We interview Gemma Cooper, PR Manager at BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment UK as part of our newly launched Women in Esports campaign.
Gemma tells us about her unique pathway, from completing a Geography degree at University, to exploring the world of esports and later securing her current role at one of the biggest gaming companies globally.
For those who don’t know you, please introduce yourself.
My name is Gemma Cooper, and I’m currently the Public Relations Manager at BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment UK. I’ve been working in PR and PR professionally for approximately four and a half years – having worked for the likes of Warner Bros, Creative Assembly and a few part time PR agency roles.
How did you originally get into esports?
I was very passionate about online shooter games from a very young age – having played Battlefield 1948 clans when I was only about 10 years old with my Dad! When I was a bit older, and I had moved from just PC onto multiple platforms, I joined an online Halo community and met a bunch of people online to play semi-professional games with. I really enjoyed meeting like-minded people, even though at the time I was the only girl in the Halo community – and relatively soon after joining I went to my first esports event in 2010. It was a thrill, and a few months later I was at another – I’ve probably been to over 50 now!
Your career progression route is very interesting, from your university studies, to freelance work within esports to where you are now. Are you able to go into more detail about this?
I went to my first esports event in August 2010 as a spectator having joined the Halo community literally a couple of weeks prior. By 2011 I’d attended another four events as a spectator or playing for fun, before eventually moving into event photography as a volunteer for ECL/EGL. This allowed me to get into the events (where all my friends were) relatively inexpensively, and meant my foot was in the door for future opportunities. After doing photography (rubbishly) for a period, I moved into event administration – which was a combination of organisation hundreds of players with updating brackets, setting up tournament rules and ensuring the whole day ran smoothly. I eventually moved onto other titles and started running tournaments for Call of Duty, Halo and League of Legends for multiple esports companies including Insomnia, Gfinity, EGL and Dreamhack – which also meant I started getting paid for what I did.
For me it was a chance to really grow my skillset and build the foundations of a career for myself in the future – and I also had the opportunity to network from about 16/17 years old with industry folk I still speak with today. Whilst I was running these tournaments, I was also in university studying Geography. During my second year I had the opportunity to do a placement, and thankfully Warner Bros offered me a 1-year placement doing Marketing and PR, having been impressed with the level of events and tournaments I had done during my university studies. I had the time of my life working for WB and was genuinely devastated to leave. As a result, when I came back to Liverpool to finish my degree, I was determined to continue my career in the video games industry. Before I graduated, I’d secured my role at Creative Assembly as an associate PR Manager, which meant I was able to continue doing what I loved almost immediately after finishing University. After a wonderful two years at CA – I’m now at BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment doing PR on some amazing titles, including Dark Souls, PAC-MAN and Cyberpunk 2077.
Tell us about your current role and what you do from day to day?
I’m now the PR Manager at BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment UK. One of the best things about my role is the diversity of things I do, and the constant excitement. I get to travel the world promoting games that I love and working on projects that genuinely excite me. As a result – my day to day massively varies. One day I could be collating coverage and feedback from media and influencers on our key titles, the next day I could be organising a hands-on preview event for hundreds of people! It’s all very exciting and you’re a fundamental part of the team – people very much rely on you to help make a game succeed. There’s a lot of work, but also a lot of fun that comes along with it.
What are the challenges you face in your role?
I think that PR is an ever-evolving discipline to work in – and it’s all about keeping up to date with the current trends and media interests, being one step ahead. It’s also about being creative and being able to come up with never seen before concepts that you know people will be excited by. You also have to be incredibly personable and friendly – otherwise people won’t want to work with you!
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 that whilst esports still has a long way to go, it has massively improved since my time in competitive gaming – which began almost ten years ago now. Back then, I had every insult thrown at me and I felt like every choice I made was analysed, broken down and made public for everyone to criticise. One of the best things I’ve seen happen recently is more women have moved into esports now and are more widely accepted amongst the male gamers and in turn their audiences. When you see a male pro player endorsing or supporting a fellow girl pro player or streamer, their audience will also become positive in turn towards that player. As esports generally appeals to a younger audience – it’s this younger audience that needs educating on the impact of their words online. It’s down to the people they look up to (the streamers, the big pro players and the commentators) to take the first steps in helping make esports a safer place for women.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get into your field of work?
Start with volunteering, doing part time work or making connections from an early onset. If you want to work in esports, start going to some events and meeting people! It’s all about getting those initial skills that will drive you forward – and it takes a lot of hard work and time. But hey – it’s worth it!
If you want to work in PR, it’s also about networking and staying up to date with the top media sites – who works for what company, who’s the biggest streamer, what trend is exciting right now? If you can stay on the pulse with all things gaming and you’re happy to chat to just about anyone – you’re already on your journey!
Have you personally experienced any difficulties within the esports/games industry due to your gender?
I sadly have in esports, but thankfully not at all in the games industry itself. However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. The games industry and esports industry still needs to take a giant step forward to ensure that all women are treated equally, paid equally and have the right support. I’m grateful that everywhere I’ve worked so far have been incredibly supportive of me and my career, but unfortunately that’s just not the case industry wide. However, it has already come forward since my first early days in the industry – so I believe that we will eventually be able to accomplish equality.
What would you say is your biggest achievement?
Probably some of the titles I’ve launched, but I absolutely cannot take credit for that. I’m lucky that I get to work with so many developers all over the world – for example the Supermassive Games team in Guildford on launching The Dark Pictures: Man of Medan, the CD Projekt Red team in Poland for our work (so far!) on Cyberpunk 2077 and the amazing teams in Japan and BANDAI NAMCO that launch our anime and fighting titles – there’s just so many!
For me on a personal level, being able to work alongside some of the best talent in the industry is an absolute blessing and an accomplishment for me. Also, being nominated for awards such as MCV Women in Games and the Games Industry Biz Future Talents lists are incredibly exciting – and it’s a really nice feeling when you realise people are noticing the hard work you do!
But of course – making a career for myself has been an incredible journey. From starting a degree in Geography to working on some of the biggest titles of the year at BANDAI NAMCO – its been a real adventure.
A big thank you for Gemma for taking part in this interview as part of our Women in Esports campaign, make sure you drop her a follow on her social media pages below: