"I know some kick-ass women in esports. We need more and more of them coming". Frankie on being a mom, CS community, and Major storylines Exclusive
Escorenews reporter Maria Gunina spoke to Frankie Ward at PGL Major Antwerp 2022. They discussed Frankie's motherhood, her attitude towards work, and women's rights in esports.
The interview was taken during the Antwerp Major on the semifinals day.
— For me, you're the real MVP of this Major because I really can't imagine how hard it must be to be a working mom, to be with the baby at the event. Tell me a bit about your everyday routine here. How are you handling that?
— I was very lucky that PGL gave me plenty of notice, which is actually quite rare in sports, to know far in advance what your schedule will be. I found out around mid-February that they'd like to work with me. And then I spoke to my family and was just like, “I know I was going to come back maybe when the baby was about six months old, but it's a Major,” and they understood.
So I got an Airbnb for my husband and the baby and grandparents to stay in for the first week. And so I would basically stay there. I feed her in the morning, I walk across the park, and I'd get to work, and then occasionally she'll come to the hotel, and I would feed because I'm breastfeeding, or I would pump milk and then leave that in the fridge and also feed her the formula too.
So really, that was kind of the routine was just sometimes I would watch the matches in my room. My role in the group stage was more kind of content that showed the personality of the players and the broadcast talent. So that schedule was very flexible, and PGL always were incredibly accommodating about the fact that the baby would be coming. And now, for this week, she went home on Monday because I want to have full focus since it's a Major on stage. And I'm very lucky that my family was very supportive of that.
So, yeah, I return home on Monday, and I’ll become a mom again. I'm probably not going to host anything for all of June, and I'm going to do maybe a few streams, but I think that's it. But once we get into July, I'll start working again.
— Did your expectations of being a mom match reality?
— In terms of working while being a mom, the fact that PGL still wanted me to work this major and had no fears about me being a mom and no fears about me coming back so quickly, it was so surprising to me. I really didn't expect that. I'm so fortunate that they didn't go: “We can’t use her because she just had a baby”. They actually decided to ask me first, and I really appreciated that.
As for just being a mom, I think the hardest thing for someone who has gone a mile a minute, who is constantly busy like me, is a change of pace. And I was thinking about it last night. If you like driving fast, then it's really weird when you see a speed sign that tells you to slow down. But once you get used to being slow, you look out the window, and it's a nicer view than if you're going 100 miles an hour. I know that probably sounds really cheesy, but that's what I have to do. I have to learn to admire the view, and at the moment, I'm still getting used to it. So sometimes it's hard. But the baby is lovely. So yeah, it's been lovely in that sense.
— Oh, she's probably the youngest major attendee ever!
— Yes. She's met some of the players. I didn't force anyone to cuddle her, apart from the makeup artist. She saw her and was just like: “yes, I want to cuddle her.” Because you know, she was in a video. We did some baby Pick’Ems. She got four out of nine. I think the same as me, actually.
— Your opening ceremony speech definitely has been one of the highlights of the whole event for me. What about the creative process behind that show? How did this idea come to you?
— I was asked to do the opening ceremony because we didn't have anyone specific to bring out the trophy for this event. I guess the natural thing would be, “Hey, you’d better ask NAVI to do it because they won last time.” However, they were still in contention for the trophy. So it was decided that it would be best not to do that. You know, you don't want to jinx anyone.
So then I was asked if I'd say a few words, and I was thinking about Fer and Imperial. Because I don't normally go into the booth, but I did after Imperial lost just to kind of check-in. And I saw him with his head in his hands, which reminded me of Brollan with his head in his hands in Katowice 2019 when fnatic went out of Challengers. And I thought of myself on my stream when I've done the same thing. And so that's when I just thought, “everyone's had a head in hands moment.” And that's why I came from that. It's incredibly visual.
Frankly, CS is incredibly visual because we don't just see the players. We would normally see an emotional reaction. When people listened to that speech, I wanted it to be about everyone's experience of CS, not just the players, and then what separates the best players from the rest of us. That's kind of probably an overthinking way of putting it, but… I was very lucky to have done a lot of events all over the world. And there are some really special events I've been so privileged to be part of. But the major is the thing everyone wants to win. Katowice, Cologne, and Major. Those are three events everyone holds above everything else. So hopefully, the speech is kind of reflective of that.
— I’m not a person who cries over melodramatic movies, but when there is some kind of opening ceremony, I always go: “Oh my god.”
— You should watch Carmac talking. It is so brilliant the way that he talks to the audience and how he takes his time. And in the past, when I've been on stage, I've always kind of had imposter syndrome: “That wasn't meant to be me on stage. That was meant to be someone who could make it big like that”. And so I’ve spent a few years telling myself: “Oh, well, I'm only doing this because of this. I'm not actually good enough to do this”.
