Image source: NSEWe interviewed Angela Lukic, the president of Newcastle University Gaming and Esports society, as part of our Women in Esports campaign. Angela walks us through grassroots esports opportunities in university, how her passion for esports has merged with her education, and her opinions on the barriers many women face at a grassroots level.
Tell us about yourself and your current background.
I’m a student at Newcastle University. I have graduated with a BSc degree in Computer Sciences (Game Engineering) with Industrial Placement and am currently studying a postgraduate in E-Business (Information Systems). I am currently considering pursuing a PhD focusing on Esports.
Alongside this I am currently in my second term as President of the Newcastle University Video Gaming & Esports Society. I have been in an executive position four years!
Did you always have an interest in gaming and esports?
I have been playing video games since a very young age with my two older brothers. My first game was Pokemon Yellow when I was around 4 or 5 years old and I have been playing video games ever since.
I didn’t get into esports until quite recently. I used to be into sports, particularly football, because I really enjoyed the competitive atmosphere, team spirit and friendly rivalries you developed along the way. But even when I discovered esports was a thing I was cautious to get into it due to the steep learning curve and my worry that people would gatekeep or otherwise ask me a lot of questions I couldn’t answer since I’d still be learning.
Grassroots esports, specifically university esports, is what got me properly into esports. So, I would only say I’ve been properly involved in esports for the last 2 or 3 years.
Tell us about your current role as president of the Newcastle University Gaming Society and your experience of esports in the National Student Esports (NSE) leagues.
As President my main job is to be the idea generator and knowledge resource for the society. My favourite thing to do is to organize events for students which they normally wouldn’t get to experience. This often involves talking to external companies to see how we can work together to bring unique value propositions for Newcastle students (such as trips to gaming arenas, provision of gaming merchandise, competitions, etc).
I also try to empower my executive team to organize their own events by putting them in contact with the correct people, or otherwise giving them advise so that they can make their ideas a reality. Whilst I used to directly handle esports within our society I now trust this to these specific executives on my team.
NSE was my first opportunity to organize events as part of a real company in the esports space. One of my modules I took during my third year was called the “Career Development Module”. In the place of doing two programming modules, I could work as part of a company to develop important employment skills for graduation. My role was to run one-off community tournaments outside of the regular weekly esports competitions NSE offered. I ran a small team of 3 other volunteer students from other universities and we worked together to bring a variety of events to students every Saturday (some more successful than others)!
What has been your biggest achievement with the society/esports team?
We have consistently been a top performing society within the university esports space, but we have yet to have a real stand-out achievement! We came 4th overall on the British University Esports Championship (NSE’s championship points table), being beaten by Warwick, Loughbrough and Manchester. Whilst it’s a great achievement it’s still not 1st!
However, personally, my favourite achievement is when one of the NSE admins told me that our society has one of the largest numbers of female players registered and actively playing on teams within their tournaments out of all university esports societies. Inclusivity is important to me, so to know that I had achieved to some degree made me happy.
It makes me happy to know that we are not just one of the best performing universities, but one of the most inclusive too!
Newcastle University Gaming society has a high number of female (both cis and trans) executives and players within a UK university esports society – do you think that the esports scene, especially grassroots, is becoming more welcoming and diverse?
It is difficult to say. Within the UK university esports scene at least it is made up of so many smaller communities for individual universities. You see different attitudes and levels of diversity from different universities.
There have been a few occasions when our female players have been targets of sexist jokes from other university teams. I’ve also seen this happen in grassroots tournaments outside of university which our female players have took part in.
Even outside of this, offensive comments are not too uncommon in my experience (usually in-game where the spaces are mostly unmoderated). But I believe that people like this are becoming increasingly in the minority. A lot of people don’t agree or partake in these jokes, but people are afraid to report these things.
Even Newcastle University was like this at one point when I first joined. But I didn’t like it, so I put a lot of effort into changing it when I became an executive the following year. It requires real effort from people who are willing to meet resistance at first from people who don’t want the status quo to change. It’s slow progress, but I try to be optimistic.
