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Women in Esports: Stacking the Industry Odds in Our Favor

In this week’s third episode of Women in Esports, we’re speaking with two influential women behind-the-scenes—Auverin Morrow, Esports Brand Manager, Hi-Rez Studios, and Dmitri Shan, Lead Project Manager, Skillshot Media—known for their work with games and leagues like SMITE and SMITE Pro League.

Host Kat De Shields-Moon discovers what essential advice they’d give to women (and men) in the gaming industry to improve diversity and create more opportunities for women in esports. Listen up to level up!

Special thanks to PNC Bank for their valued support in making the Women in Esports series possible. Together, with teamwork, we will overcome the challenges facing women in gaming.

Join the conversation. Be a part of the solution.

Watch the complete episode below or read on for the full episode transcript of this Women in Esports episode: Where is the diversity in gaming?

FULL EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Kat De Shields-Moon: Women make up nearly 50% of all gamers, yet only a small percentage of women play eSports. Professionally, it's time we figure out how to change that. The Knights want to empower women to build their esports empire. Along with our partner PNC Bank. We are adamant about creating a more equitable future for gamers. There is no one size fits all solution so we'll be tackling the issue from all angles, featuring insights from a variety of subject matter experts and professionals. I'm Kat De Shields-Moon with the Knights. Welcome to the Women in Esports podcast. Hello, and welcome to episode three of the Women in Esports podcast presented by the Pittsburgh Knights and PNC Bank. I'm your host Kat De Shields-Moon I'm hanging around for season two. And I really appreciate you tuning in. If you haven't checked out the other two episodes, be sure to head over to YouTube. There's a whole bunch of great information and great special guests there. Today, we are going to cover careers in esports. So we're going to tackle how you get into the industry, navigating the space, and how women can level up their career trajectory, which are all awesome and timely topics as the industry continues to grow. So sometimes you are faced with the impossible choice between awesome and awesome. So I think it's pretty awesome that we have two awesome guests for today’s show. Please join me in welcoming Auverin Morrow. She is the esports brand manager for High Rez Studios, and D’mitri Shan, lead project manager for Skillshot Media. Welcome. Hi. Hello, thank you. So to get things started, let's get go ahead with simple introductions and icebreaker questions. So please take a minute to introduce yourself, and then share how you got into the gaming and eSports industry. So Auverin let's start with you. For sure.

Auverin Morrow: I'm Auverin Morrow esports brand manager for High Rez Studios and High Rise Productions. I've been with High Rez for going on four years now. But I got into the industry through the games journalism track, I was very interested in editing when I was in college. So I took just a weekend editing job at a local games publication and sort of climbed the ladder there. And then while I was doing my reporting for that publication, I happened across esports. And there was an esports circuit that I fell in love with, and it was SMITE esports. And I was like, You know what, I kind of want to do this forever. So I put my nose to the ground, snuffed out a job over in their esports department, and here we are.

Kat De Shields-Moon: That's awesome. Awesome. We're definitely going to talk about that games journalism bit because that is very popular along with esports. Dimitri, tell us about how you got your start in the industry.

D’mitri Shan: Yeah, so my name is D’mitri Shan. And I am a project manager over at Skill Shot Media kind of got my start by volunteering for the Hieros Expo. So the company that Auverin works for they have the world championship every year. And as a poor college student, I was like, let's go get a part-time job that paid relatively well. So went and volunteered over there, met my current bosses there, and then applied for a job, and then the rest was kind of history. So that's me.

Kat De Shields-Moon: That's awesome. Well, welcome to the show. Thanks so much for lending your time and expertise. We're excited to have you. So let's jump into the nitty-gritty. As a woman, do you feel getting a job or keeping a job in the esports industry is different than if you're a man?

Auverin Morrow: I would say yes. Both accounts. I think getting a job is a little bit harder. This is obviously a male-dominated industry. So a lot of the people that you interview with a lot of your hiring managers are going to be male and esports. I think like a lot of, you know, other parts of the game industry runs heavily on who you know, not what you know. And oftentimes when women are precluded from gaming spaces, even at the casual level that has a trickle-up effect, sort of to even the career and professional level where that continues to happen. And then keeping a job is kind of a similar thing. Where just the environment that you find yourself in sometimes is a little bit more than we want to handle or we want to deal with and I think turnover is a little bit higher for women than it is for men.

D’mitri Shan: Yeah, I would say about the same. It is a lot different just because esports even though it's growing and it's kind of big right now, how you got into esports a lot of times was through connections. And so if you didn't know the right people or if you didn't start out in like a publisher or in like a QA position, it was really difficult to even get into the gaming industry, or the esports side of it as well. And then, like Auverin was mentioning a lot, like, you know, females, we tend to do a lot of turnovers in the esports world, just because one work culture and everything that goes on, you know, sometimes in, in regular jobs, females just have to, they're not respected enough, you know, we tend to leave or find different jobs. But yeah, I definitely think there's a difference when it comes to interviewing for it and competing for a job at the same time against a male. So I think they just have a little bit more of an advantage, especially since it is so male-dominated.

