In our continuing series on women in esports, we’re chatting with Astra Gillian Downer, who goes by the name “Darquesse.” Downer is 19, a resident of Seattle, Washington, and is part of the Seattle Siege League of Legends City Champs, which is the Seattle division of the amateur esports league Super League Gaming.
When she’s not gaming, Downer attends the University of Washington, majoring in educational studies. She also works with elementary school students in a peer mentoring program, helping them use gaming to create positive connections in their lives. She’s also an active member of “Ladies Who League,” a group formed by Super League Gaming women who play League of Legends. We spoke to Downer at the Super League Gaming and Red Bull All-Stars Inaugural Tournament in late June. (By the way, her team, the Seattle Siege, won the tournament, taking it 2-0 over the team from Tampa.)
So this is your first time on a national stage. What has the experience been like for you?
It’s been pretty cool. I mean, it’s mainly guys. When I find girls around, we click really easily. We kind of understand—especially since the other girls support me—so we kind of bounce off of each other, what we think is good. I’m on Tier A, so the girls on lower tiers kind of look up to me, and they ask me for advice on what they should be playing and how they should be playing and routes to go and things like that.
So how did you get into gaming?
I guess it started because—my parents are divorced, and I ended up spending a lot of time with my dad when I was younger. I grew up watching him play Halo and stuff. Eventually I started playing, too. He got me my own little Xbox controller for my little hands. It went from Halo and console games to D&D, more role-playing games and Magic: The Gathering, and then I went on the computer and started playing Wizard101 when I was younger. Then I found League. That’s where I’ve been ever since. Probably like 2012.
What is it about League of Legends that grabbed you?
I guess it’s just being able to meet new people through the internet. My parents didn’t want me to have social media and that kind of stuff. I mean, I kind of did, like every other teenager [laughs], but I guess being able to meet new people was the biggest reason. I guess I was kind of insecure at school. My interests didn’t feel like they aligned with other people’s interests, and it was hard to talk about what I liked. So meeting people online, I can do that because obviously we have the same interests. If we’re meeting through a game we both play, we probably like the game!
Sometimes we talk about the anonymity of being online giving you the platform to harass people, but there is also this side of it, where you get to meet people that have similar interests.
Yeah, definitely. I even met up with people outside SLG, people who kind of live around me, like from Canada, I met up with them, too. It’s really cool realizing that, oh, we’re not really that far away from each other! We can see each other and hang out IRL, too.
So what specifically got you into esports?
I think one year I saw that the LCS [League of Legends Championship Series] was at Pax Prime and I was like, oh, that’s in Seattle! That’s so close to me. I could be there right now. That’s crazy. I started watching it, and I think I was watching [Team] Curse at the time and I was like, this is so cool. Ever since that day, I just dove right in. I tried to ask my parents every year for tickets to Pax. I was like, “Please, I need to go meet these people!” Finally, they did. I think it was 2014, maybe. I can’t actually remember. It was their last year going. I brought my Curse jacket and I had all the players sign it: Quas, IWillDominate, VoyBoy, and Xpecial, they all signed my jacket. I don’t know, I just love seeing pro players play. I never had the experience of being like, oh, I love these sports teams. This was my thing, you know what I mean? These were my sports teams. It sounds kind of weird, but it’s true!
What about this particular SGL tournament? What’s that been like?
I love Seattle’s community. We’re all a bunch of memers, and we just get along really well. We hang out in person all the time, and we’re such a close family of people, and that’s kind of what I think I was looking for. I just saw an ad on Facebook and I was like, this seems really cool. And they were like, you want to play? I said, "I’ll try it and see if I even get on the team." I definitely think I’ve grown from SLG through the people that I’ve met, because, I think—Season 2, I joined because that’s the first time Seattle had their own team, and they had it so that the qualifiers were only within our cities, so you got the best players in each role. Our top person was Master Tier, and I feel like he kind of helped me shift how I thought about the game a lot. I mean, I like the fact that, through meeting these players, I understand new forms of playing, and new mindsets.
Do you want to do this professionally?
When I was younger, I definitely did. That was my dream. But right now, with college, I feel like I’ve kind of missed my opportunity, almost. I mean, I just turned 19 and I never really looked into the scholarships or anything like that. I was focused on how I could transfer my credits to colleges and stuff like that. I wasn’t thinking about League at all. I wish. It sounds really cool. I just don’t think it’s in the cards for me… I think if I push myself and really dedicate myself to playing, then maybe I could. It’s just that between school and work, this has to be just a hobby.
It’s a pretty cool hobby!
Yeah, I get to be here!
So what tips would you have for people who want to do this?
Just go for it! Nerves aside, anxiety aside, you’ll meet people that probably have the same mindset as you, but you’ll all get through it together. You’ll have fun. Just reach out your hand and say, "Hey, my name is blank." It’s all about family. At least in Seattle it is. I don’t know about other teams. I mean, we’re competitive. We have a lot of hype around us, I guess, but at the end of the day, it’s about having fun.