Frankie Ward on Esports and Life moving ahead

KarY 2020-10-05 06:28:05
  We caught up with Frankie Ward, popular esports Host and Reporter, for a quick chat about her life and journey into esports. She talks on a wide variety of topics such as her life growing up, her foray into esports, the harshest reactions she's ever received from the community, the recent CS:GO bug scandal, and much more.
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Tell us about your life growing up prior to esports. I was born in South London, which is where I first played games on my dad’s laptop and a Sega Master System - things like Monkey Island II and Sonic the Hedgehog. When I was still quite young we moved to a quiet village where I didn’t know anyone, so gaming was always a big deal for me - from sharing the computer with my sister, to my first Playstation. I went to a girls’ school for secondary education - I was bullied at primary school, so I took an exam and headed to a school it took two hours for me to get to in the mornings. I was the student who did their homework on the first night (more time to game without homework weighing on my mind). At 14 I sort of had a network of friends from schools across Maidstone - I think I probably hit peak popularity in my life aged 15. I was good at meeting people through things like skating - I’m a lot more shy now! After university I worked briefly in a Northern city called Newcastle as a producer and presenter on a small radio station, before heading back to London to work primarily as a digital producer. 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. How did you get introduced to video games and esports? When did you get the knack of working in esports and pursuing it as a full time career? Did you plan/have goals for it or did it just kind of happen? In 2015, when I was the Senior Content Producer on the BBC’s League of Legends World Championships coverage, an experimental online project, I saw fans united watching this game in Wembley Arena and the shared emotion. And although the game was complicated to learn, I instantly knew I wanted to be part of esports and tell the stories I was seeing play out. I left the BBC for Twitch in July 2016 to produce shows, primary at events like Gamescom. Occasionally I popped up on stage to cover for hosts as the broadcasts were very long without breaks and it was fairly intuitive. I got to know the ESL UK team as they were my production team on a couple of events and they asked me to stage host their Hearthstone Premiership Finals in January 2018 - that was my first proper stage host. I’d also been co-hosting Ginx TV’s weekly show The Bridge towards the end of 2018, covering a wide range of different esports titles and getting some live experience. I’d pop over to the studio on Thursday nights after finishing in the office at Twitch. Twitch cut a lot of jobs at the end of March 2018, including mine. That same day, after leaving the office, I headed to a coffee shop, sent some emails and hosted The Bridge for the last time. 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 - especially after DreamHack gave me a huge opportunity to host their DreamHack Austin PUBG Showdown and I was booked for the PC Gaming Show. Both of those shows changed so much for me - 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. Your job profile description is as such: Host, Desk Host, Commentator, Sideline Reporter and Interviewer. Seems like it’s rather easy for you to switch in and out of the aforementioned roles when seeing you live in action. How do you handle this constant shuffle in between so many roles? 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 for CS:GO. At a couple of expos, I’ve done a couple of bits - Rocket League and Overwatch - but they weren’t tournaments. To be honest, sideline and desk hosting is pretty natural to go between so I don’t think about it - I’ll still work with the desk on both, because if I’m interviewing players, I want to know if the analysts want me to get any info in particular to contribute to their discussion, or I might tell them what I’ve got planned. Desk hosts work more closely with the producers day-to-day. Stage hosting for me is the hardest role in esports. You are often out on a stage on your own balancing your attention between the audience at home and the crowd before you. Players often cannot hear you because the arena is loud and anything amplified echoes. (I learned the hard way that you need custom-moulded in-ear pieces to be able to hear anything at all.) 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. I spent the early part of 2019 feeling that I wasn’t up to it because of working with fantastic stage hosts and because when I was on stage it was covering for someone else - and then towards the end of the year I realized I should just be myself and trust in that.