Kat De Shields-Moon: No, those are wonderful observations. And then certainly true, I'm sure for many. So let's dial it back and make it super personal for a second, not too personal, just a little bit personal. What advice would you...well, let's backtrack. What does an average day look like for you? And then what advice would you give to a woman who wants to do what you do? D’mitri, let's start with you.

D’mitri Shan: Yeah. So for my job, basically, as a project manager, we get thrown all sorts of different things, right. So any project manager will tell you your projects are never the same, just the topics the same. So when me it's like either gaming competitions, or it's going to be like TV shows or gaming shows. And then there's also your in-person events and virtual events. So for like me, my day varies based on whatever our client signs up for just because we are a production company. So my day, on a basic level goes with competing or talking to all parties. So basically, clients in-house, the production line, organizing the whole entire project based off of what the client wants, or what the project calls for, and then handling, like the nooks and crannies between like financial, legal and whatnot, and things like that. So that's generally my typical day. But for anybody who wants to get into project managing, just learn the basics of esports. And like what it is, like, I can't tell you how many people I've interviewed who have no idea what gaming or video games are just getting your basics down. And I think the like, the rest will come as you do the projects, and you're being trained and taught. So that’s me.

Auverin Morrow: It's, it's kind of similar for me day to day, and it's something new every day, there is no real day to day. It's just whatever gets thrown our way that day. That's what we're working on. So a lot of what I spend my time doing, since I've moved into doing brand work, and managing our broadcast team is making sure that the product that we ship out the door is the best that it can possibly be. It looks good, it meets all of our branding standards. And it's engaging to the community, and you know, meet the goals that we've set out for ourselves internally. And then on top of that, I'm managing our broadcast team, doing all the people management, making sure that they're empowered to do the jobs that they're there to do. And then helping facilitate projects, especially with integrations over on the game side. So all of our in-game integrations, cosmetics, merch all of that I help out with all those projects. Um, and I think the advice that I would give to somebody who wants to do what I do, um, is to stick it out. Be willing to own up to your mistakes when you make them, and then learn from them. But really, a lot of it is not letting other people intimidate you, and not being afraid to rise to a challenge. There are a lot of things that I've done on this job that I did not feel prepared to do. But in a sense, I guess that's what makes leaders is being willing to step up and do what needs to be done, and to execute it as well as you possibly can. So just don't let other people undersell your value to you. Because we all have a lot to offer.

Kat De Shields-Moon: Man, I feel like this, like half of what we've already talked about should be a TED Talk. So it's in your future if you haven't considered just putting that out there in the universe. So Auverin sticking with that advice that you provided, which is it's so impactful. What advice would you provide to yourself at the start of your career in gaming and esports?

Auverin Morrow: I would have told myself to stick up for myself. I let a lot of people steamroll over me I'm like I very much put on I have an online persona, especially when I was a community manager. I had an online persona that I used to sort of interface with our community. But like just personally, I'm kind of a marshmallow of a person. I'm very soft. I'm very nice. I don't like it when people yell at me. I don't like confrontation. But you know, in my time at the studio, I've had to set a lot of those things aside and stick up for myself, not let people steamroll over me go toe-to-toe with people who might have more seniority than me and accompany, you know, go toe to toe with people who try very hard to like, throw their weight around and make me back down or make me acquiesce to whatever it is that they want to do. And I’m learning now that I don't have to do that I wish I learned a little bit earlier. Because esports tends to attract very strong personalities, you have to be of a certain disposition really to be able to do well in this job. And it's a lot of personalities and a high PES at a high pace, like a pressure cooker-type environment. And so that does lead to a lot of very confrontational moments, and not all of them are good. But learning how to navigate those and stick up for yourself and know when to stand on your own two feet and really fight for something that you believe in or not let people walk all over you is really, really valuable.

Kat De Shields-Moon: No, absolutely. D’mitri, how about you? What advice would you give to yourself?

D’mitri Shan: Oh, boy, I'm a little bit the same of what Auverin said, but also just, you know, not being okay. With certain things that happened within the, like the industry like going into it, you know, it was very much you have to have a thick skin, you have to act a certain way, you have to be able to take the punches. If someone's beating down on you like you have to take it, you can say something, but like, it doesn't really matter. I think the one biggest thing that like if I had to go back and like prepare myself for this industry is yes, like for Auverin, like yes, it's good to come off is very strong, and I can take whatever, but also, at the same time understanding that at the end of the day, like I come from a very business background. So it was very shocking to me going into esports, that it's not very business-oriented at all. Most times, it's like you have to get to know all these different personalities to get to work with them. And they're going to clash a lot because they come from gaming culture. So I think one thing I would tell myself is, you know, stay strong, just like Auverin said, and don't like don't let people get to you on the emotional level. And like, just because you're accused of being emotional, because they're your girl don't like, let it get to you and don't get overly angry and like let it ruin your kind of mentality just because that was a really hard thing for me to get through. And it almost kind of destroyed me staying in esports. I like very heavily questioned like, I love my job, but can I stay in this environment? So just make like, telling myself you can you just need to stand up for yourself more and not let people get away with it. So I think that's the one piece of advice I would give.

