In our continuing series on women in esports, we’re chatting with Rachel “Seltzer” Quirico, the host of Universal Open Rocket League for NBC Sports Group and FACEIT. It’s an annual esports tournament that features games of all skill levels competing in 2v2 Rocket League for a $100,000 prize pool. The Grand Finals are currently being hosted at the NBC Sports Group International Broadcast Center in Stamford, Connecticut, this weekend, August 24-26. Veteran esports host and analyst Quirico will anchor the coverage, as she’s done throughout the Regional Finals.
Quirico began her career as a competitive gamer in 2006, and in 2008 she moved to on-camera presenting. She’s emceed tournaments and international championships for StarCraft II, League of Legends, Counterstrike, and Overwatch. In our latest Women of Esports interview, Quirico tells SYFY FANGRRLS about how she got into gaming, the state of esports in America versus the rest of the world (including what it’s like to play in South Korea, where she spent time producing), and what we should expect from the Grand Finals.
Tell us a little bit about Universal Open Rocket League and how you got involved.
Sure! Universal Open Rocket League is a specialty tournament that runs in the off-season of the official Rocket League season. What makes it kind of different is that it’s played 2v2 instead of 3v3. So the teams get a little mixed up and the strategy is a little bit different. This is the second year of it, so they reached out to me to get involved in it as a host on the desk.
How did you get into gaming? How did it all start for you?
It’s kind of weird because, when you think back, you’re like, oh, I’ve always been doing this. But back in the day, I was about 7 or 8 when Pokémon came out, and they would have leagues at Toys “R” Us, so I got very involved in showing up at Toys “R” Us, competing in these leagues, in the trading card game, and in the video game. I kind of stuck with the kind of offbeat friends I made and the social clubs would hang in because of it. I definitely had a big anime phase as well. And that was a lot of going to conventions and finding the offbeat, different ways to meet people as opposed to school and athletics.
In high school I leaned into video games. Actually, at a Dance Dance Revolution party my friend was having, I met my boyfriend, and the two of us have kind of, over the years, took on esports together. We traveled to local events and competed in online leagues together, and even joined a gaming clan, PMS/H20, where we maintained a Team Fortress 2 team and built a network of fellow esports movers and shakers. In 2010, thanks in part to my time with PMS/H20, I got on a reality TV show that SYFY did, so it’s actually cool to be reaching out to SYFY! That was called WCG Ultimate Gamer.
Right about that time, he went out to South Korea to play on the first GSL, the StarCraft league out there. So I ended up following him, and I did a lot of content. I would do interviews with all the players, and I would produce a lot of content from Korea that no one had a chance to see before. This is just as StarCraft II was becoming an esport in a time where we’d seen things like the championship gaming series and the World Cyber Games. We hadn’t seen any individual game really command an audience this way. But right around the time StarCraft II came out was when Twitch TV came out, and that was the live, online broadcasting experience. It was this perfect storm of really cool games coming out, really big personalities coming out, and then this platform where everyone could tune in and watch. It got huge!
Throughout this interview series, I’ve been hearing about the difference between esports in America and esports in other countries. What do you think is the difference between them, and where do you think it’s going around the world?
Right now I think South Korea is recognized as the top performer in a lot of different games right now, so a lot of people look to South Korea and wonder what sets them apart. Having watched my boyfriend compete on the South Korean team, having gone out there and having gone to all these team houses where players live, it’s just a totally different culture that allows for it, right?
Like, in South Korea, a lot of people don’t really move out of their parents’ house until they get married or something like that, or until they go off to the military, so StarCraft and moving into a team house, first and foremost, is an incredible opportunity to get out of your house and live the life of a pro gamer. So you would get up, pack up your stuff from your parents’ house and move into a pro house. I went to one where it was a room full of beds. You stood in the doorway and it was beds, beds, beds, beds. You couldn’t have rolled from one corner of the room across to the other corner if you wanted to. At another place, right at the beginning of League of Legends, I interviewed this one team that lived above a chicken shop, and at the end of the night — their apartment was like, 100 square feet, and they would push in the chairs to the desks, or put the chairs on top of the desks and sleep on the floor in there! It was just this wholehearted dedication to gaming and also this — you have to make it.
