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zhobiii, 20 – FUNDED

Meet zhobiii, one of our BroadcastHER Academy winners!

This incredible up-and-coming talent has so much to share with others in the industry and beyond… check out this interview!

What is your dream in esports and gaming?

I’ve always been the kind of individual who has so many different interests all at the same time, and I’ve enjoyed exploring how those interests can intersect.

Even now, as my dream job is shifting amidst my college education, I look for ways I can pursue everything I am interested in.

That sort of intersection is where the first part of my goal in esports and gaming lives. I’ve always been interested in engineering (since 8th grade!). Coming into college (pre-deep dive into esports), I got quite involved in the development of my experience and skills as a software engineer.

This development has now continued alongside my growth and networking as an esports commentator, and I’ve searched for a way to pursue both without making catastrophic sacrifices for the other.

With that, I’ve settled on the following “dream job” of sorts. I want to work full-time as a software engineer in the backend of game development or esports for a company like Riot (working on VALORANT, specifically, would be SO cool) or Evil Geniuses and pursue casting on the side until I make it to a point where casting and my savings could sustain me full-time.

I understand that, number one, I’m only 20 years old and that esports is not the most stable industry, so I want to have a backup plan — software engineering is that fallback and support structure that still keeps me in the gaming sphere. Plus, if I tell a gaming or esports company that I can’t make a meeting because I’m casting a tournament, they would be a bit more understanding than a standard company (haha!).

Then, moving onto the second half of my dream in esports and gaming, this is where all the thematic focuses come in — specifically regarding the impact I want to have for the marginalized gender community.

I believe offering programs, training, and environments to marginalized genders, providing them with a safe space to learn and gain experience, is one of the key ways to combat underrepresentation within the space. So, I want to ensure I have time to be part of that solution. Once I build up that financial stability to be a freelance or contracted caster, I will have more time and resources to put toward volunteering and promoting these kinds of programs in the long-term.

What does being the BroadcastHER Academy winner, which includes a $1,000 grant and all-expense-paid visit to the HyperX Esports Arena to shadow, mean to you and how will it help you reach your goals?

It provides more in-depth mentorship and shadowing that focuses on how to tap into opportunities I have yet to find and how to truly expand my network — two things I have struggled with.

I’ve gotten creative in terms of my cold messaging, revamping my reel, and prowling the Broadcast.gg postings, but this fellowship will offer me a new perspective on how to pursue opportunities and help me feel as though I’m truly progressing in the esports casting industry.

I’ve felt like my efforts have been in vain sometimes, going nowhere, or like I’ll never make it, so having affirmation from a mentor of what I’m doing right and giving me direction on where I’m headed will truly propel me forward.

Further, I’m lucky enough to have been able to fund my basic casting set-up with some tax return money and savings. But with the financial burden of returning to college looming in my near future, the grant money will go to tech improvements to my video and audio quality that I know are ESSENTIAL when being selected for remote casting opportunities.

I’ve tried to scour the internet for video tutorials on how to improve my settings and capabilities within the hardware I have, but it still just doesn’t feel like it’s enough compared to my peers. My technology setup has even limited my personal reflection during VOD reviews because all I think about is how terrible I sound and look. With better equipment, I can focus on what’s truly important — what I say on the broadcast, how I’m perceived, and improving based on feedback from production staff, my co-caster, and the audience.

Women and femmes are underrepresented in gaming, broadcasting, and esports. What can we do to change this?

There are both actionable items and mentality changes that we can take to fight underrepresentation. To me, the big-picture reason for marginalized genders fearing involvement in these spaces is the overall stigma and public ridicule they face when involved. Marginalized genders are put under the microscope by the general public — streamers, players, casters. Each mistake is blown out of proportion and blamed solely on their gender. We need to change that. Don’t get me wrong, feedback should be given and taken, but marginalized genders are targeted and criticized much more.

Just look at the coach of Evil Geniuses’ main VALORANT roster: Potter. She has done so many things as a pioneering woman in the coaching space, but the second her team loses, the internet goes on a storm about how terrible she is. No other coach in the VCT circuit has this happen to them. Even with Game Changers Team’s participation in co-ed events, they face similar results.

