If you haven’t already guessed it, Fast Web Media is pretty invested in esports. We’ve written a free guide for you, predicted the future of esports on television and even helped ensure the social success of the first ESports Industry Awards.
We’re not just mad about esports, though - we’re also mad about Manchester, where we’re born and bred. Combining these two company-wide passions led us to interview Natacha Jones, the president of the University of Manchester Esports Society. An MSci Biology student at the University of Manchester, Natacha Jones, 21, became president of UoM Esports Society in 2016 and is now in her second year of presidency. Her passion for esports led her to take on responsibility for the King of the North Gaming Festival, founded in 2014 by her predecessors.
Speaking to Natacha about everything from what built up her love of esports to her opinion on the more hairy issues that esports experiences, this email interview covers a range of topical subjects to help present you with an independent and experienced view of the industry.
Q: FIRSTLY, WE HAVE TO ASK, WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE GAMES THAT YOU PLAY THE MOST?!
Overwatch (Blizzard Entertainment) is my #1 game at the moment! My career high is reaching Diamond on competitive play, and I man the role of Tank heroes. I don’t only play first-person shooter games, as I play a number of RPGs. The Witcher 3, Morrowind and Pokemon Sapphire are my favourite ever games!
Q: HOW DID YOU ORIGINALLY GET INTO GAMING? WERE YOU EXPOSED TO IT AT AN EARLY AGE, OR DID IT COME ALONG LATER IN LIFE?
I have two older brothers (one 6 years older, the other 8 years older) who started gaming long before me, so I was born into a gaming family. I was brought up playing the “classic” games such as Pokemon, Legend of Zelda and Banjo Kazooie with them.
Q: WHAT LESSONS HAVE YOU TAKEN FROM RUNNING THE ESPORTS SOCIETY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF MANCHESTER?
There is no such thing as being too prepared! Every year I’ve done King of the North, the largest U.K. University Esports tournament run by the University of Manchester Esports Society, I’ve looked back and thought “maybe if we’d started the process just a month earlier…”
The most safe-like wisdom I have ever received was from Rob Mulgan, former committee member of the society, this year: “hindsight is 20/20.” Now, every time I look back at something and think we should have done this, I remember that hindsight is 20/20 and, at that time, I couldn’t have known.
Another thing to bear in mind, particularly when it comes to the esports industry, is things don’t always go to plan. This might be stating the obvious, but it’s always hard not to take failures personally when, the truth is, a lot of things are out of our control.
Q: I READ THAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR GRADUATE JOBS WITH GAMES DEVELOPERS, SUCH AS RIOT GAMES OR BLIZZARD - WHICH RULES! WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO TAKE GAMING IN THE FUTURE?
I want to make esports more inclusive and accessible. I’m really happy that BBC Three is debuting esports, but it’s still just online. I want it to be readily available for everyone to watch on different platforms, in the similar style as other sports. Hopefully, with the reveal that BT Sports will be airing esports, kids will be seeing esports alongside football and tennis, as esports should be equally as available to them as cricket is, for example. The next step would be for BT to take the dive into making esports broadcasted live on its channels, but I expect this will take time.
Q: YOU’VE SET UP A NUMBER OF GAMING EVENTS, WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO RUN A SUCCESSFUL GAMING TOURNAMENT?
A lot of preparation, experience and commitment. In the run up to King of the North this year, I was putting in probably 30 hours a week just thinking, planning and brainstorming ideas with the team. Having a dedicated team that you can delegate tasks to is also important, to make the process more manageable and smooth.
It’s not always about having a large budget - though that obviously helps - it’s what you do with the funds and assets you have. Some of the best experiences for event goers cost nothing at all.
Q: YOU WERE RECENTLY QUOTED IN THE GUARDIAN SAYING, “IT MIGHT BE DAUNTING ENTERING A MALE-DOMINATED SCENE, BUT SEE IT AS AN OPPORTUNITY.” WHAT TYPES OF OPPORTUNITIES CAN WOMEN IN THE INDUSTRY UNLOCK?
In esports, the opportunities for women are the same as what is provided to men, or whatever gender you may identify as. The difference is, these opportunities are often more challenging for us to achieve, particularly as the minority in the industry. Rather than this be negative, I personally see these obstacles as an opportunity to prove myself and would implore of women interested or involved in esports to see it in a similar vain.
Q: SHOULD CURRENT ESPORTS ORGANISATIONS BE DOING MORE TO SET-UP WOMEN’S TEAMS AND ENCOURAGE MORE TO TAKE UP THE SPORT?
I think it’s important that everyone is encouraged to take up esports. It’s unfortunately not just women who are discriminated against in esports - Maria "Remi" Creveling, who briefly played as support for the professional esports organisation Renegades in the NA CS, was heavily discriminated against and verbally abused for being a transgender female.
Organisations shouldn’t be going out and targeting women or LGBTQ+ players specifically just to fill a niche; they should be forming teams of the absolute best players and, in my opinion, not all the best players are CIS, heterosexual males.
Q: WHAT, IF ANYTHING, CAN BE DONE TO HELP CHANGE STEREOTYPES IN ESPORTS?
Altering the stereotypes is not an easy task, and it won’t be solved by making “girl only esports events” or simply advertising events using pictures of girls in crowds. The attitudes towards women in gaming are deeply entrenched, as we have seen with the likes of the #GamerGate crisis. Stereotypes need to be challenged, but this can get exhausting, which is probably why it’s been dormant for so long.
This idea that all gamers are basement-dwelling CIS males can be changed with a better representation in mainstream media. Getting esports into the mainstream is the first step, which is easier said than done, but progress has been made with the likes of BBC Three and BT recognising esports.
Q: WHAT DO YOU THINK MARKETERS ARE GETTING WRONG WHEN REACHING OUT TO ESPORTS AND GAMING AUDIENCES?
One thing I’ve noticed is the incorrect use of Leet and internet speak in articles about esports. For example, BBC3 Tweeted about it’s new esports programming, adding “m8” at the end. It didn’t make any sense in the context of the sentence, and definitely didn’t add any value to the Tweet, which would have been strong enough on its own. Old-time news sources seem to do this, partly because it’s believe to draw in “the youth” and partly to poke fun at the concept of professional gaming.
Gaming audiences aren’t illiterate kids who respond exclusively to dialect from Urban Dictionary - speak to us like you would anyone! The correct way to draw appeal is to get big names in eSports to entice people in - players, public figures and hardware companies are all recognisable and desirable.
Q: WHO IN THE ESPORTS INDUSTRY DO YOU LOOK UP TO AND WHY?
Jacob Harrison, currently an Assistant Product Manager at ESL U.K., was president of the University of Manchester Esports Society during his time at university. Jacob started the legacy of the Esports society at the University of Manchester, which I’m now responsible for! His passion for esports and hard work got him where he is today, so I look up to him.
You can follow the University of Manchester Esports Society on Twitter here @uomesports.