So there was this much hotter fire under everyone’s feet in South Korea, when you decide to become a pro gamer. And also a culture that really had a lot of ways to celebrate it. If you wanted to get out of your parents’ house, you would go to a PC bang and play video games throughout the day. These pro gamers who did that have a really relatable experience. I don’t think we’re at that in North America yet.
Sounds like summer camp.
Yeah, it’s fun, but it’s also ripe for abuse. It’s a very complicated history with esports in South Korea.
I’d love to hear your take where women are in esports. There is obviously a very complicated history. I’d love to hear where we are, how things have improved and where they’re going.
Just by virtue of having more people move through the esports machine, we’re having a much bigger variety of personalities and diversity come through. It’s been really interesting to see, doing this 12, 13 years ago and doing this now, the diversity was always there. I came in through fighting games, and that was probably the most diverse thing you have by virtue of being located in a lot of big cities and things like that, where all sorts of communities come together, and so what’s been the struggle has actually been the monetary perspective. The way esports works — a lot of it is sponsor-funded, and so sponsors will say, “Play on the most expensive hardware. Play on PCs.” A lot of it has kind of this inherent non-equality… people will joke about the "PC Master Race" and think that’s a funny joke, but it’s actually indicative of a sort of purchasing power that PC players have that console players don’t really have. I’m getting way off base here, but the diversity has always been there, but finally, because people are valuing the entertainment instead of the sponsorship vehicle, we’re getting to see a lot more of those personalities.
Being able to watch a lot of players of all levels seems to be grabbing a lot of younger players. What do you think is the current state of bringing in new players?
I have a friend who’s a teacher who shared an anecdote that I’ve seen backed up in a lot of think pieces and Medium articles, that Fortnite is this sort of insane craze, kind of similar to how Pokémon was back in the day. And of course, the articles did a great job treating the ups and downs of what this means. The downside means it’s distracting and it’s possibly violent. Maybe not everyone can get involved in it because of those features, so it does isolate some kids, but the people I saw who were able to adapt and roll with it, especially the younger teachers who were able to take on the language present in the game to use it to connect with the students, thought it was a huge, useful tool. So I think that the kids are going to do what the kids are going to do, and it’s on us to try and connect with them and make meaningful experiences out of it and guide them in a positive direction. So I see it as sort of a tool and not really a good or an evil thing.
Do you think people are taking esports more seriously these days? There are scholarships now, and huge prize money. People outside the gaming industry, I mean.
Absolutely. I’m seeing a lot more recognition in general, for the accomplishments of gamers. Long ago, people would look at a competitive gamer in action and ask, "What are they doing?", not really wanting to hear the sincere answer, but I think now that it’s been around for so long, and we’re hearing all these income numbers, the amounts that streamers make and pro gamers make and the prizes they’re competing for, all of a sudden you have [people saying], "How are you doing this? I’m genuinely interested now." I get a lot of my father’s co-workers’ sons’ emails who want to figure out how this is all going down and how they can get involved in it.
What can we expect from the Universal Open Rocket League Grand Finals?
I think what we can expect from the Universal Open Rocket League Grand Finals is going to be a huge showcase of talent from Europe and from North America. And what’s most exciting about this competition is, because it’s two versus two instead of the usual 3v3, a lot of the restraints are off. No one is going to blame anyone here for doing poorly or not getting the win. And so that allows a lot more room for people to be creative and have fun, because there is nothing to lose and everything to gain. So we’re seeing some really creative performances. We’re seeing a lot of personality from the players. And when North America meets Europe, it’s going to be some Rocket League that you don’t get a chance to see very often.
You can follow Rachel Quirico on Twitter @SeltzerPlease. Are you guys excited for the Universal Open Rocket League Grand Finals? Let us know in the comments.