We interview Natacha Jones, Creative Director of the NUEL (National University Esports League) as part of our new Women in Esports Campaign.
Natacha tells us about her background and journey from freelance to full time, offers advice for those looking to gain a career and skills in production, and how she feels that women in esports can be further represented within the industry.
Please tell us about your background and some information about the NUEL.
I’m 24 and I have a Master’s in Biology (specifically in mathematical modelling of populations) from the University of Manchester.
I’m currently Creative Director at the NUEL (National University Esports League). I’ve been at the NUEL since 2016, when I was brought on as the Overwatch stream producer.
The NUEL is the largest university esports competition in the UK. This year, we’re running more than 10 tournaments and 5 broadcasts a week. The League of Legends University Series, our flagship LoL tournament, has a record 472 teams this split.
How did you get into the esports industry – did you take a particular route?
Whilst at university, I got involved with the Esports Society and met friends who later would help me get freelance work with companies like ESL and Belong (previously Multiplay). My involvement in the university esports scene also helped me take on the role of Project Manager of the British Esports Championships, a position I held from June 2018 to September 2019.
You mentioned that you were brought into the NUEL as the Overwatch stream producer, how has your role changed now as you recently became Creative Director?
In my current role as Creative Director I now manage all creative output of the NUEL – from our branding to the broadcasts. I work with DLC Studios to commission graphics and branding, then create stream packages for all our producers using said graphics. With the help of our Product Managers, I now manage the Broadcast Team (comprised of around 30 people) and social media for our tournaments and broadcasts.
My day-to-day involves meetings, working late (as all our broadcasts happen in the evening) and spending a lot of time thinking about new ideas. The most time-consuming thing I do is building stream packages. In the evenings and weekends, I’m often doing freelance work too on the side, such as Overwatch Arena Clash on a Wednesday night.
From previous work experience, freelance production work to project managing the British Esports Championships, requires a broad range of skills. How did you go about learning those skills?
I picked up broadcasting and event management skills from running events like King of the North, which provided me a path into the NUEL. Every time I do freelance work, I pick up more technical skills that I can apply to the NUEL and other jobs. I’m constantly learning in this industry. A common mistake people make when they come into this industry is assuming they have all the skills they need and don’t need to learn from others.
Some of the skills I use in my job came from my education – I did Graphic Design at A-Level, which taught me how to make great designs and editing in Photoshop. During university I had to write so many essays and papers – so this helped with my writing for work, such as social posts and any documents created.
You mentioned freelance work that you do in your spare time. What freelance work do you do and how do you get recognised/promoted for your freelance work?
I’m an Overwatch observer and work in stream production. I do online, studio and live event broadcasts, sometimes as a vision mixer, sometimes as graphics operator, sometimes both!
I get new work through word of mouth – usually someone will reach out to a company I worked for in the past and ask for recommendations. Sometimes I’ll find out about an upcoming event or broadcast and I’ll message someone I know at that company to see if there’s any room for me on the crew.
How does freelance vary to full time work – do you prefer either?
I prefer the stability of full time (knowing when the next pay check is coming is always useful), but do sometimes miss the freedom of freelance.
I have a good balance now with the NUEL, as they don’t mind me running off to events and doing freelance work, provided I still get all my other work done. I’m lucky as this gives me a great balance of both.
What are you most proud of about your work at the NUEL?
Making really cool things and seeing them come to fruition on our broadcasts 5 nights a week. Also having the freedom to work amazing events is a huge positive.
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?
Videogames have historically been marketed towards males. Use of ‘masculine’ imagery and wording plus placement of advertisements (e.g. in advert breaks between sports shows) mean that girls weren’t exposed to videogames from a young age or were less likely to engage with them. Additionally, young girls are made to feel like playing games is a ‘boyish’ hobby so those who do play games may not join online gaming communities as readily as a boy might. They also may not have a circle of friends with whom to discuss and play and practice with.
This creates a barrier for entry for esports from a really young age – boys are getting probably a decade more practice through playing games like Call of Duty, Gears of War and Counter-Strike for example.
This obviously isn’t the case for everyone, and it isn’t the case for me, but I think it explains a big proportion of the gender gap in competitive gaming. This article by Jake Lyons, DPS for Houston Outlaws, explains it really well.
Another pretty obvious barrier is the discrimination that women face in this industry. Very recently, I was working in production at an event when a dude came up to me, interrupted me and asked me to “be the mum” of the stage and clean up after everyone. I was already doing a technical job and needed to focus on that, I was part of the production crew. I wasn’t there to tidy up after him or his staff. He didn’t ask any of the male crew. This shows how there is still a way to go to break down some of those discriminatory notions that are unfortunately still prevalent in the esports industry.
What do you think the industry can do to encourage greater diversity in esports? What would you like to see happen?
I think the industry should inspire greater representation and imagery featuring women and girls in esports documentation, literature and marketing. Another way to encourage diversity would be to showcase more female/Non-Binary/LGBT protagonists in video games. I also want to see esports companies and organisations held accountable for sexist work cultures and policies.
What are your thoughts on the current state of esports in the UK?
I think there’s a danger of monopolisation by tournament organisers who seem determined to eradicate any competition. Healthy competition and coexistence is good for the scene.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into your field of work?
Apply for any job based on whether it interests you – even any jobs where you feel you are underqualified – the worst that will happen is they say no, and you can get feedback so you know what you need to work on for next time.
What would you say has been your biggest achievement so far?
Probably graduating from university or going full-time at the NUEL!
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Hopefully in full-time production, with my own studio to look after and run broadcasts out of. Or part of a localised Overwatch League broadcast team.
Finally, if you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self?
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To see other Women in Esports content, visit our hub page here.