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SYFY WIRE Interviews

Women of esports: Nancy Chou, Associate Esports Product Manager, BlizzCon

By Jenna Busch
nancy chou-blizzard

In our continuing series on the women of esports, we spoke with Nancy Chou, associate esports product manager for BlizzCon, Blizzard's convention.

She told us all about gearing up for one of the biggest video game events of the year, how she got into the industry, and changes in esports over the years.

Tell us a little bit about what your job entails.

I'm one of the product managers on the esport team at Blizzard. My primary focus is BlizzCon. So essentially what that means is, BlizzCon is such a huge event. So I am the connective tissue within the esport team as well as an extra link to other departments as well as the many vendors that we work with. Because there is so much going on, it really takes a lot of work to make sure there is a lot of collaboration and alignment and, ultimately, I drive the success of our esports programs at BlizzCon and champion the needs of the esports program as we go through the year.

So how did you get into this job?

My story actually did start when I was younger. I fell in love with gaming when I was younger. One of my first PC games was actually the original Diablo. It still is one of my favorite games. I used to fight over the one computer in the house with my brother just to play it. But to be completely frank, I didn't realize that being in gaming was a career path I could take when I was younger. So, as time went on, I think I kind of just still loved games, but I ended up being a dental hygienist. I graduated college with a degree in that, and I did that for about 10 years. As much as it was interesting to be in that field, the more I went through it the more I realized I didn't want to do that forever, so I started to look to see what else was out there and, in the meantime, I have a huge love for dogs, actually. In fact, my dog might or might not be in the room right now. Blizzard is awesome like that. So, since I had a love for dogs, I didn't know what I wanted to do or where I wanted to be, so I decided, hey, I love animals, I want to contribute to animal shelters. So I started to look into, how do I do that? So I thought, I'm going to look into how to import and export dog bandanas, I'll sell those and donate a percentage to a dog rescue.

I did that for a little bit. Self-taught. It was really an interesting exercise of how to do that. As more time went on, I thought, okay, I need to really figure out ... I can't do this forever. I remembered Blizzard, and I had a few friends who worked there. I was kind of poking around, and ultimately at the end of day a job popped up in customer products, which was a perfect kind of mesh between my love for Blizzard games and my knowledge of consumer products, and so that's how I landed a job at Blizzard initially.

From there, one of the last programs I actually worked on was on the Overwatch League, and I was one of the individuals who helped create the merch for Season 1, and so the natural progression, I ended up where I am today on the esport team and working specifically, like I said, on BlizzCon.

Tell us a little bit about the day to day, what it's like on season, off season, and on the big days.

My day to day is really different. There aren't any two days that are the same. I can start with ... Yeah, there are the parts that are not as glamorous, like the emails and meetings, but it's all necessary because so much of my position is communication and collaboration, and just making sure that everyone is on the same page.

But the most exciting day for me, really is, day one of BlizzCon. This year was awesome for me, obviously, it was really unique. I've been to 10 BlizzCons. Three as an employee, and this was my first one as one of the BlizzCon leads, which was awesome. And I remember just standing out there, looking at the crowds. ... We had woken up early that morning, we had our morning meeting with all of the teams, the energy was amazing with all of Blizzard. Because this is an all-Blizzard event. All of us work the event, and we all love it so much. And as soon as those doors open with the rush of people that come in, it was just really exciting to see. Because frankly, we're all just really excited to show what we've been working on all year.

So yeah, I would say the best day for BlizzCon for me is the first day.

I saw a tweet that you posted about being female and choosing to play and keep going, and I just thought it was really cool. I'd love to hear your thoughts about women in esports, and women in the industry in general.

Absolutely. So, you know, when it comes to ... I'll just start with esports first. Esports, I didn't realize this was an industry, I don't think it was really a huge industry 10 years ago, and as time went on ... I've been a gamer all of my life, so I have had positive experiences, and obviously not-so-ideal experiences as well, but when it comes to women in esports, I feel like there is definitely a growth.

On my esports team, I work alongside some amazingly talented, strong women, and I'm so honored to be a part of that. I definitely feel like, even if there are gaps to fill, that creates an opportunity for us to make it a more diverse environment moving forward. So I definitely think the outlook is positive.

What are your thoughts on the sort of changing face [of esports], because we are starting to see more women involved in all sides of this, not just as players.

Yeah, definitely. When it comes to esports, a lot of people really think of just the public face, and like you said, the pro players, or maybe influencers, or shoutcasters ... But there are a lot of others within the esports industry that may or may not be noticed. They may be behind the scenes. And I do think maybe I am one of those, and there are quite a number of women in those positions. At the end of the day, though, I think it's just making sure that people are aware that those positions are even open and available. The esports industry is continuing to change, so it will be interesting to see how it all pans out, but I definitely think there's a lot of growth to be had.

Can you tell us a little bit about why you think Overwatch has become so popular in esports?

Ah. That is ... I'm an FPS gamer, so that's my favorite. I think Overwatch is amazing because they're really great at diversity and inclusion, and we do see it in just how they execute the game. So I think that contributes to the popularity of Overwatch, and maybe Overwatch esports. We have World Cup, we have Overwatch League, so ... Yeah, that's definitely one of my favorites, for sure.

People [are] talking about having a black female character, and how important that is. Is that something that you've been hearing a lot, and is that something that you'd love to see going forward?

Yeah. Absolutely. Definitely. When I see things like that, it's really encouraging. And what I also love about that is, when you're creating a world where there are role models, very diverse role models out there, and I think that that can do nothing but continue the health of the industry and the environment.

What would you say is the best advice you received when going into this industry, and what advice do you have for other women who want to go into this?

The best advice I received it probably more of a comment. The esports industry is growing and it's changing, and there isn't a formula for how esports is done yet, I think because we are in its infancy. So the comment made me kind of feel better, and encouraged me, was that we're all figuring it out together.

Ultimately, though, what I would say for anyone wanting to get into this industry is, networking is really huge. I personally didn't know much about this industry until I met a few folks from, that worked at esports and loved it, they were super passionate about the energy around esports, which is great. So advice for networking, maybe just attending events. You know, BlizzCon is a great one. At BlizzCon we have even our HR team sets up a booth, like how an acquisition team sets up a booth for people to ask questions and understand what it's like working at Blizzard, what positions are available.

And there are a lot of individuals out there who are on social media, like LinkedIn, and reaching out doesn't do harm, in my opinion. I've had people reach out to me, and I've been happy to sit with some of those individuals. 'Cause the worst that can happen is they say no.

But at the end of the day, in addition to networking and just understanding how the culture is, you know, what the jobs may entail, what jobs are out there, is just continuing to learn about esports in any capacity. Learn and grow is one of our core values here at Blizzard, and it's something I'm really passionate about. So there's always opportunities to just attend or learn more online.

Is there a specific place you would send new esports fans? Like, come watch us at BlizzCon, or something that you would see at a tournament online?

Yeah, in my personal opinion, just because I was a newbie at some point, one of the more exciting things I watched was any of the StarCraft tournaments. It was ... I guess the reason why I say that is, it seems to be just easier to watch and follow, especially when you're in a crowd, it's really easy to get hyped up with the crowd. And I heard so many stories about people attending BlizzCon, not knowing anything about esports, or never have attended an esports event, and our Blizzard esports really ... What's the word I'm looking for? Really drew them in. And StarCraft definitely was it for me as well. So that's my personal opinion on what's a good one to start with.

You can follow Nancy Chou on Twitter @xinoe.

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