Frankie Ward, forming an aegis of the mind in a tumultuous industry

KarY 2020-10-05 06:23:11
  Gaming was always a big deal for Frankie Ward - a sanctuary, if you will. Born in South London, her childhood consisted of playing games on her dad’s laptop and Sega Master System, with classics like Monkey Island II and Sonic the Hedgehog.  It was a beginning - moving to a quiet village, sharing the home computer with her sister, and eventually getting her first Playstation - a trajectory which will bring many gamers nostalgia of their young foray into the lifestyle.  
You can read the original Q&A format here.
Growing up, she attended an all-girls school for secondary education and ended up being bullied at primary school. To break free of the bullying, Frankie took an exam and headed to a school that took two hours to get to in the mornings. At 14 years of age, she had a network of friends from schools across Maidstone, hitting the peak of popularity in her life at 15, and became better at meeting people through activities like skating. After University, she briefly worked as a producer and presenter on a small radio station in Newcastle before heading back to London to work primarily as a digital producer. She adds, “I’d occasionally host little video ideas on YouTube and one or two internal things at the BBC that no one took any notice of.”  Little did she know that her life was about to change. In 2015, while being the Senior Content Producer on the BBC’s League of Legends World Championships coverage, an experimental online project, she saw fans united at the Wembley Arena watching the game and the shared emotions. She instantly knew that she wanted to be part of esports and tell stories she was seeing play out, despite the complicated nature of the game. She left the BBC for Twitch in July 2016 to produce shows, primarily at events like Gamescom, and would occasionally pop up on the stage to cover for hosts due to broadcasts being extremely long and without breaks. It was fairly intuitive. Frankie’s first proper calling as a stage host was at ESL UK’s Hearthstone Premiership Finals in January 2018, and she’d also co-host Ginx TV’s weekly show - The Bridge - towards the end of 2018, covering a smorgasbord of esports titles and gaining experience by hosting live. Unfortunately, Twitch laid off a lot of people at the end of March 2018, including her, and that same day, after leaving the office, Frankie headed to a coffee shop, sent some emails and hosted The Bridge for the last time. She says, “I took a couple of weeks to think things through and decided to try hosting full time as I had a couple of jobs on the pipeline. I gave myself until after Gamescom 2018 in August to decide on my future, but I pretty much hit the ground running and didn’t stop.” She credits DreamHack for giving her the opportunity to host DreamHack Austin PUBG Showdown that also got her booked for the PC Gaming Show, two events that changed the course of her career. She continues, “Richard Lewis asked me to do a show with him for WSOE after Austin, and the PC Gaming Show had a reach of over two million viewers. The PC Gamer team let me write some of the script and make some edits. We took a couple of risks with the jokes and they paid off.” Frankie has never looked back since. Talent with versatility is a rare combination, something only a few possess. Frankie’s job profile can be described as a Host, Desk Host, Commentator, Sideline Reporter and Interviewer, indicating her fluent prowess in this field. Juggling between these many roles is no ordinary task and Frankie seems to handle it like a boss, but she doesn’t view herself as a commentator. She adds, “I’m not a commentator - and wouldn’t call myself that. I did a couple of 10 second play-by-play moments in the ESL One Cologne Online broadcast because we were a new trio and I was still finding where I could contribute during the matches. That’s pretty much it.”

(Image credit: Frankie Instagram)

Sideline and desk hosting is a pretty natural transition back and forth for her, and thus she has no qualms about it as she’ll still work with the desk on both. While interviewing players she’d want to know if the analysts would like to get any particular information to contribute to their discussion, or to simply relay her plans back to them alongside working more closely with the producers day-to-day. Stage hosting is where it gets tricky and is the most difficult role in esports for Frankie. She continues, “You are often out on a stage on your own balancing your attention between the audience at home and the crowd before you. We don’t tend to have autocues either, so you need to just remember stuff off the top of your head, read the room and go with the flow.” There are also instances where players often cannot hear the stage host due to arenas being loud or the amplified echoes. Initially feeling the task to be daunting -- partly due to working with fantastic stage hosts or just covering for someone else -- it dawned on Frankie that she should just be herself and have trust in that. All that was needed were preparations and rock solid work ethic. Speaking of which, the baseline prep for stage, desk and sideline hosting is the same -- getting notes on teams that keep being updated with each event, going through recent results, stats and interviews from other sources -- and that work could take up to two weeks of prepping from her side, depending on the number of teams and her recent last event in the scene. Frankie mentions, “For desk hosting, you’re setting up your analysts to shine, and giving information the audience needs to enjoy the event, plus “housekeeping” like sponsors call-outs.” She keeps a document that includes all her notes and ideas, and shares them with the analysts thereby engaging in discussion and teamwork between the team on the desk and production. Not being married to her questions, thinking quickly on her feet allows her to navigate and dictate the flow of conversation with ease, as opposed to a linear approach when interviewing. She says, “I listen actively to what the player is saying - if they don’t answer my question, I might press them on it, because I think avoiding it is interesting, and also I still want the answer! But also, if they say something surprising, it’s probably better to head in that direction than follow the path I’d originally planned.” However, stage and sideline interviews are totally different as they both cover different aspects of the game. While the stage is a place brimming with emotions where fans and players are in the same space, gameplay questions are covered during the sideline and desk sessions. Similarly, being guided by emotions of the player she’s with, Frankie tends to replicate the same while conducting interviews so they can be at their best. Continuing the conversation, she adds, “When 100 Thieves reached the finals of Intel Extreme Masters Beijing, that was such a brilliant moment to witness because I was on the sidelines for StarSeries 6 in Kyiv just after Kassad returned as coach and Liazz and Gratisfaction joined, and here they were in their first Big Event final. To be there and witness those moments first hand is such a privilege.” Every job comes with its fair share of awkward or embarrassing hiccups and Frankie is no exception. She’s had plenty of silly moments -- one such she handpicked from DreamHack Austin’s accidental innuendos, “Can FaZe get it up!? After the break,” to the usage of very British phrases in a few interviews that left the interviewees dumbfounded, or simply her brain second guessing due to lack of confidence. She continues, “Onstage at the DreamHack Masters Malmo final I chucked my question card away and went out to interview Fnatic and it was all good until I got a map name wrong, confused JW and went “you know what I mean JW!” and just carried on.” Lucky for her, Fnatic lifted the trophy on their home soil after the return of Golden and Flusha, and her mild hiccup faded into the abyss. To date, when Frankie gets announced for anything -- even if it’s not Counter Strike -- she’ll usually get a comment or two about her calling Russ “Stewie” onstage in Katowice. It just so happened that over a long day, she fell sick and had to interview Stewie in between maps while backstage. Later, while onstage with Team Liquid, she opened the post match interview by referring to her interviewee as Stewie, rather than Twistzz. Something she puts down to being on autopilot to get through to the end of the show. She adds, “I had no idea because I’d been working for 12 hours non-stop and was so cold backstage that I’d gotten quite ill (as the Legends stage was in a different building to the green room, I was separate from all the other talent and basically stayed there for the entire broadcast. There’s a photo photographer Timo Verdeil took of me backstage in a blanket that the production team got me towards the end of the second week.“

