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Anna Rozwandowicz From ESL Talks Careers In Gaming And Her Thoughts On Toxicity

Anna’s story of growing up in a tiny place in Poland playing a Commodore C64 to becoming Director of Communications at the biggest esports company in the world should be an inspiration to anybody considering a career in the video games industry!

What is your favourite game? What was your childhood favourite?

I grew up in a tiny place in Western Poland. We didn’t have computer games or even access to computers until I was about 12. But one day, my Dad came home with a second hand Commodore C64 and a few tapes. I don’t remember any of them ever working properly, but I had fun trying to reproduce the code from the book that came with it.

The very first game I played, was at a friend’s place: it was this platform/adventure game on Nintendo called Contra. You were a little guy jumping from one place to another, shooting at things. Then of course different versions of Mario and simple racing games. I always had a weak spot for shooters, but I’m much better at building than destroying stuff, so Command & Conquer, Age of Empires and different editions of games from the Sim series were my favorite.

My Pentium I, 166Mhz, 2GB HDD, 256 RAM and 14 inch screen PC set up (which was my first and only one I had until much, much later) wasn’t good enough for any of the better shooters, but I did play some Blood and Soldier of Fortune and Duke Nukem – to the great despair of my parents, who couldn’t make much out of it.

How did you find yourself working in the video games/esports industries?

It was a cosmic accident. Like it often is with those things, I was in the right place at the right time and had the right people around who were looking out for me. I started my adventure in video games at Newzoo, but quickly realized that I have a way with words, not numbers. Newzoo’s CEO, Peter Warman, saw that too, and was very kind to introduce me to some people at Perfect World Europe, who at the time were growing their team in Amsterdam and were looking for a PR manager. I stayed there for 1.5 years, and when the job at ESL popped up, I was quick to decide. Coincidentally, a few weeks before I applied, I went to Gamescom, saw the ESL Arena in its full glory and instantly knew: this is where I needed to be. Fast forward 5 months and I was moving to Cologne to join the HQ team. That was already almost three years ago!

What is your official job title and what are your day to day responsibilities at your company?

I’m the Director of Communications, and I’m responsible for all our internal and external communications. I handle our corporate messaging, speaking opportunities, media relations, crisis and issues management, as well as several non-communication related projects. AnyKey and Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC) are examples of those, but I’ve had my hand in a dozen of other projects because I can’t sit still ☺

My days are mostly filled with developing communication strategies for our events and products, and relationship building with our media. We get a ton of interview requests, offers to participate in events, sponsorship inquiries, requests for comments that my team and I handle as they come in.

Would you say choosing and achieving a career in gaming today is easier or more difficult than 10 years ago?

It’s definitely easier – a career in this part of the entertainment sector is a much more acceptable and viable one than it was 10 years ago. Just by comparing the sheer number of game studios, developers, publishers, platforms, hardware and software producers that are out there and are looking for people with all kinds of skills, you can see that there are many, many more opportunities out there than ever before. You don’t have to be a game developer or a pro gamer to work in gaming or esports. Just like any other company, gaming/esports companies employ all the “regular” staff that you would see anywhere else, which makes a career in gaming accessible for people like lawyers, accountants, marketing and communication professionals, customer service representatives, sales agents, etc. Moreover, the gaming industry created completely new jobs too! Think about programmers developing anti-cheating software or esports as a completely new discipline.

What is the biggest perk/favourite thing about your job?

The biggest perk of my job is simultaneously the most intangible one. My job allows me to sit front row and watch how esports changes the way people consume entertainment. I’m from the generation that came home from school and used to turn on their TVs to watch cartoons. Today, when kids come home from school, they turn on theirs PCs, consoles, tablets – and play games. That’s a huge change in lifestyles but also in the very conscious choices people make regarding how they want to spend their free time. I’m very proud to be part of a company that’s one of the main driving forces behind that change.
Another thing I really like about my job is that I get to do a lot of different things. For example, at events I can be in places 99% of people never see. You can find me doing anything from building chairs for the players to moderating press conferences and driving shuttles. I love being involved in as many aspects of the event as I can, it really makes me feel like I’m participating to make it happen. As I said, I can’t sit still ☺

What advice would you give anybody hoping for a career in the video games industry?

First one would be to know exactly what you want to do. I might have gotten lucky at the beginning, but I decided already years earlier that I wanted to do communications. If you are a good communications professional, it doesn’t matter if you’re crafting strategies for an esports event or a piece of software or a music label or a travel company. The industry is irrelevant if you’re really good at what you do. But knowing that I wanted to be a communications manager, not a product or project manager or in sales, helped to narrow the job search, and helped me focus on taking the right classes, making the right connections, reading the right books.

Secondly, the only way to really know if a career is for you, is to try it. Not many things are completely irreversible, your early career choices certainly are. Trying things out and deciding they aren’t for you is part of the process – I’ve spent a few years in retail and banking always knowing it wasn’t going to be long before I move to something else. Everything I learned in the years leading up to me having this (dream!) job, has led me to being good at what I do. I’m thankful for every opportunity I’ve ever received and brought me here.