Kat De Shields-Moon: Yeah, no, that's great. And so, so important. So let's make it is applicable, however you want to say it, tomato tomato? Um, what processes or resources did you both use to develop that, that ability to stand up for yourself? Was it like, a certain moment where it just clicked? You know, was it a slow progression over time? Like, how did that journey look like for you to meet? D’mitri, let's continue with you.

D’mitri Shan: Um yeah, so I think a lot of it was watching coworkers and other female employees go through things that, you know, I kind of was quiet about, I didn't really say anything, just because you know, I didn't want to get in trouble. I also didn't want to, like, get in trouble with HR or get involved in the situation. So I think a lot of it was watching them and then realizing that it was happening to me. So mine was like a slow progression. I'm, like, between, like, we all three know each other. I'm a very blunt person. And I'm very, like, I don't hide my expression if I think you do something not correct. So, like, I know, you had already seen it a lot, like certain people do things to me. But um, it was watching all of that happen and being a little bit in denial about like, Oh, that's not me, because I'm such a strong person. And I'm so blunt. And I'm so confrontational. Like, that's not happening to me, but then realizing, yeah, no, it is happening to you. And just because you’re blunt or confrontational, you're not when it happens to you. So that was my progression of getting there and understanding and slowly standing up for myself and being like, you know, I know what I'm talking about. Don't tell me that I'm just a girl and I don't know what I'm talking about. Or don't tell me I have all these friends because they're all boys and like they're flirting with me and that I should be cautious of everything and making me very insecure a lot. So I think a lot of it was just watching and growing and like actually within the past like, year or two is the only time that I actually started standing up for myself and being like, no, that's not right. I learned to be in a very professional manner. I'll say that to say that well, but that’s kind of my progression and where I've come to learn to take the advice that I would have given myself.

Kat De Shields-Moon: Hmm, no, that's awesome, and Auverin, how about you?

Auverin Morrow: Well, first of all, I have a great therapist. She’s amazing. She, she’s wonderful. And she builds me up and, you know, confidence and boundaries. And those types of things are, you know, something that we're always working on. Um, and a lot of that has obviously been applied to my career, but especially as I've taken on more of a management role, which is rare for women in esports. Especially as I've moved into a new role, the role demands that I stand up for myself, that, you know, I'm a more active player in the things that we do and the way that we shape our product. And that means going toe-to-toe with other people who are managers in the department and really fighting for what I think is right. Um, and a lot of it is just pushing through the initial discomfort and the initial fear of thinking, Oh, well, what about the backlash? If I really stand up for this? Like, am I going to get in trouble? Or are these people not going to want to work with me, that type of stuff, working through that, and getting over that to really be able to express yourself in a meaningful way. And then also very, very small things like, at every level, I think women in this industry are expected to be a certain type of permissive. Um, we often say things like, “I think that we should do this,” or “Well, in my opinion, we should do this,” and learning how to cut “I think,” and “in my opinion” out of your vocabulary, when you really know what direction you need to be going in, is so valuable, because then it doesn't give people the opportunity to undercut you with like, whatever they think it's, it's the difference between providing an opinion and providing direction and leadership. And it's a very, it's a very small but distinct difference, I think.

Kat De Shields-Moon: No, that's, that's awesome. And you're so right, and just to timeout for one second, therapy, there is nothing wrong with it. So I have a therapist, and it has done wonders for me, you know, so if you're a woman in the space, if you're anybody in the space, and you're just having a hard time processing, therapy has worked wonders in terms of just being able to have a sounding board, you know, without any backlash or consequences, and a place to kind of like sort yourself out and then find your, your voice and your footing, you know, it's a safe space. So there's nothing taboo about it for anybody's like, oh, therapy, nope, you know, sometimes you just need that third party that can kind of help you process things, you know. So we'll drop some links to therapy resources, like how you can find a good therapist in the description down below. So definitely check them out, and go on and be great, but we're gonna get back to these wonderful insights that Auverin and D’mitri are dropping, I love it. Okay. So for somebody that is considering getting into the gaming and esports space, or is just getting started in the gaming and esports industry. How do you maneuver, you know, how do you identify, you know, opportunities where you can step up and show out, you know, moments where, oh, let me hang back and see what's going on? Like, what? What would that look like? How did that work for you? Auverin, let's start with you. Sorry, I forgot to do that.

