Esports Commonwealth Gold Medalist, Northern Ireland
GoBubble team member Connor O'Donnell chats with Commonwealth Gold medalist for Northern Ireland, Emma Rose ‘Emzii’, to talk about everything from attending Insomnia Gaming Festival, the inaugural Commonwealth Esports Championships, her experience as a trans woman streamer, online hate, and the joys of gaming.
Emma won the eFootball Women's Gold medal for Northern Ireland at the first-ever Commonwealth Esports Championships, a joint community initiative by the Global Esports Federation and the Commonwealth Games Federation.
So, Emma, let’s begin by finding out about your experience at Insomnia Gaming Festival and what the atmosphere was like?
Emma: This was my first ever time at any sort of gaming festival, aside from the Commonwealth, and it's just the energy you get from everyone around you, it’s amazing. All the market stalls and everyone here is so lovely and loud and exuberant - that energy just flows. You can walk around the corner and there's someone in cosplay and you're like, holy hell, that is the best thing I've ever seen in my life!
It's just like-minded people make everything so much easier.
How does it compare to your experience at the Commonwealth Games?
Emma: It was the first time it's ever been done and it was a trial to see if it would be a good fit for the Commonwealth, which I think it will be because it's not a traditional sport, but it's still a sport. It's has the same behaviours; camaraderie, gameplay and skills.
It was really good there as well, the main stage they had on was fantastic, and its the best stage I’ve ever been on in my life.
(Fun fact: Emma is also a musician. Previously playing bass in Belfast based alt-rock band, Paper Tigers)
The steps that everyone involved put in to include trans people made it feel like a family, nobody judged, there was no hate anywhere, aside from friendly rivalries between teams.
But at the end of the day, we all went back to the same halls where we were all staying and we were all friends, celebrating the fact that this is actually something happening, especially in the UK as a whole. We've all come together and we've all put on a show and all progressed the same collectively going forward. It's only going to go from strength to strength.
In terms of trans and women’s representation in a traditionaly male-dominated industry, have you seen a shift in recent years, and have things improved?
Emma: It's getting better. It still has an awful long way to go. I guarantee if you ask any female content creator streamer, gamer, even just your casual female gamers, the amount of easy target hate you'll get in a game. Especially if you're playing a shooter, where the voice comms are crucial, as soon as they hear that you’re a girl or your trans, it's an instant target on your back.
This can even be from your own team. The people you're supposed to be playing with to try and win the game.
Even if you don’t have voice comms active, they can still look at your profile picture, and if you’re a girl, especially in my case when they read I’m trans, they just flick a switch and the hate starts. (Comments such as: ‘you're just a dude pretending,’ ‘you’re catfish,’ ‘you're gay,’ ‘you're sick’). But why shouldn’t I be able to have my profile picture as what I want it to be?
But overall the scene is improving. The likes of Billie, Alice, and Bryony from British Esports Federation, Women in Esports are huge advocates. What they're doing in the British Esports scene is vital work to say the least. We're doing everything we can to put faces out there and increase representation.
There are a few content creators and gamers who are female and they're using their voice for good, but there’s still an awfully long way to go. We’re still vastly under-represented and there's still so much hate.
What steps/processes do you take when someone makes comments that are negative/hate-related on your streams?
Emma: So when I stream, I have a couple of friends who are very on the ball in terms of being my moderators, always deleting toxic messages when they get posted. I don't stream too often, because of the amount of hate I can receive on streams.
Have the hateful comments put you off streaming?
Emma: It has yeah, and its put me off a lot of content creation really. The amount of hate can put you off everything.
But then at the end of the day, you have to look at it. That's the reason why there aren't more women and trans people in Esports. There isn't a bigger LGBTQ+ footprint in this is because of the amount of hate they receive and if you have a platform and a voice, you should definitely use it for the positive.
So they just have to delete the comments, block them, ban them whatever you need to do to stop them making a mess of your account and what you're trying to raise.
What’s the impact on your mental wellbeing?
Emma: I suffer with depression, it's a lot better now than it ever has been, especially since I came out, but it really can impact you. I have quite thick skin, so most of times it doesn't impact me.
