in my hotel room at night, not thinking about how well I did on camera that day, but how I was behind the scenes; did I make a joke no one understood? Was I too firm in saying I needed something? Should I have said anything at all?

An industry peer once said in an interview that I “make interviews about myself”, for me reflecting that the very nature of my on-camera personality is always under scrutiny. I wonder if you took a transcript of my interviews and looked at the content, rather than my presence on camera, whether the opinion would still hold weight. I love and have fun with my job, but in the last year I have developed a fear of going on camera under-prepared, for fear of providing ammo to the faceless voices who do not want me there.

(Image credit: Frankie Ward)

I finally decided to leave my agency and look after my own affairs. I had made, found and earned my work. It was time for me to take more control of it.

A few weeks ago, after feeling unnerved about my roles being discussed by men without my input or visibility, I finally decided to leave my agency and look after my own affairs. I had made, found and earned my work. It was time for me to take more control of it. While I may sign with an agency again in future, I’ve decided to represent myself for the time being and see how it goes.

In Counter-Strike, my primary esports scene, I have never experienced sexual harassment. This week I lay awake in the comfort of my own bed thinking of others in the industry and the trauma they have experienced. Wondering how we stop this. Thinking I am lucky, when luck should not come into this.

At times I am aware I have disrupted the balance—when you’re a woman and you choose to write about why you believe you were hired for your ability over your femininity—you raise eyebrows and rock some boats. But the water is calm now. Under lockdown, despite the distance from my work, I have become closer to my crew. They are not just colleagues, they are friends.

So now I have to be at peace with the fact that my views may make some feel uncomfortable at times, but that does not mean I am wrong to express them. By the very nature of being a women onscreen in esports, my presence is political. Every time I get a message from a girl or a woman who says they like the work I do, I’m determined to stick around.

This article originally appeared on getfrank.co.uk and is republished here with permission