Auverin Morrow: That's, that's a big question. Um, so for me, I was terrified when I first went into esports. It was very intimidating. Everybody told me when I first got hired, and I told them I was working in esports are like, Oh, you're going to go work in the frat house, which we're not even going to get into. Like that type of language. But it was, but it was very intimidating. And I think anybody who like people who work in esports are mostly fans of esports, you're not crazy enough to do a job in esports unless you care a lot about esports. And like, what it does what it provides, you know, the culture. So most people who are working in esports, or looking to work in esports are already fans on some level. And being a fan. First and foremost is what keeps you sharp. I think it's what keeps you invested. And when all else fails, it kind of it's kind of what keeps you going I mean, we've worked plenty of HRX’s together and you know that it's such a slog getting to it and there are times where you wonder why am I even doing this and then you get to the event, you pull it off and then the hype and the engagement is just so amazing that you're like I could do this forever. And so the cycle continues. But I do think it's pretty into, you know, kind of, you know, survey the landscape there, esports is changing so rapidly and there are so many new opportunities opening up that the landscape looks a little bit different every day. So it's important to stay sort of in tune with that to understand where the industry is going. And you know where it's at right now and sort of keep your finger on the pulse of that. But sometimes you just have to make your own opportunities. Sometimes you just have to, it's not even about getting a foot in the door. It's about just busting the door down, and making sure that you're seeing making sure that you're heard, you know, one thing we do at High Rez is, is we like to really hire people out of the community because we found that passionate community members make the best employees long-term. Um, so our esports community manager, for example, her name is Rage. She's wonderful. I watched her on Twitter for two years, just be really passionate about our esport and then when the time came, she I was like, Hey, do you want a job? Because I saw her passion, I saw that she was so smart. She was so confident. And she was so eager to learn and grow and to really contribute something valuable to our scene. Um, so I didn't even have to think about it. It was just like, you know, I see you, I recognize what you're bringing to the space, please come work for us so we can actually put that to good use.

Kat De Shields-Moon: Oh, that's awesome. I love that. Go ahead D’mitri.

D’mitri Shan: Yeah, um, so a lot of like, when people ask me, I've been a lot of panels recently for education with like Georgia Tech. And a lot of the question is, is like, how do I get into esports? What do I look for? What? What is it first off, like, can I even get into it? So I know a lot of people my advice to them generally, is a lot like what Auverin says right? Like, it goes for any job, if you are passionate about something, and you understand that, like, Oh, I'm really good at writing, or, Oh, I'm really good at being in social media. And being a PR person. The biggest thing is like one having that drive for whatever you're doing. But also esports is unique to where you can pick a lane. In so many different areas, like you can be in a publisher for just gaming in general, in esports, you have your organizations like the PK Knights, then you also have the esports side of it, where you have companies like Skill Shots Media who are solely just into producing content for publishers, so you have different avenues that you want to go down. And the best way to do it right is to get interested in it, get your feet wet, take an internship, but also realize that they are very different business models. So there are going to be different aspects. So do you like working with clients and like having that type of industry? Or do you like working with individual players and taking care of them or producing content for them? Or do you like producing games and like helping on that aspect, and I think, also understanding and doing the research that in each one of those lanes, there are various amounts of like different career paths you can take that are just not video games, and like pro players. So I think that one thing to do is to do a lot of research into whatever you are passionate about and understand that gaming and esports probably call for whatever you're passionate in between, like writing and reading or being a lawyer or being an accountant, or being like a project manager. So just realizing that picking also picking a game or an avenue that you are really super passionate about. Because if you're passionate at the end of the day, it's gonna drive you to produce your best work. And that's what companies are looking for.

Kat De Shields-Moon: Sound advice, if I ever heard it, I like it. I love it. So let's talk about why women should be in the esports space, to begin with, you know, there's always the argument that it's like, “Oh, it doesn't matter, you know, it who's in it just as long as you know, the games happen, the teams are doing what they're supposed to do,” you know, so why is it important to have women not even just women, but just diversity in the esports industry? Auverin, let's start with you. Unless you're thinking then we can go to D’mitri or we can add...

Auverin Morrow: He wants so badly to be part of this. So, you know, one thing that, you know, when, when we're talking about diversity and inclusion, one thing that gets echoed a lot is that representation matters. Um, and it used to seem like there were no opportunities for women in esports just because we didn't see women in esports. So every time a woman takes a job in esports, she becomes a visible person who can then inspire other women to take jobs in esports. And, you know, as we've seen with any type of diversity that you're talking about, um, it's important to have other voices and other perspectives in the room. It's important to have other approaches to solving a problem, other ideas, other experiences, otherwise, your product is going to be a monolith, the product you put out is always a reflection of the team that works on it. And if you don't have a diverse team, you're going to have a very narrow scope and what you think about projects and what you solve problems and what you relate to other people, and the company culture suffers as a result, um, I don't think you can have a truly collaborative and creative work culture that isn't also diverse and inclusive. It's just not possible, in my opinion. Um, and so I think that's a lot of it, is just making sure that there are a ton of different perspectives in the room so that you can really get such a variety of input to make the product the best that it can possibly be. Because some people's life experiences just lead them to not think about certain things, you know, um, and we're serving a, at the end of the day, we're doing a service for consumers, right? The products that we serve to them, have to sort of, in a way, I think, connect with their lived experience. And communities are not a monolith, either. Our community is very diverse, by all metrics, and so for our workforce not to reflect that I find a little bit disingenuous, and there's just a little bit of disparity there, that obviously needs to be corrected. So I think I think the workforce should reflect the diversity of the community that it serves the audience that it serves, and having women and other groups, you know, coming into esports and really staking that claim for themselves is really important.