I want to put myself out there and I want to be a face and I want to inspire the next generation and the current generation. Anyone who feels like they won’t fit in, I want them to see me doing it and be able to go like, okay, maybe I can do this, maybe it will be okay.
But obviously getting so many haters and trolls, it can be difficult.
So I put on a brave face, act like the comments don't affect me, but if I'm having a bad day, then they do double down on me and it does affect me.
I'm the kind of person that if someone leaves a comment on something of mine, I have to read it, I have to know what they said.
I did a TikTok I did the other day that had around 37 comments and I think maybe three or four of them were positive, maybe four or five of them were feedback on that content, and the other 20 comments are all just hate comments. People laughing at me, calling me all sorts and just being homophobic, picking on me because I’m trans.
Although the torrent of hate and abuse online can be terrible, do you still find solace and escapism in gaming?
Emma: Without gaming I wouldn’t be sat here right now, it saved my life during really dark years.
It’s just a complete escape. You can spend your entire day feeling down and depressed and dealing with hate, so you get home from work or wherever, you jump into your game where you have your friends that you already play with, especially games like World of Warcraft and role playing games where you make a new character and then you are that character when you're in the game. It's such a good mental break from your real life. I can have a mental reset where I get to go be myself around like-minded people and then that will prepare me for the torrent of abuse tomorrow brings.
But without my game, I wouldn't be sitting here right now because my depression was so bad. I just felt like I didn't fit in and I couldn't understand why. I had a partner, I had a job, I had the house and my house, I was engaged.
I felt like I didn't belong and I didn't know why, then I got angry at myself because I felt like I didn't deserve to feel like this was.
Then eventually when I came out, I wrote myself a letter and all the boxes ticked and it was one of those moments where you're like, well I finally figured out what's wrong with you. It's just this weight lifted off my shoulder.
A lot of people you meet in the games will become your real friends in the outside world, but it's important to have a healthy balance. As much as in my darkest days, all I did was play games because there was too much to deal with outside of it, I still would have my friends who still made the effort to get me out, to get me involved and every now and then I would still go hang out with them, because it is still important to have that outside of the game world.
What’s the story of how you got to Commonwealth?
Emma: So it's a funny story…I was sitting playing Counter-Strike and I got a message from a guy I knew in the local music scene, he sent me a post on Instagram saying, ‘looking for female gamers in Northern Ireland’ and I thought they probably wouldn’t accept trans people
But it didn't say anything and I thought, I'm just going to message them. So I messaged and said, “Hi first of all I’m trans, is that okay? I play games, what do you need, what's going on?” And they sent me a link and said yes, of course trans is fine. It doesn't matter if you're trans or whatever you are, you're a woman, end of story.
And I thought this is class already! I filled in this form asking what games do you play and how often you play, what are your ranks and stuff like that. They asked if I would be willing to play football in the women's competition? I said yes and they said by the way, this is to represent Northern Ireland at the Commonwealth Games…I thought hang on, this this can't be real…
I was invited down to Belfast Met for promo shots to announce the teams and then I got there and it was mad to see everyone coming together and that's when it hit home that this was the real thing…I'm going to the Commonwealth to play eFootball.
I was then introduced to my coach, who took me under their wing and taught me everything. My skill level went from ‘you're gonna lose every game’ to winning every game because of good coaching and teammates.
The importance of the coach and someone who understands that world and someone on the outside who isn't playing the game with you, talking you through it. It's just it's so important.
Is this the first time that you've seen women in Esports in Northern Ireland?
Emma: It's the first time I've seen any sort of gaming thing in Northern Ireland. Like we don't have it.
There's only really the Belong Arenas. I only found them through Esports Northern Ireland.
There’s a lot of work in trying to build more representation and access to Esports in Northern Ireland, there’s amazing work being done by Michael (Belfast Met), where they’re building an Esports arena for him to teach his course.
Again, it's all about the education behind the sports. Its not just going and playing computer games, its all about the video editing, it's content creation, it’s sound, lighting, production, value, business, marketing, stage production, stage management. It's a multi-billion dollar industry, it's not just playing computer games, it's so much more.