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Q&A: Seltzer on ELEAGUE Season 2, esports growth and women in the industry

Slingshot’s Vince Nairn caught up with ELEAGUE interviewer Rachel “Seltzer” Quirico to talk about her experience for Season 2, the evolution of esports and recent outcry regarding women in esports.

Vince Nairn: What are your thoughts for just being back here for another go around of ELEAGUE?

Rachel Quirico: It’s really great to be back for Season 2 of ELEAGUE. I’m very excited that there is a Season 2, and this future and these exciting things, which are esports on television. I’ve been in esports for like 10 years now, and it used to be hotel ballrooms and you would come in and set up the chairs and tables and take it all down at the end of the day. So every time I come back here at Turner is an in your face reminder just how far esports has come and how many more people and bigger people and people with great ideas are interested in it now.

VN: What do you think of your set up in the studio? It’s kind of a unique experience. What’s it like setting up there and how it all works out logistically?

RQ: Like I said, I’m used to really small venues, really inconvenient venues being behind the stage in the darkness, or just a couple folding chairs set up. So to come to Turner, to come to the home of CNN and big broadcast production is mind blowing. The way they take care of you here at Turner is incredible, and the food is great. We have our own green room we get to hang out in. I know the players are super happy with all the accommodations they have. They get to practice on site and in their own private rooms, which is revolutionary, but I think the biggest thing for me, actually. I’m really used to getting my makeup done with a person holding a cellphone camera light in one hand, and in a dark corner in the room, so it’s kinda amazing to really just see all the different ways a full-scale production takes care of it’s talent.

VN: I know you’ve been around for a while, and you’ve hosted, talked about, and played a lot of different games. What are the biggest things that you’ve seen in this entire esports ecosystem that have really changed since you’ve first got going up till now?

RQ: I think one of the biggest things I’ve seen change from the beginning of esports to now is how well players are taken care of. To get to play video games as a job was usually seen as enough. Isn’t that exciting? “You know, maybe you can make some money on the side, but aren’t you just glad to travel and play with your friends?” And now I think people are really starting to realize we have to invest in these players, we have to take care of them, we have to make sure that their futures are taken care of, that they’re not missing school, that they have health insurance. The evolution of the way esports takes care of its players, which are really our most valuable assets in this scene. It’s been really great to see the improvements.

VN: How has hosting evolved too? There’s a handful of you now and it seems like more and more are coming on as well. How has the idea of hosting and what that entails evolved over time?

RQ: Hosting has kind of always been a weird part of esports. It’s one of those things that’s constantly evolving because when it started out, it was me and Anna Prosser begging to come on stage, or it was hosts from other aspects of entertainment that were sort of coming into gaming, and usually they bungle it and didn’t know what was going on, and they didn’t handle it with the proper respect. So what I think is amazing now is my opportunities as a host, and actually I work in a talent agency where I take care of a lot of other hosts in esports, and we’re all just so excited to see how much agency we’re being given because what we bring to the table is the ability to make other people look cool. If I could narrow my job down into one thing, it would be “I’m here to make other people look cool and to make gaming look cool.” And so now that esports realizes they need people who are truly in love with esports to present their games and to be their hosts, and to be their talent, it’s our job as that passionate talent to start improving ourselves. Before, I would spend most of my time preparing, studying the stats of a game, and the stats of players. Now I have to add onto that talent coaching and just putting that extra polish into my display because we’ve gone from not being broadcasted anywhere to being broadcast on TBS 10 p.m. on a Friday night.

VN: When it comes to interviewing players how has that evolved? Because players are doing a lot more interviews in esports because there are more eyeballs and more media types in esports, but it seems like it’s something that’s still kind of unnatural for some of them. What are some of the things you try to do to get the most out of someone you’re talking to?