(Image credits: Frankie Instagram)

Speaking of which, take us through the process of preparing for an event. How do you prepare for an event, deal with the nerves, the atmosphere, expectations, etc? The baseline prep for stage, desk and sideline hosting is the same - I’ve got notes on the teams that I update with each event, and I’ll go through recent results, stats and interviews from other sources. Depending on the number of teams and how recently my last event in the scene was, I could spend up to two weeks prepping. 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. I now share a doc that I write notes into during events with analysts so they have an idea of what I want to ask, and I also like to discuss that with them too. It’s a big team effort between the team on the desk and production. When I’m interviewing, I’m not married to my questions. 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. Stage and sideline interviews are totally different - gameplay questions don’t work in an arena, and the sideline and the desk covers that between maps. The stage is a much more emotional place where fans and players are in the same space, and where they make their dreams come true or feel them slip away. So if I’m doing any stage work, knowing teams’ history with the arena they are playing in is really important, for example. I get more nervous hosting online than in a studio because the setup is so different, you often can’t have programme sound so you can’t hear intro music and you don’t have that usual run-up; I was more nervous hosting an online VALORANT event earlier this year, than I ever was desk hosting ESL One Cologne in the studio. I tend to get a bit nervous with my opening pieces to camera for Intel Extreme Masters, because they’re the first ones and I’m on my own rather than with a player, but I don’t really get too scared. On the sidelines, I’m guided by the emotions of the player I’m with - so if they’re feeling excited, I tend to feel my energy rise. UItimately, I’m much more nervous for them than I am myself. I know many of the CS teams pretty well by now, and I want them to feel like they played their best. I want us to see the best Counter-Strike possible.  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. That brings me to my next point. In order to reach where you are today, the position that you’ve achieved, have you taken any classes/lessons for personality development to get better at your job? Not really. I once had around 30 minutes with someone at the BBC during a Careers Week thing where I was told I could be a presenter, I just needed to know what I wanted to talk about. I think being a producer means I’m very focused on what the audience wants and I’m good at researching. Also, I’m hosting - I can’t be anyone but myself, because I’m mostly interviewing people who I want to be themselves too. When I was an intern at the BBC - a two day a week thing one summer when I was 19 - I had fantastic interview training. That hour taught me so much about how to work with interviewees. I’ve got better at my job from doing it and also from production feedback on the job. I like producers to give me feedback during the event so I can nail it there and then. I always say to them “if you’re happy, I’m happy” and I expect them to tell me if not so I can deliver what they need for the show.  Sweet. Is there any other job description that we, the community, might not be aware of or perhaps any possible hiccups that can or has led to somewhat of an embarrassing/awkward situation while on the job that you can look back and laugh on (in a good/fun way)? I’m on camera, so there’s plenty of silly moments - from DreamHack Austin’s accidental innuendos “Can FaZe get it up!? After the break!”, to using very British phrases in a few interviews that confused interviewees whose first language wasn’t English. Sometimes it was just my brain second guessing due to a lack of confidence - like I knew NRG didn’t make it through the London Minor because I literally desk hosted it, but interviewing Chet in Katowice, I didn’t go with my gut instinct and I think he was a bit nervous too, so I stumbled on it.  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. It’s definitely something I laugh about - it happens and it didn’t stop that moment from being special. No one remembers me being in that moment, they remember Fnatic lifting their trophy after the return of Golden and Flusha to the team on home soil. That’s pretty special. When I get announced for stuff - even if it’s not CS - I’ll usually get one or two comments about me calling Russ “Stewie” onstage in Katowice. Basically it was a long day, I was ill and I’d interviewed Stewie between maps. I was trying to say my thing to camera and get into the interview off the top of my head and I didn’t even notice I’d done it - I’m pretty sure I call him Twistzz later in the interview (but I’m not going to torture myself by rewatching it either). I do remember Pimp saying to me at the end of the broadcast “you do realize you called him Stewie?” and I had no idea because I’d been working for 12 hours non-stop and was so cold backstage 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 whole 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. Someone mentioned that moment on the Overwatch Reddit when I got announced as a cover host recently and a ton of people were like “things go wrong, it’s normal and fine” and it shocked me because it’s true and I’d not had a community be so instantly supportive before. They’re right though; it’s genuinely not the end of the world. It’s a drop in the ocean.  Oh, and also bungee jumping with Aerial from ENCE last year in Dallas was fucking terrifying. FUCKING TERRIFYING. And Aerial didn’t even make me feel bad about it. So just know that I really love Counter-Strike and have quite literally jumped off a creaking steel structure in high winds for it. Not long ago, HenryG announced his retirement as a talent along with a post where he shed light on interesting things surrounding the talent industry. He talks about talents always being vulnerable and unsure of job stability in front of TOs who don’t provide long term contracts as they can undercut anyone considering many are willing to grab the opportunity albeit at the cost of others. This keeps the talents on their feet all the time, having to worry about their future. What is your take on this? Is there a need to have a SOP/base guidelines for talents? I’d be open to exclusivity with a TO for an esport if I had a guarantee of dates and events at the start of the year. It’s a dream. Henry’s right - saying no is really scary because a TO might keep going with the person who did say yes. I got better at my job pretty quickly last year because I worked a variety of productions and was able to form relationships with the teams. Now I want 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. I was offered a contract for a series of events last year, but it clashed with a couple of big things I didn’t know if I was booked for yet. I wanted to do both, so I wish I’d handled the conversation directly to see if there was a solution. Now I’m booking my own work rather than going through a third party.  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. 

