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Women of esports: Sabrina Wong, Community Outreach Coordinator for Immortals

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Dec 6, 2018, 10:01 PM EST (Updated)

In our continuing series on women in esports, we're speaking with Sabrina Wong, the Community Outreach Coordinator with the Immortals esports organization. Immortals' Overwatch team LA Valiant has the highest percentage of female fans in the League and part of this is a result of community-led events that Sabrina has spearheaded, such as the Be Valiant: Girls in Gaming summit. It’s part of Immortals' mission to bring greater diversity to the esports industry.

Wong told SYFY FANGRRLS about her career, women in the genre, and what a typical day to day is like in her job. 

Tell us a little bit about Immortals and about LA Valiant.

Basically Immortals and LA Valiant are two brands that coincide together along with MIBR. We are an esports organization, which means we particularly focus on competitive gaming and part of basically hosting different teams in competitive games. So, for our brand Immortals, we have games like Clash Royale and Rainbow Six. And, for LA Valiant, we have Overwatch League, which is a huge, global league where teams that represent different cities all around the world compete in the game Overwatch. We have a lot of different values that specify in things like inclusivity as well as player performance, and we can probably dive a little bit deeper during the interview.

It’s great that you're working on diversity, and LA Valiant has a huge female fan base. What are you doing to increase that? Are you looking at that in terms of players as well?

To touch on your first question, which is the clear audience, and the things that we do that really resonate with our female fans, are our events. That's what I specifically work in, and what we really do that kind of made a wave in the esports scene is create events that are centric to inclusivity. For example, we have this series called the Be Valiant series where we focus on topics of diversity and minorities. The first one we did was a fan art showcase that supported artists. Specifically, in esports, you see a lot of females being representations of art. However, they don't get a lot of traction or support from the teams that they put a lot of time and energy in. We wanted to make sure that was clear.

The second one we did was Girls in Gaming, which was huge and a really great success as well. It was a summit where we had panelists from all over the industry, not just from Immortals and LA Valiant. They talked about their experiences as women in gaming in different facets of life, but also how that was just a part of their identity and how they navigate through an industry so young and diverse. The third event we had was the pride party, which supported LGBTQ+ rights. We supported an organization you may be familiar with called You Can Play that supports LGBT players in sports. We were the first esports team to ally with them. We also gathered donations for the Trans Latina organization to support trans Latina immigrants. Finally, we had our block party, which supports family and children. So, we go through different groups of people that might not be represented specifically esports or be the stereotypical esports audience member, and make sure that we cheer them up and show that, hey, these people are just as big of a fan as you, and most importantly, that everyone who wants to be a gamer can be a gamer. There's no barrier. There's no gatekeeping, et cetera.

[To] your second question about players, we're here to make sure that we bring the best competitive experience possible. It's not that we're trying to not have female players right now, but we're trying to support people to feel like they can be female players so they can join our organization in the near future. 

One of the things that we've been hearing while doing this series is that the younger generation is tending to be a closer to 50/50 split in terms of players. So, are you doing outreach to younger players or younger fans?

Yes, we definitely do. Again, with our Girls in Gaming as well as our block party, that definitely has a younger audience that allows young girls to come and be a part of what our industry can be in the future. I have definitely seen that phenomenon in the past as well as currently where younger people feel just less likely to be affected by those kinds of stereotypes and feel deterred from following their dreams. 

Not only do we do that, but we also support local endeavors in collegiate and high school where we'll provide staff as well as players to go speak to young women to inspire them and show them that this path is there. I think one of the most important things is that if they can see some sort of representation or role model that's physical, it really creates a world of difference for them. 

I went to the UCI Girls in Gaming summer camp a couple months ago, and all the young women there were from eight to 15-years-old. I got to speak there about my experience at Immortals and LA Valiant as well as how it was for me as a young woman in high school trying to climb my way into the industry any way possible, and how I had worked super hard at part-time jobs and all that and networked my butt off to get there. It really inspired them, and I got so many messages afterward like, "Hey, I didn't know this was a possibility for me. I didn't even know your role existed, and now I feel like I want to follow your path." Stuff like that really makes the job much more fulfilling.

What sort of barriers were the younger kids saying that they were facing, other than not even knowing that they could do this?

The big one was that they didn't even know that there were possibilities outside of being a player, and therefore they didn't see that there are so many paths for them, especially as a young woman. From my personal experience, when they were talking to me, it felt like they were saying a lot of things about their parents or elders saying that, no, you can't do this, and it was crazy for them to come to a summer camp and experience it firsthand that it's possible. I think it's a lot of people trying to guide their younger people to follow the ideals that they set forward in the past, but it's 2018. Things are constantly changing in our society, and I feel like equality in gaming has become much more concrete than it was even four years ago when I first started.