RQ: I think one of the biggest changes in the interviewing process and how players approach it over the years is (in the past) no one was talking to them. And then people started talking to them, but the interviewers didn’t quite know what the important questions were. So I’m really excited now that we’re at a point where I could be an interviewer who knows and respects these players. I respect all the time they put into it, the practice they put into it, and that respect and that interest that I have is something that can be reflected now. So finally I think the host and the players are on this sort of parallel where they do have this respect for each other. They understand each other’s jobs and can really help each other do our best now. So if I pull aside a player to do an interview, I can take a moment with them and be like, “Hey, I saw you last time. It’s good to see you again.’ We’ve finally built a rapport that’s been built over the years, and on top of that I can say, “You know, these are the questions. Do you wanna look at them? Do you want me to surprise you?” and just with each player kind of finding out what’s going to make them the most comfortable, and what’s gonna make them look best on camera. I never want to make them look silly and I never want to make them look stupid.

VN: Being on network TV now, how has that added another layer, another wrinkle as well? Because it’s one thing if you’re talking in front of 10,000 people on Twitch, but it’s on national TV now. How does that kind of change the game, not only for interviewing, but just from also everything else that kind of goes into what you guys are doing?

RQ: Coming into the TV space really just added a lot of polish to everything we were doing. It would be OK a couple of years ago to do an interview and to miss some lines and to stumble and laugh, and take a moment. So many times I’ve been interviewing Korean players and we’re like, “Oh, we don’t have a translator. We’ll figure it out,” but there’s just no room for that kind of silliness anymore. Everyone’s been a bit more professional, but as a result, they’re being accommodated when we ask for these players to step it up professionally. They’re also being met with more tools to be professional, and more time to think, and more practice on stage, so it’s just been a growing process.

VN: From the perspective from somebody’s who’s a veteran, seeing Turner come in, they’ve also got the people who are already embedded into this scene as casters and analysts, and guest hosts. How does the way Turner does things logistically with regards to on-air talent and casters compare to things that you have seen before this?

RQ: I think one of the smartest things Turner did — before they even got started bringing in the talent and reaching out to teams — is they brought in some people who have been working in esports for a very long time. They brought in Christina Alejandre (as general manager and vice president), they got Min-sik (Ko, ELEAGUE commissioner). They’ve got Richard Lewis, and between the three of them, they were really able to put their heads together, rely on their years of experience, and sort of know what the community wants. The community really wants those people they’ve been seeing over the years: Richard and Duncan, and Moses. Everyone who’s put in so much work, so I thought it was really smart move and their first smart move was bringing in those people who understood the community.

VN: There’s been a debate in the last couple of weeks or so that kind of started with a BBC article about the challenges women face in esports, and Redeye wrote a story for our website that kind of refuted some of the misconceptions that were in there. What has your experience been like, as somebody who has been in this scene as a pro player and a host and interviewer for a decade, with regards to that topic?

RQ: I think it was way back in the day, retailers screwed us over because when they first got video games, they decided to put them in the boys aisle instead of putting them in both aisles, and from there I think it was always going into the boys’ aisle to get your toys. It was always going to the boys’ club to get your toys, and it’s been weird but I think that sort of as we get to a space where esports is more mainstream appeal, a lot more people are getting involved. We have a lot more women involved. We have a lot more diversity in general, and it’s been really exciting because as these new viewpoints come in, they add so much to the space, so they have new ideas, we have new ways to approach the scene, we have new players who are bringing so many different perspectives, and it’s been necessary. I think when anything needs to grow, they need to diversify and to reach new markets, and that’s finally where esports is, so we’re starting to see a lot more participation from a lot of high-powered women, and I cannot wait to see the new female players coming in soon.

VN: Is there a point where the community catches up with the industry how you see it? What, if anything, needs to happen for the community watching to catch up to where the industry is in regards to respecting and getting more women in the scene?

RQ: I think the esports industry is right where every other industry is at. The film industry is the same way esports is right now. Every other branch of entertainment. So as far as catching up, I think esports is there. Now esports has been the purview of people on the cutting edge, and the people who are excited for more and looking for better, and this is our chance to kind of reach beyond every other traditional media, and every other traditional part of our culture and say, “No, we’re gamers. We’re not gonna put up with that shit.” Gaming really has the ability to make a space that is gender irrelevant, that can celebrate everybody. I think smart gamers are moving towards that because not only would it be great to have more women, and more people involved in general, it’d be great to have their money, and their input, and their market power. So I really hope we move there because it’s gonna help put us at the top.

Cover photo by Turner Sports/ELEAGUE