(Image credits: Frankie Instagram)

I’m pretty sure this uncertain way of employment may have an effect on your personal life, considering you’re on the road for the majority of the year. Do you agree? It absolutely affects my personal life - I miss so many special occasions and I’ve not been on a proper holiday - except a weekend to Portugal last year and a weekend in the UK over the Summer - for a few years. But I love my job, and I knew it would require sacrifices to get to this point. However, now I’m here and I’m established, I definitely need to find more of a balance. COVID-19 and various things that have happened this year have shown me that. You need to have a commanding/assertive personality to keep your audience engaged. Needless to say, you’ve had to deal with a fair share of criticism or worse, from the naysayers. How do you deal with such situations? What’s the worst thing you’ve ever heard from someone and how have you dealt in that particular situation? I just don’t look for stuff. Occasionally I’ll tweet or respond to things - there were some pretty horrible things posted during ESL One Cologne Online so I did tweet then; people were writing things that were untrue. 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. Things are more often brought to my attention either by someone I know or by someone posting them at me on social media. The latter is wrong - I don’t go looking for it, so don’t bring it to me. I’m hired because I’m good at my job. I was talking to Henry a little while ago and he pointed out that not everyone is able to do what we do. I hadn’t thought about it like that before, but he’s right. I have an ability to talk to people on camera and I make them feel comfortable enough to respond, whether that suits people or not. Someone also said there’s a difference between being a nice person and a good person - I aim to be both, but much more recently I’m focusing on the latter. If you don’t respect my rules on my Twitch channel, or if you attack me (or my friends and colleagues) on social media, I don’t have to be nice to you. 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.  Recently the coaching bug scandal that hit the scene was not only unimaginable but also difficult to fathom. It shook the very foundations of fair play and sportsmanship. What is your take on the whole situation and the possible repercussions CS:GO might have to deal with ? I think it’s down to the Valve and TOs to decide on how they deal with individuals, but I was shocked and I was saddened by it. Some of the people implicated are people I like and respect very much. I still do - there’s little point in me piling on and making things worse for them when they’re already at rock bottom.  The biggest impact will be on the role of coaches at LANs in future. I really hope we don’t go backwards and limit the coach spot onstage, because I think the role is a vital one. How have you grown as a person both personally and professionally through your work? In the last couple of years I’ve been able to meet people from all over the world and have learned so much about the industry and different games. I took a lot of risks when I started out in 2018, and really developed in the interviewing role last year.  As a person, I came into esports like it was a clean slate, but as you do more jobs and progress, the anxiety about who you are and where you stand mounts up. 2019 was an avalanche of work and the momentum was fun and exciting and then the second half of the year became much tougher because esports can be incredibly lonely; you risk becoming distant from everyone, including the idea of who you once were. In esports there feels like there’s an expectation that if you’re not constantly working or watching or just being surrounded by esports, you can’t possibly love it and you don’t deserve your spot. If you’re streaming while an event is on, you get asked by Twitch chat why you’re not watching that event. If you’re an esports latecomer like me then you definitely feel that scrutiny. 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.  Name one change you’d like to see happen in CS:GO and one you don’t. In the game itself, an overhaul of the matchmaking system because I’m a GN1 (but will probably end up back in Silver soon). On the professional side, I’d love to see teams not have to compete four weeks out of four. However, with COVID-19, that’s tough because of the way events have had to adapt. I don’t want Cache to return to the competitive map pool. Not yet, anyway.
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