Kat De Shields-Moon: Absolutely.

D’mitri Shan: Um, but yeah, like, I think that it's super important to have the voices on the teams and in the environment of the community. And the service that they're representing, just like often said, like, I'm gonna quote something from your last podcast, but about 49% of females are part of the player base, right. So if you don't have females on a team, or you don't understand the people who are consuming your material, it comes off as you know, tone-deaf. So there's a lot of things that happened, I think, there's a very popular incident in a fighting game community where we all know about the fighting game community, but someone made a very awful comment about females. And then it kind of got like, tone-deaf and people were upset, not to mention one of the female players in Japan, you know, she is one of the top considered one of the top fighting game players, and she had a lot to say about it. And it was a huge thing. And it's like, you know if someone was behind that camera, or someone who was producing the show was a female, she could have said it real fast, “Cut that, like cut him out, like we need to cut to commercial, we need to go do something else.” But it was the fact that it was a very slight underhanded comment, and no one caught it, right. So there are things like that, especially from like the esports production side, that I think it's very fitting to have a female on the team who understands all of that culture and what's going on. But also, you know, just being representative of everyone in general, you know, is very honorable, and also at the same time, like a huge feat to make sure you're not being tone-deaf, or you're not doing things that are crossing the line that you wouldn't have thought of, because you just don't have those people on your team. For example, like there's a lot of things about other different cultures, maybe like in Europe, because I'm American, like if we said something I didn't know. So it's good to have different representations and be very diverse in whatever you're doing. Also, maybe you know, not having if you don't have a team member, or you can't, like your company, technically can't afford the diversity, just getting opinions and talking to that community and getting their opinion and making sure that you're covering all your bases, and also just being you know, educating yourself because no one wants to be that person. Like, you're only as smart as you know, but that's not an excuse.

Kat De Shields-Moon: So no, wonderful points. I love it. So, um, Auverin, you made a comment. And D’mitri, you agreed that you know, sometimes you're the first woman in a space, you know, and then now you have all of these other, you know, young girls, young women, the industry, whoever looking at you, you know, and they're like, “Oh, well, you know, that's D’mitri and she's the only female project manager,” or you know, “That's Kat and she is the only black woman on staff.” How do you that's, that's pressure, right? There's some inherent pressure with being the first and having that on your shoulders. So what advice Would you give to women who are the first at their respective organizations? And then what are some things that you've done to navigate, you know, that burden of responsibility?

D’mitri Shan: I think that, so, I was very blessed to go into High Rez who surprisingly, had a lot of female employees, I was very happy to see that there were a lot of different women. So I didn't at first feel that pressure or that hate because I feel like there was a really good community around us. But when we, you know, split off into Skill Shot, Kat, when we first went off, it was just me and you, and then life called you other words, and then I was the only female on the team. That being said, there wasn't an outlet for me to express like, kind of like an almost like therapy, almost like what you know, with a close friend who can understand what you're going through. So having to handle that and be the project manager and be client-facing and be a lot of things for Skill Shot, it was hard for me to get a grasp of you know, okay, I have all these problems, but I don't want to talk to anyone about it, because I don't want to come off as emotional or I'm a being a female or being too sensitive. And all this other stuff that are typically looked down upon like females. But for me, it was learning that curve was like, “Okay, you're not emotional, you're just a human. First off, so don't silo yourself into that kind of lane. Also, you are strong, you're not overreacting, you're not being crazy, because if you were a man, you wouldn't be called emotional.” So having a thicker skin, when it comes to people and understanding that our industry is still changing and that we're still getting to a point where it's becoming normalized to be able for us to express our emotions. It's just, you know, be strong, don't let their comments cause insecurities. Don't let it get to you, if someone makes like a slight comment about being like, “Oh, it's great that you're female,” it's like, don't let that get under your skin, it's like things are still changing and progressing. And just make sure that at the end of the day, you do have someone you can talk to you about it like Kat, I know you've been like a great person for me to turn to because I'll call you all the time and be like, “Am I overreacting? Tell me honestly,” and you'll be like, “No, you're not overreacting.” So, you know, utilizing the people, maybe you know, not in your company, but in the same area. And also, you know, it goes back to your like a therapy again, like I think therapy is so important because that is a safe space where you can have an honest conversation and get to what the actual root of the problem is, that may be causing pain or issues. So I think that when advice and issue of going into like being the only female is like, it's okay to be like a female in the space and compete and be honest, because you know, at the end of the day, we're all humans, there isn't like a gender. So that's probably what I would say about that.