Lastly: go after it. Good things don’t come to those who wait – they come to those who work hard and never, ever give up ☺

Do you think social media is a blessing or a curse?

I think that there are many events that would have had less impact on the rest of the world if we didn’t have social media. Take the Arab Spring of early 2010, for example. It had the impact it had partially because people were able to talk about it – in countries where the media is censored and where freedom of speech is a dream, being able to say to the whole world “there’s a revolution going on in my country” has made a whole world of difference. People reporting from their cities being invaded, armies mobilizing, natural disasters unfolding, but also whistleblowers and information leaks – all reached us so quickly because thanks to social media, we can share anything with the world in seconds. Or more recently, the Women’s March that took place around the world – it’s hard to deny that the fact that people were able to organize themselves so quickly, is partially due to mass accessibility of social media platforms.

But there’s also the information overload, inability to disconnect, constant need to feel you’re on top of what’s going on, and of course harmful behavior in the form of online harassment, stalking, hacking, security breaches, and more.

I think overall social media made our world a faster, more dynamic and more varied place. The question here for me then is whether we need social media to experience the world that way.

What is your favourite social media channel and why?

For my job, Twitter is very important, and that’s what I check the most. But it’s Facebook that keeps me connected to my Mom, who remained in Poland as I was moving around Europe since my teenage years. I also keep Facebook more personal and share more private things on there. Twitter is business only with an occasional cat picture in between ☺

Have you ever experienced online abuse? If so, how did you handle it?

I realize how lucky I am to be able to say this but I have a very, very thick skin. For me, walking away from trolls in online games and people trying to start an argument on Twitter with me is very easy. I just mute and move on.

Also in my position as a spokesperson for a big company, I get called out a lot and there’s a ton of people always trying to bait me into responding to them – which is sometimes nothing more than very, very poorly formulated opinions about my ability to do my job. Sometimes you can reason with them, and many times I managed to turn negative conversation around by taking the time to speak to people individually. Most of the times, it’s better to not respond. Unfortunately, if both sides can’t be constructive, it’s a wasted effort (if you are affected by online abuse, we have links at the end of this article to guide you to help services).
It’s weird but it’s easier for me to deal with it if I’m the target, than stand by and watch others being harmed. I have a really strong sense of what’s right and wrong, and I’ve been raised with a very strong notion to always help those who can’t help themselves. It’s as easy for me to stand up for someone as it is to hit that mute button. It’s also the case in real life – I’m very protective of my friends, and that gets me in trouble all the time.

When does competitiveness become abuse? Is some level of ‘baiting’ in esports and competitive gaming ever acceptable?

The stakes are high in esports, and it’s not unusual that players compete for millions of dollars in prize money in front of tens of thousands of people watching them from the audience, with many more millions tuning in online. In some traditional sports, “trash talk” is part of the ritual. Take boxing or kickboxing, where the opponents meet before the game and stare each other down – it’s part of the show.

Emotions running high are part of the competition. I think there’s no harm in trying to throw your opponent off his game a bit, as long as both parties keep the humor in and it’s meant to entertain, not harm. But that ends when it becomes personal. When “banter” becomes threatening, racists, homophobic or misogynistic, that’s where it goes too far, I think. There are of course different degrees to this, and banter tends to get more intense among teams and players who know each other well.

What do you think can/needs to be find to reduce toxicity within gaming and esports?

I think holding abusers accountable is the key to handling it. Nobody has ever calmed down from other people telling them to calm down – but I’ve learned that trying to make people understand that written words are powerful can make a difference. One of the very early things that my Dad taught me was that “words fly out like a nightingale, but come back like a stone thrown right at your face” (this sounds better in Polish). In online games, staying calm and remaining concentrated on the positive things that are being said and done often helps to shift the focus of the entire team back to the game. A simple “good job” after taking an objective or “thank you” after someone saved you can turn things around. Once you give in into the negativity and get out your pitchfork against a teammate or an opponent, that’s when you’re just as guilty as the person who started the flame.

I also think we need to get more people to speak up. It’s much easier to rage quit and quietly sit there, fuming at others’ toxicity of whatever kind. It’s so much more constructive to take time to try to reason with that person, and in the worst case – file a report and try to get the abuser noticed by the people moderating the game/site/forum/etc

Wow! A huge thank you to Anna for sharing her inspirational story! As you may or may not know, we specialise in providing support for anybody affected by online abuse and actively promote a truly inclusive and diverse internet that we can all enjoy without fear of personal threats and abuse. If you are affected by online abuse of any description you can visit our gaming help center for various helpful resources or alternatively, you can use our global support service for 24 hour trained support wherever you are in the world. For further information about Cybersmile and the work we do, please explore the following recommendations.

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