We interview Mary Antieul, Head of Esports & Partnerships at BELONG By GAME as part of our Women in Esports campaign.
Mary tells us about her career pathway at GAME, her hard work behind creating the success of BELONG, and advice for working on many big projects and events, such as Arena Clash and Insomnia Gaming Festival.
Please introduce yourself – tell us about your background and about BELONG.
My passions are dogs (my fur baby is a golden retriever called Luna), gaming and books. I started in GAME in 2005 as a Sales Assistant during University where I studied Psychology and Sociology. I love working with gamers and within such a lively industry and so I haven’t left! I joined Multiplay at the post of its acquisition by GAME in 2015 and spent time with the team establishing publisher partnerships and exploring how we could integrate events into the GAME stores. Through lots of meetings and presentations we came up with concept of BELONG, and I moved over to work on that project to build and open the first arena in Manchester in 2016.
BELONG has come a long way since then, but our core values remain the same, putting gamers first and making competitive experiences fun and accessible. BELONG now has 24 arenas, over 120 staff in the UK, and is running events and tournaments 362 days of the year!
Have you always had an interest in games and esports, and did this lead to a particular route into the industry?
I’ve always had an interest in gaming, I harassed my parents for a Gameboy with Pokemon Red and my first wages were spent on a PS2. Being in GAME opened my eyes around the huge range of games you can play, and the Multiplay guys introduced me to PC gaming, which is now my main format.
I would say I’ve stumbled into esports but I’ve fallen in love with the scene and community. The passion within the different esports communities is incredible and I love being able to create products and events that these fans can enjoy. As soon as I joined Multiplay and understood more about esports I became interested and started to watch live tournaments at Insomnia. I was very lucky to be invited by Excel Esports to Worlds in November and that was an incredible esports experience.
Throughout your journey from retail in GAME to working with esports and partnerships at BELONG, were there any challenges?
Personally, I would say that the biggest challenge has been getting past the self-confidence barrier that I am not good enough or don’t know enough to do my job – imposter syndrome has reared its head many times! I think though that taking the opportunities that are offered is crucial, I’ve been lucky enough to have been offered many through GAME and taken the risk that it will work out.
What does your general day to day look like?
No day is the same in my world, but it tends to be a fair few meetings. I’ll be working with the Arena Clash team to check in on the tournament, the events team for Insomnia planning, BELONG’s partnership’s team on our publisher, peripheral and partner updates, and often meet with our finance team on budgets and forecasting. Otherwise my time will be spent on BELONG’s strategy and what we do next – we have a lot of great ideas and plans.
You’ve worked hard to promote grassroots ventures and nurture potential professional talent through projects, such as Arena Clash. How do you think grassroots projects in the UK can improve further to inspire more future talent?
I think linking up with pro tournaments and creating support mechanics to help players, teams and broadcast talent to advance is essential. At the moment it is a little confusing and random as to how teams can make it from amateur to pro. Grassroots also has the best potential to demonstrate the positive impacts of esports and competitive play so doing as much as we can to promote positive news and player stories is also essential.
Insomnia Gaming Festival is a massively successful event that brings together communities from all over the UK (and world!). Tell us a bit about the festival, your role within it, and why these events are so important for the industry?
Insomnia Gaming Festival is very close to my heart and the LAN hall is the origin of BELONG. The festival celebrates gaming and hosts an exhibition, esports tournaments, a 3,000 seat LAN, influencer and esports team meet & greets, and a main stage across 5 halls of the NEC. We also have an impressive indoor campsite. For esports, these events offer players and teams experience of competitive play in a formal setting, recognition of success and the opportunity to network with fellow teams, talent, commercial partners and tournament organisers. My role is to oversee the operations of the LAN and its community activities, the esports tournaments and any partnerships for esports within the events.
What advice would you give to others striving to create esports/gaming events?
Make sure that you understand all of the requirements of hosting an event, it is crucial that you are protecting your gaming audience and the rights holders (the game publishers). Also think about what it is that will make your event fun and different for your attendees.
What is your biggest achievement/project so far?
It has to be BELONG! Nobody in BELONG can claim that they created the idea, but I am proud of what I have contributed in its success. Seeing Arena Clash evolve is particularly exciting for me as we look back at its original concept scribbled on a white board in Basingstoke with one Call of Duty season in 2016 all the way through to where it is today with 24 locations competing across 5 titles.
What are your thoughts on the current state of esports in the UK?
I think it is an interesting time for esports here. I hope that we will continue to see creativity but need to make sure that tournaments are well managed and regulated to make sure the industry is seen as authentic to its existing and potential commercial partners.
While esports is technically open to everyone, regardless of gender, physical ability, age, background etc, it’s not as diverse as it could be. What kind of barriers would you say women face at both a grassroots and higher-tier level in esports?
Firstly, I would say that we’re definitely moving in the right direction. I can think of some great examples now of women in senior esports positions and I hope that we will continue to improve. Culturally there is still a belief that women are not as good as men at games that will weaken with more female pro teams (supported by grassroots). The experiences girls have in school are critical and its why it’s so important that projects like Digital School House and British Esports exist to demonstrate that there are opportunities for them in this space.
Have you experienced any of the barriers/challenges yourself during your career?
Many! I was lucky to be supported by great teams throughout my career but I have experienced many occasions where customers could not believe I was a manager of a GAME shop or that I actually play games at all. I do believe that the opinion is becoming less acceptable now though and everyone in the industry wants to see equality and diversity.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into your field of work?
Don’t give up and don’t say no to opportunities. Look for routes in that may not necessarily be directly in the areas you want to be in as there will be opportunities to move areas once you have some work experience. If you do volunteer then make sure you are clear on what you will be doing so that it’s the right experience area for you and look for great mentors in the area you are interested in who can provide advice.
Finally, if you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t worry, you will be OK and things will work out! Oh, and play platinum Final Fantasy X before you leave University as it won’t happen afterwards…
To see other Women in Esports content, visit our hub page here.