(Image credit: Frankie Instagram)

Frankie really loves Counter Strike and has quite literally jumped off a creaking steel structure in high winds for it.  Still don’t get it? She’s talking about her bungee jumping experience with Aerial from ENCE last year in Dallas which she describes as “F***ING TERRIFYING”. Interestingly, Aerial doesn’t even make her feel bad about it. Talents are always vulnerable and unsure of their job stability in front of tournament organizers who, most of the time, do not provide long term contracts. Having an exclusivity with a TO for an esport if she had a guarantee of dates and events at the start of the year would be a dream for Frankie. Echoing Henry “HenryG” Greer’s sentiment, saying “NO” to a tournament organizer is really scary as they might go with another choice. After getting better at her job pretty quickly last year due to working at a variety of productions and being able to form a relationship with teams, Frankie now wants to be able to come to work rested and with the energy to hit the ground running, rather than feeling exhausted from travel and a lack of time with friends and family. She even had the dilemma of turning down a contract for a series of events last year, since it clashed with a couple of big things she wasn’t sure she was booked for yet. She wanted to do both, but couldn’t, and wished she’d handled the conversation directly to see if there was a solution. Now, she books her own work rather than going through a third party. She continues, “My wedding next year is booked for a weekend when I’m pretty sure I won’t be working. I’ve got a limited time to do the job I’m doing so I want to do it while I can - but I also need to find more of a balance, too.” Criticism or feedback should always be welcomed with open arms for the need to improve; however, things take a grisly turn when they manifest into threats. Expressing discontent at the cacophony of horrible and untrue things directed towards her during ESL One Cologne Online, she adds, “You can write about how you’d deface my dead body, for example - that’s just fantastical one-upmanship from people who don’t have other ways to get attention, but don’t claim I said things on a broadcast that I didn’t. That’s libel.” In such situations one has every right to address the issue in a way he/she deems necessary. She explains that there’s a difference between being a nice person and a good person, and while she aims to be both, more recently she’s focusing more on the latter. She says, “I’ll most likely mute you, but don’t be surprised if I stand up for myself because you gave me a reason to. Whereas I didn’t give you a legitimate reason to send abuse to me.“ If you don’t respect her rules on her Twitch channel, or if you attack her (or her friends and colleagues) on social media, she doesn’t have to be nice to you. Of course, there’s the largely positive side of the coin. Had it not been for esports, Frankie would not have been able to meet people from all over the world and would have missed out on learning about the industry and different games, an opportunity that has allowed her to grow as a person. As a person, she came into esports like it was a clean slate, but it also came with certain risks. She adds, “As you do more jobs and progress, the anxiety about who you are and where you stand mounts up.” For her, 2019 was an avalanche of work and the momentum was fun and exciting initially, while the second half of the year became much tougher since esports can be incredibly lonely. She continues, “You risk becoming distant from everyone, including the idea of who you once were. My life has almost always revolved around my work, so COVID-19 has been an opportunity to separate myself a bit. I’ve not entirely succeeded, but I’m working on it.” Before signing off, we asked Frankie to name one change she’d like to see happen in CS:GO and one change she didn’t. In the game itself, she’d like to see an overhaul of the matchmaking system, perhaps because she’s a GN1 but would most likely end up back in Silver soon. On the other hand, she’d love to see teams not having to compete every single day of the month; however, due to COVID-19, that would be tough because of the way events have had to adapt. Oh, and she definitely doesn’t want Cache to return to the competitive map pool. Not yet, anyway. You can find more information on Frankie here.
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