Do you find it difficult to encourage more women to get involved in esports at university level?
It was extremely difficult at first when I was the only woman in the society. But I think we’ve sort of reached a critical mass where there are so many active female players within our society that people know there are plenty of other people who can relate to their experiences or otherwise have their back should they be made uncomfortable by anything.
That said, I think a lot of women are understandably cautious about getting involved in larger gaming communities. There has been more than one occasion when I have been talking to someone and they have said they are interested in video games/esports but they haven’t even looked at our society for fear that it would be a bit of a “boys club”.
It’s a perception that gaming spaces aren’t going to be able to shake for a long time I don’t think. I can only hope that those who do give us a look can quickly see what our values are and what we stand for and know that we will actively protect women within our spaces.
For someone looking to get a career in esports or the gaming industry, where would you suggest they begin?
Grassroots is where it is at! If you’re studying at university, even if it’s in a degree which isn’t related to esports, there is a lot you can do.
I can’t speak much from a player perspective, but from a management perspective I have learned so much from being an executive of the Newcastle University Video Gaming & Esports Society. I was, honestly, a pretty terrible President during my first term but that’s overall been beneficial for me when seeking careers. I can talk about what I’ve learned, the challenges I’ve faced and how I’ve developed whilst in a position of authority.
Both NUEL and NSE have positions where students can volunteer/work for them. And since students constantly cycle and games constantly change there are always new positions popping up! These opportunities are not just in management, but in broadcast production and casting as well.
The tournament admins at NUEL and NSE are constantly active within their Discord servers. The biggest thing you can do is to be active within the wider esports community and to interact with these people as much as you can! Then once the positions roll around, if those in charge know your name and you have the experience from volunteering within your society at university then you’re in with a good chance to get hired and to gain some real meaty experience with a real esports company!
Have you personally experienced any difficulties within the grassroots esports scene due to your gender?
Usually when people first interact with me, they assume I’m a male. I kind of just roll with this sometimes because I feel like it’s more inconvenient to reveal my assigned gender at birth and risk having to deal with the fallout. So, it’s sort of difficult to say since only a handful of people know my gender and those are usually people I trust to some degree.
At this point I’m already sort of bitter and jaded so I take these measures in order to protect myself. And since most of my grassroots experience is online I can get away with it!
Most of the difficulties I face are when I try to confront someone about their behaviour which I think could cause other people difficulties.
While esports is technically open to everyone, regardless of gender, physical ability, age and background etc, it’s not as diverse as it could be. What kind of barriers would you say women face at both grassroots and higher-tier level in esports?
I think the biggest barrier is that people don’t realise that jokes do cause real harm. I know that most people genuinely do not intend harm, they’re wanting to make people laugh! I used to be like this too and I know the disappointment when people not only don’t find your joke funny but find it morally questionable. The temptation to blame other people for being “too sensitive” is a lot easier than the alternatives.
You have to have really thick skin to be a minority, especially in higher-tier esports. I think you must have thick skin regardless to start with. People can be cruel when they are anonymised through the internet. It is easy to become dejected when people are criticising your performance. It’s even more demotivating when people dismiss your skill due to your gender, or completely ignore it altogether and only talk about your appearance.
I could not be a player because my skin isn’t thick enough, so I’ve drifted towards the behind-the-scenes management stuff instead.
How do you feel grassroots, and professional, esports can gain a better representation?
The problems start early so it’s quite a difficult problem to face. When I was a child my parents discouraged me from playing video games because it was “for boys”. When I was into football culturally “boys sports” was more important than “girls sports”. When playing video games online I’ve had to deal with comments which would cause us to lose the game because they’re concentrating on my gender rather than concentrating on the game. This is something the esports industry will find difficult to counter directly since it’s so ingrained within our culture.
The best we can do is to make a genuine effort to protect those who do want to get involved with our community. We can’t just make token efforts; we must confront people and report problems and not be afraid. And that is a responsibility that everyone needs to share.
It’s hard to go against the status quo, but if we don’t then nothing will change.