Auverin Morrow: Yeah, I absolutely agree about having a support system, and I encourage having a support system that's outside of your job, especially if you're the first woman in your role, you are not going to have a support network at your job that it's going to be able to really give you what you need. Um, so seeking that externally and having that in place as you try to, you know, embark on this journey is really, really valuable, and it helps a lot. And another thing that's helped me is learning not to, this might sound kind of weird, learning not to take it so personally, when things like microaggressions happen when people make comments when people call out my gender, in some effort to denigrate me or to dismiss my ideas. Um, it's important to remember that it's not personal, it's not about you as a person or your value as a worker or human being, it's a preconceived idea about an entire group of people. And whether it was you in the chair or a different woman in the chair, they would be acting exactly the same way. Um, which, which helps with not internalizing it quite as much as you would otherwise. Um, and being the first is lonely being a trailblazer was lonely. Um, and it can be a burden in that sense. Because there is a lot riding on you, you're setting an expectation. But it's also an opportunity. In the same sense, I think you have an opportunity to set the tone for what women are like in the workplace, set the tone for what women can accomplish in the workplace. And, most importantly, and I'm just now you know, four years into my career at this company, seeing sort of the fruits of this laying down groundwork so that other women and other groups who come after you don’t have to go through the same thing.

Kat De Shields-Moon: Now that's yeah, absolutely. That was wonderful insight. Thank you both. so much for sharing. So we could definitely talk for like four and a half hours, if not more about so many things related to this. But, you know, time is not infinite, you know, and both D’mitri and Auverin have other things to do. So we're going to round this out with just a couple of more questions to close things out. So esports organizations, in particular, what can be done in this space to create a more inclusive and accepting place for women who want to engage either as players as aspiring esports pros are current esports pros and then as professionals like yourselves.

Auverin Morrow: It's kind of something you have to I think, studios, organizations, whatever entity you're talking about, you kind of have to attack it on both fronts, you have to have a leadership culture, a managerial culture that is empowering to women and other groups that's inclusive, that actively seeks out diversity, and not just to check a quota box, but because they actually value what diversity and inclusion bring to their organization. I'm very blessed to work for a company that believes strongly in that and actively pursues values of diversity and inclusion. And, at the same time, it is a lot of it starts at the leadership level, but especially when we're talking about like a game studio or even a community. It also starts at the grassroots level. Um, a lot of times the patterns of behavior that women see that intimidate them, or otherwise push them out of gaming start when they're playing games when they're queuing up casuals and multiplayer. So we have to create grassroots communities that are welcoming and open to women. So we have to start at the bottom, and also have it happen at the top. And then those two things kind of converge in the middle to create a full vertical where women feel encouraged to be involved at every single level.

D’mitri Shan: Yeah, like I think Auverin in her last point also had a very interesting point that I 100% agree with, it's like, it's the whole concept that you have to let people make mistakes in order for them to realize what's wrong and what's right. So, for example, like, if we're going into a meeting or whatnot, someone does make a side-handed comment, not taking it personally, but also understanding, we have to have some type of leeway to not let these people be afraid of making mistakes. So for example, like the can't cancel culture and whatnot, like, if people are so afraid to say anything, or do anything, like how are they going to ever know they're wrong, if they never do it, and someone doesn't correct them. So I think making a space that's comfortable, and for people to realize, don't overreact when someone calls you out for something, but also for that person calling you out. Don't be so harsh on them, because they're learning just like everyone else is. Also going into like making more of a safe place for everyone, I definitely agree with, you know, we have to enable and empower the people who we want to take over, you know, next generations and whatnot. And just because we're not seeing it now, it doesn't mean that doesn't exist, like when I work with NACE, the college esports companies, there are so many girl players, like we even had a bunch of them compete and like the championships this recently and even in the high school scene, there are so many female players. And as long as we're empowering, and we're giving them examples that yes, it is okay to play video games, it is not a boy thing. And we continue to echo out those kind of messages, I think it's going to definitely grow and start investing in a more safe place for females to start rising up and taking more jobs. Because remember, at the end of the day, we all come from a video game background, we all come from gaming culture, and back then there weren’t a lot of females because of the toxic culture. And a lot of that is dying down now. But we have to continuously feed the growth and make sure we're not going back to how things were and letting people get away with toxicity and a constructive way, also not in a hateful way. So I think investing in a safer space to allow the generations to grow is going to be what changes a lot of it because we are seeing change, but it's going to come with the lower generation. So investing that time into that community and making sure that they understand what's right and wrong is super important.