The industry is really young, and it's really growing quickly, so have you seen things get better for women or for minorities in esports?

Yeah, definitely. When I first started, my first esports event even, just to attend or to see what esports could or has been was in MLG Anaheim 2014. I was between junior or senior [year] in high school. I was just interested in what esports could be, but I tagged along with a couple of my guy friends, and we went to this large convention of gaming. There were thousands and thousands of people there. They had all kinds of games. It was super cool. People were screaming their heads off for their favorite teams, and I felt like that was important. 

But, one thing that really stuck to me, that I'll never forget, is that throughout that weekend of me just walking around, watching games, talking to other fans, I only saw a handful of other women. It was probably less than five other women there, one including my friend. It was just weird to me. I thought, why is this happening? This community that's grown so large and so passionate has forgotten an entire group of people. Since then, I personally was motivated to start my career in esports events. 

I've tried to take as much time as I can personally as well as if I could tie it into my job, which is why Immortals was a perfect fit for me, to include people and make sure that they feel noticed, so they don't go through that same thing that I did four years ago where I'm walking around like, where are the other women? I didn't get it. That representation matters.

It's funny that women have been so left out considering how many of us there are and what potential money they could make off of this. It's the same with film. It's very strange. 

Yeah, I think people are starting to notice it now, but I don't even think it was a thought in people's minds. They just felt like they were glued to this idea of a boys' club, which obviously doesn't really amount to anything because a lot of esports fans are female, as you can tell from LA Valiant. We have data. They're there. It's just, sometimes, you need to give them a platform to have a voice.

With time changing as always and people having social platforms as well as opportunity to speak out, we're seeing a huge shift. I think that's really important as well, and something that people in the industry should adapt on.

Also, for people who want to get into other sides of esports or a job like you have, what is your day to day like?

My day to day is pretty great. I like to think that everything I do affects someone in some way, especially being a part of Immortals and LA Valiant where we have very passionate fans who are totally on board with all of the social change that we try to put forward. I definitely start the day out with a lot of checking on what the community is saying and reacting to the things that we're doing. So, for example, when we launch a certain campaign about inclusivity, what are people saying and what are people thinking? 99% of it is positive. Obviously, sometimes there are trolls, but we don't try to take them too seriously. We just want to make sure that we are representing the community's voice, that that's clear, and that we're producing the kind of content and campaigns that people are really attaching to emotionally.

For the events side, there are so many different facets of events that you're always busy. There's always something to do, and there's always the next event to look forward to. So, I usually check in with everybody on the team and see how everyone's doing. Again, events are multi-faceted, so I get to work with all types of departments from PR to social to content to the players themselves and their managers. The best thing about Immortals and LA Valiant is that it's so collaborative that I'm not afraid to talk to people who might be more high level and get their opinions on the things that we're trying to do.

Honestly being an events person in esports is a really fulfilling job, especially when you're able to hit these kinds of groups of people that haven't had a platform in the past and get to see how it affects them not only online, but in primetime as well. It really feels like you're making a difference.

Before we wrap, we’d love to know how you got into video games yourself. 

I've always been a gamer. When I was a kid my parents actually didn't really want me to play video games because they felt it was more of a ... Oh, boys should play that. You should be out playing with Barbies or something, but I would go hang out with my friends, and they would have games like Metal Gear Solid and the original Smash. I would be fascinated by it, not just because it's such a social aspect, but because it was so cool to ... I don't know, express yourself through games and talk about that. 

So, I really got into that. I eventually convinced my parents to buy me Pokemon Blue and that was amazing. It took a lot, but I did it. I was always a casual gamer, handheld until high school. When high school hit, all my friends who I was talking to started saying, "Hey, there's a new game called League of Legends. You should check it out." I was like, "Okay, I'm going to go play this on my old MacBook," and I was not very good. 

Even from the beginning, though, I remember clearly that all my friends who predominantly were guys at the time would tell me, "Oh, I'm going to play a carry, so a damage dealing character, and you should have to play support." I was like, "Why do I have to play support?" They were like, "Well, all the girls play support. I thought you would play support." I was just like, "Oh, okay." 

Yeah, it bewildered me, but after time, after I dropped those people because I realized what they were trying to do, I started playing more, not professionally, but more seriously than casually, and over time, I got more and more invested in this amazing new world of esports that I started picking up other games as well. I would network and go to all these kinds of events just to see if I could get a chance to get a job. 

I eventually met Noah Whinston, our CEO, who said that I was still in college, so he couldn't offer me a job, but to contact him right after graduation. This was about two years ago. I got into Overwatch. I started being a Blizzard intern a summer ago more towards events specifically, did a great job there, immediately graduated, and Noah offered me a position for this job. So, it's been a crazy journey. It's been winding, and things have changed so much since I started, but I'm absolutely enamored with it.

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