And then because this was always me as the first choice for the job, and PGL was giving me so much freedom... It was just like: “Okay, now you take your time.” It's hard to take your time when Vitality fans, who are incredible, are singing in the corner, but I was just: “No, keep going, keep going. Because you've practiced this, you've written this. It means a lot just to keep talking and nobody wants you to stop speaking”. And that's the challenge that you always need to remember. You are allowed to speak.
— Imposter syndrome is a pretty common thing for women in esports, don't you think so? Because it feels like the audience actually makes you feel like you don't really belong here.
— Yeah, It can be like that. I don't think anyone took notice of the stuff I did in 2018, or maybe I just forgot it. But after I’ve been to big events in 2019, people started to think: “Oh yeah, okay, Frankie is part of this now,” and I really appreciated that. And I know there are people who don't like me, but, you know, I'm not going to be to everyone's liking. And that's okay. It's not okay when people send me abuse because they don't like me or write derogatory things, but it’s absolutely fine for someone not to like me.
— What's your favorite storyline at this Major?
— Obviously there is a Team Spirit parallel with Dota! It's quite funny. Sometimes when I go to Team Spirit, I'm just like: “So you are Yatoro. And are you Сollapse?” I did it with Patsi. I think they are quite inspired by Spirit winning in Bucharest last year. It's just really great to see actually how these younger players, for the most part, don't fall apart on LAN. It actually fuels them because I guess they’ve grown up watching these events, and now they’re part of them. I know that the Spirit guys have been watching some of these people for years. So for them, they really revel in the experience. They're not nervous about it because they expect it.
And I think that's really cool to see Spirit doing so well, especially after they've crashed out at Stockholm. They just had a difficult time rebuilding, and people were very surprised when mir was kicked. Because he was regarded as their best player, but he had some consistency issues and maybe wasn't the best fit for the team.
Now they've substituted mir with Patsi, and it turns out he's a superstar. And it's like, “he was your sixth man, and now he and degster are your best players.” That's kind of amazing to me. So that's one of the storylines.
And obviously we have NIP as well. It’s their second LAN. They made it to the quarterfinals, really challenging FaZe in places before they started to make mistakes in that last map. But I think that’s something they can iron out. That’s down to the fact they haven't been playing together all that long. And you look at FaZe, you just look at the wealth of experience and titles and the synergy that they built up. Of course, ropz was new at the team, but he obviously has that connection with karrigan, and he's also regarded as the smartest player in the game essentially. So he's going to immediately fit into any system.
— What do you think about CS:GO season format?
— I think it's interesting having RMRs instead of Minors now and how the teams who make it to the top eight don't get the reward of instantly being in the Legends stage. I wasn't sure about that, but then I talked with other talents, and they were like: “This is why it's great. We always need to have the best people. And so someone between the majors, they could have fallen off or changed the team and all that kind of stuff”.
And I went, “Oh yeah, that makes sense. Fine, I'm with you guys”. I'm very easy to change my mind. People would explain something to me rationally, and I would listen and go, “Yeah, you're right”. I think the fact that we have two majors in a year is great. I do think that the CS calendar is really packed and I think that that's very difficult for players.
But the fact that we have to have a semi-open system is really important. A lot of people discuss that, right? We might not have Spirit here in the top four if it wasn't for the system. So I do love the fact that anyone can win a major.
— Trust me, it's better than one TI and nothing in between.
— A few years ago, Kyle wrote that really great blog, which explained why TI could be an issue for Dota longevity and growth because obviously the prize pool around the rest of the year isn't as significant. Whereas with CS sometimes people go: “Oh, the Majors should have a bigger prize pool.” But it's a similar thing with TI and with the major in a way, which is you want to win TI, you want to win the Major more than anything else.
So the prize pool for TI could be 2 million, and the majors could have bigger prize pools as well. Yes, Dota fans take a huge amount of pride in the fact that they do buy these in-game cosmetics and make the prize pool what it is. But I still think people would dream of winning that event no matter what the prize pool is.
And it's the same with the major. These players are not thinking about the money at all because those at the top get well paid for playing, and they can make prize money from events all year round. They want to win the major because it proves that they are the best in the world. And that, for me, is the one thing that shouldn't change about the Major.
— You talk a lot about women's rights in esports. Ten years ago, when I started my career, it wasn't really the thing. You know, people don't really accept it. Why do you think pushing these ideas is still worth it even though people are not ready for it?
— I think it's just because, for me, it's all common sense. I saw on Reddit yesterday someone was saying: “I hate her because she's really moral, but then she doesn't follow her morals,” and all that kind of stuff. Oh, they also said I was rude. And I was thinking to myself: “I don't think there are many examples of me being rude.” To be fair, I did reply to someone who was trolling me the other day, “cry is free,” because I'm allowed to have a laugh.