Kat De Shields-Moon: Absolutely. So you were talking about change. So that feeds right into the next question. What is your greatest hope for the future of esports? I know, big, big question there. I can take that. Like I don't, I think my greatest hope. I mean, I think a lot of people would echo this, especially if they're not in the majority in the industry is to holistically make a more inclusive space for everybody because it's like, you know, when you get different people from different backgrounds even different games, you know, in the same room talking about it, the energy, it just stacks on top of each other, you know, there's points of discovery where it's like, oh, I would never play that. But you know, this person's playing it, and they're, I'm cool with them. So now you're, you know, cross going across different games and different communities. And it just, it strengthens the overall fabric of the ecosystem, when that happens. And it's such a beautiful event when people rally from different perspectives and backgrounds around, you know, like you both said that thing that you love, that team that you love, that game that you love, you know, that player, or shoot even, I don't know, a character in a game, it could be anything, you know, but you just see a level of community in gaming that isn't easily replicated and other industries that are so you know, are kind of siloed. And it's just like this set one thing, and then you have this person that does that one thing. So I would think my greatest hope, would be for everybody to realize that there's room at the table for everybody. And you don't have to exclude anybody to have a seat at this table like in it, there are infinite possibilities, so long as we all try our very best to be a decent and kind human being. So hopefully, my rambling gave you a little bit of time to think I know, I've been throwing some big questions. You guys have been handling it like champs I love it.

Auverin Morrow: I think that my biggest hope for esports is that the industry at large will finally understand and embrace that esports is the great equalizer. Esports is one of the few competitive spaces where gender does not matter. Where physical ability does not matter. It’s not like a traditional sport at any level where you have to separate men from women because of potential physical differences or you have to be physically able in order to compete at the same level as everybody else. Esports isn’t like that. If you have a computer and a game, you can play esports. That’s it. That’s all you need. And everything else is secondary. But we act like men have inherent competitive advantages over women. There’s a lot of these old ideas that we’re still clinging to that aren’t true. That have been proven untrue time after time after time. But it’s just so burnt into our consciousness that video games are for boys and that was a lie started in the mid-1980s by a marketing agency. And we don’t have to adhere to that. Esports is incredibly diverse. It’s very competitive and the barrier of entry is basically zero. It’s accessible to anybody who has the passion and the commitment and just wants to show up and play. Anybody who wants to play can play. And I would like our industry to be more welcoming of that and really embrace that. And actually, open its door to anybody who wants to play.

D’mitri Shan: Yeah, I think what I’m hoping to continue to see and even more so grow is education and understanding. So for me, it’s seeing the high schoolers and middle schoolers have JV and varsity teams and the colleges too giving away scholarships for esports. I think it’s great because like Auverin said it is an equalizer. Males and females can compete on a completely same platform without one having an advantage over another. The only advantage is your brain. So it takes away those physical constraints that you don’t need to compete with a guy who’s ten times bigger than you and is gonna run faster than you and there’s nothing you can do about it. It takes that away and gives you a level playing field to be competitive and win as many titles as anybody else. So it takes away gender and it comes down to basic human…like how you’re performing and what you’re doing. It just makes everything equal I think for me seeing the growth in the education system and warranting like it is OK to let your kids play these games. It is not a bad thing. It doesn’t matter if they’re a girl. Giving understanding to those parents so that way we can see more female pro players and see more females and kids in general expressing and going through something that they love and it being something serious. And not being something that’s a joke. Because I know when I bring up esports to people they’re like, “You work with video games?” “You do the video game thing?” And I’m like, “Kinda. Sure. Yes. My topic is video games but I’m a very business-oriented person and my job is very serious and it makes a lot of money. So don’t make fun of me.” So I think that’s what I’m looking forward to is education and growth and understanding in future generations and seeing where it goes in 10 years.

 

Kat De Shields-Moon: Absolutely. Yeah, you’re right on target. My favorite question is, “Oh so you work in video games…” Yes. “Do you play video games?” OK. “Nah, not at all. I’m a competitive solitaire player. That’s what I do.” That’s awesome and I’d love to close with one last question continuing the theme that we’ve talked about. If there was one thing that a man can do in this space to make it just a little bit easier for a female co-worker, what piece of advice would you give them? Auverin, let’s start with you if you don’t mind.

 

Auverin Morrow: Um, call out bad behavior when you see it. A lot of women when they call out bad behavior that is not acceptable in the workplace or has no place in the industry, their feelings are minimized, they’re pushed out, they’re mocked, investigations are opened and closed with no actions taken, or they don’t say anything because we’ve been conditioned to not stick up for ourselves, not fend for ourselves. Just take it on the chin and keep moving. So one of the best things that men can do is when other men are acting poorly call them out on it. Teach them how to be better and to be an exemplary role model for how we treat each other in this space regardless of race, gender, anything. And especially if you’re in a leadership role please be open to bringing women onto your team. Don’t think that they’ll be uncomfortable if they’re surrounded by men. That’s how you continue to have a team with nothing but men on it. Somebody’s gonna have to be the icebreaker and you’re going to be the one to put them there. So don’t be afraid to hire women onto your team. I promise you will be better for it and just make sure that they’re comfortable. Just check in with them. I have many male co-workers who are always checking in and being like, “Hey, that wasn’t cool. Are you good? Do I need to help you handle a situation?” And I also have male co-workers that I can go to when I’m having issues with the way that I’m being treated in the office or things that you may not want to immediately escalate to HR for example. I would encourage them to be that person, that sounding board, that…I don’t wanna say “protector” because that’s a problematic term. But to be a good ally. Just be a good ally and make sure that the women in your space are getting the same opportunities, are getting the same treatment, and getting the same respect.