— But sometimes, when you're just trying to defend your borders, people think: “Oh, you're rude.”
— Yes! And I have established barriers during TI. I said: “Here's an explanation of why I don't take my feedback from Reddit.” Because social media is extremely overwhelming because you've got lots of people saying their opinions about you, that's not normal. We've developed social media. It hasn't developed us. You know, it's not something we were born to expect or to have placed upon us. So it's not natural to have all these people having access to you and telling you what they think and then expecting you to then take that on. That's an emotional pile on. It's very, very overwhelming.
But unfortunately, if you do say something about that, then people get very offended because, I guess, it makes them feel like you think they don't matter. Maybe that’s true. And I do think everyone matters. It's just sometimes I've got to put myself first, as everyone should. I obviously have spoken out about certain things on social media, but I also try to do it with a degree of being measured. I'm open to a conversation as long as it's within reason, but sometimes people take my word the wrong way.
With the PGL Major Stockholm on the talent announcement, the talent were all fantastic. And I didn't have a problem with anyone on that team lineup. And I thought they all deserved to be there. My one piece of feedback on that was: “Maybe there could be a content role.” And there are some great women in this industry who could fill that role.
And obviously there was no ill will from PGL with me making that comment cause I don't believe I made it in a derogatory way. I should hope that if you put things in a way that's respectful to get your point across, people will listen. But unfortunately, sometimes the community goes: “That person has a different opinion to mine. So regardless of the way that it's put, it's offensive to me”. Sometimes it can be quite difficult for me because things that I say makes sense to me. But you know, I have to also understand that it might not make sense for someone else. So maybe we've got a little bit of a journey to go.
You look at this event, you've got Sjokz, who's basically at the top of the game in terms of esports. She's the most followed esports talent, at least for the English language broadcasting. And obviously, Freya has been killing it for years. They are two women who very much should be at this event. And I've learned so much from them, Sjokz has been so supportive for my entire career, so it was amazing to get to work with her.
— If one day your daughter tells you that she's going to do esports, how would you react? And maybe you have some tips for many other young girls who probably want to do it.
— I think it depends on the role. Obviously, as a player, it's about balance. It is really important and also just looking at skills, how good she is. So it's a difficult one because you have to take it so seriously from such a young age if you want to be a pro player.
I think I'd want to just make sure that she's with a team that supports her. How they are doing things, how they are helping her at LAN events. If they're making sure she's got a balance in terms of lifestyle, time off, time studying, etc., I would support her because there are some amazing young players out there who are doing great. But it's a very tough competition.
And then if she wants to do a job like mine, I'm fully up for her trying out shoutcasting or things like that. So I would try to be very supportive of it. But she is not traveling around the world until she's at least 18. She needs to finish school. She can do some stuff, she can do some LANs in the UK if she wants — we have Insomnia here, local events. If she doesn’t want to go to university, it's obviously fine by me, but she has to carry A-levels.
I'd help her as best as I can, and I think because I've been through it. Hopefully, I would be good at helping her. I hope so. She can do pretty much whatever she wants to do, except play rugby. She’s not allowed to play rugby or be a ballerina.
Because ballet breaks your feet, and I don't want her to have body issues. I think it's an amazing art form. I just worry it's quite tough. And there's rugby. I don't want her to get head injuries. So, no rugby, no ballet. Those are my rules. You can go out till midnight, honey, but you can't go to a ballet class.
— Don't you think that the environment we have in esports, at least for now, is kind of toxic for women? It might be harmful to her.
— It could be. But I'm not going to let the idea that this might be harmful stop me. Because when I started, I also knew that it could potentially be difficult, but I didn't let that stop me. Sure, when I started hosting, I was around 29 years old. So I wasn't a spring chicken when I went full time. I was probably 28 when I started doing GINX TV in the UK, and it wasn’t my full-time job. So I experienced some of that kind of stuff. I think that's helped me a lot. That has equipped me for this industry by it not being everything to me from the get-go.
It became everything to me, but I came into it really loving, and I wanted to know more. So by the time I became a host, I was all-in. I hope things have changed by the time she's older. But the other thing is, I know some kick-ass women in esports, right? So we need more and more of them coming. The great thing is if she wants to do it, it's not just me she can talk to. It's a whole load of women.
And there's going to be more women coming up from Valorant Game Changers, for example. Hopefully, women in CS will have a resurgence on the playing side as well. And I know that Endpoint in the UK just signed a female Rocket League team. There are all these initiatives that hopefully will get women seeing other women playing go: “Yeah, I can take CS a bit more seriously.” And once they start doing that, we are going to see more women at a high level. So she's going to have someone to look up to.