 

D’mitri Shan: Yeah and I think my advice would be is to be a good ally. I think I would give the same advice. But also for men to understand what being a good ally means because a lot of times that gets mixed up with being the knight in shining armor or being overprotective. We don’t need you to protect us. We just need you to be present and then when something does happen, acknowledge that it was bad and tell the other person, “Hey what you did wasn’t really cool and this is why.” Also, I know it’s a huge thing to ask but the one thing that I say to everyone is, “Be very open-minded and be empathetic.” Put yourself in that person’s shoes and would you like to be talked down to or be talked to the way that they were just talked to. If someone else were to do that to you, would you actually be OK with it? Just understand why your words hurt that person even though you may not be sensitive. Why did your actions cause a reaction? And just think about it for a little bit. Because I guarantee that if everyone just thought about it for a second, they would completely understand. Even though you don’t have to say, “Oh you’re right.” Just an acknowledgment of understanding of why that person is hurt and understanding that “I caused that and even though I may not agree with it, I’m sorry. And I understand why it hurt you.” I think that would do wonders for people and just be empathetic and keep an open mind.

 

Auverin Morrow: And this is kinda a small thing but I do want to add it. Don’t be that guy who walks into a group meeting and says, “OK guys…oh and girls, I’m so sorry.” Please stop that. Please just say “Everyone,” “Folks,” there are so many collective terms that you can use. It feels so condescending. I understand that in your brain you think that that’s being inclusive. But the fact that we are tacked on as an afterthought and apologize for not remembering us in the first place. That’s worse than just forgetting. It is.

 

D’mitri Shan: Yeah, just say, “Hey guys…” and make a note and be done with it. You don’t need to apologize and then be like “...oh yeah, and the girls.” “OK, now you just look like a butt.”

 

Kat De Shields-Moon: That’s great. I’m guilty on this podcast of being “Yeah guys…” so it’s definitely a conditioned thing for a lot of folks. But yes, “Hey friends,” “Hey y’all,” “Hey people,” whatever. That’s an excellent point. Well, fantastic. Thank you so much for your time and insight today. You both have dropped some gems and I know that other women can take a lot away from this conversation and for people who are allies and wondering how they step up and be better or change the workplace culture and some of the things that are happening. Help create a space that is welcoming to women as professionals, as athletes, anywhere in the gaming and esports industry. Before we close, I wanted to open the floor up to any additional comments, questions, suggestions that you may have, closing thoughts. If there are none, that’s fine. But I just want to give you some time to speak from the heart.

 

D’mitri Shan: I was gonna say, at the end of the day, everyone’s human. We’re always gonna have problems or always gonna have issues that we’re gonna fight for and we need to change. But at the same time, just remember everyone’s human and everyone’s learning. We all make mistakes. And if you can keep yourself in a human capacity of understanding which is hard a lot of times to tell people that because they’re like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Just be human. Treat each other as an individual being. Don’t let whatever experiences that you had with one person affect how you think of the general populace. Literally, just go on an individual basis and I think you’ll be fine. Just stick up for yourself and life’s too short to be unhappy and have a lot of depression and a lot of other issues that everyone has on a daily basis. Remember that there are people there for you even when you’re feeling alone. I think that’s what I wanted to say at the end of all this, is just we’re all human.

 

Auverin Morrow: Man, I don’t know how I’m gonna follow that but I think I would say, just don’t let anyone tell that you don’t belong here or that you don’t deserve to be here. You do belong here and you absolutely deserve to be here because you have to work twice as hard to get here as anyone else and this industry needs you. This industry needs more women. It needs more diversity. It needs more of everything. So this industry needs you and we’ll be better for having you. So it’ll be a little bit tough and a lot of people will tell you that you do not belong but you do and we will be better for having you.

 

Kat De Shields-Moon: Here, here. I love it. Well, again, thank you so much D’mitri and Auverin for joining us on the show today. The social handles for both of them are below so we sure to check them out on social media and their great organizations as well. I’d like to give a shout-out to the Knights and PNC Bank for continuing to talk about issues like this and providing a platform for learning, growth, and understanding. Thank you for tuning into the show whether this is your first episode or your third. We’ll be back this time next month with a brand new episode with some hot new content talking about how to grow the overall industry and how to create a safe and welcoming space for women. So thank you all! Be safe! Be kind! And we’ll see you next time!

 

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