Everyone, regardless of gender, is bad when they first start off in a new environment, but non-male individuals are blamed immediately based on their gender, not inexperience. They aren’t given the opportunity to prove themselves on teams, so they don’t get the chance to grow on these teams or get used to that style of play or that environment. They are constantly belittled and beaten down from the start, so it’s hard to even get off the ground.

Moving onto the actionable things — since systemic change is a far bigger problem — we can help marginalized genders feel safe and feel comfortable in learning and gaining that experience. Whether it’s hosting smaller low-stakes events, providing communities to practice in, or even hosting training programs, we need to increase these kinds of tools and their availability to anyone wanting to get into the broadcasting or esports space.

It has been almost two years since Riot hosted their own Game Changers Casters training, and we need more game-sponsored events and opportunities like that! Galorants has done a good job of this, too, from providing spaces for upcoming casters to connect with other individuals and mentors to hosting these sorts of training on their own via the Galorants Learning Program or the now-retired Game Changers Academy (GCA) series. One organization can only do so much, and a lot of it is volunteer-based, so with more companies realizing this is an issue and supporting these goals, the programs can be expanded and reach more people!

What are you most inspired by when it comes to creating encouraging content for young women and femmes in gaming, broadcasting, and esports?

Sierraspaklez was my first gamertag based on the Minecraft streamer who got me into video games: Captainsparklez. Zhobiii is my gamertag and social media name now, based on my friend’s and my first team names in a fun VALORANT tournament we played in together.

From the streamers I watched growing up to those who have supported me along the way, cheering me on when I succeed, I see inspiration in the very foundations of my life and the streaming/esports communities.

I could list for hours each individual who has taken a chance on me in casting their tournaments or the pro-casters who have given me valuable feedback after a cast together or even just off of a cold message. The fact that I could, one day, be among the same individuals who inspired me to get into casting and esports, is such an inspiring thought in itself.

Having these role models for myself and knowing I could be that same encouraging role model for other non-binary individuals is inspiring. Even one of my closest friends, my VALORANT duo herself haha, after watching me cast in a tournament, wanted to try it out and did it on a VALORANT custom night in a Discord server!

If I can inspire individuals around me now, at the entry level I see myself in, imagine the number of people I can reach if I continue to work hard and grow in the broadcasting industry!

What are some of the challenges you have faced along the way?

A wall of gender dysphoria and the economic prospect of returning to college stands between me and my success as an esports caster.

As a non-binary individual, I’ve never felt like I fit in with the women in gaming or standard gaming communities because I’m either overshadowed or belittled by male peers — or feel I have to watch where I step in the girl gaming communities in hopes of not limiting their opportunities or forcing myself to question my own identity and whether or not I belong there.

Some of these struggles have translated into the casting world, as well. I’m passed up for casting calls for male talent, or I’m too scared to apply to tournaments labeled as events for women in gaming because I don’t want to take that opportunity away from female-presenting individuals.

Because of this, my networking channels feel limited, and sometimes I’m lost on how to reframe the way I pursue events.

Despite these challenges, I have continued to explore other avenues and build relationships with individuals in charge of bigger events in hopes of one day being ready for them to take a chance on me in their broadcasts.

Quoting one of my past co-casters, “I truly enjoy seeing the passion out of your casting,” and I know that if I can show that energy, then maybe the talent managers can give me the opportunity to prove myself live on the air.

What advice do you have for women and femmes who want to start broadcasting?

Since I’m a caster, a lot of this is for broadcasting via that outlet, but a lot can apply to streaming on your own, as well!

No matter what game you’re in, there’s a start-up time investment — whether it’s just taking the time to follow the right people on Twitter and make connections or combing through VODs and game results on vlr.gg. It will take time, and sometimes you’ll feel like you’re going nowhere, but keep at it.

It may be cliché, but it takes time to build out a network. It takes time to find opportunities. It takes time to see your hard work start paying off. I’m nearing my first year in the esports industry and while there is progress I can see — from casting for my first pro team to casting my first Riot-affiliated events — that progress may not be visible to everyone.

Don’t let your self-reflection on your accomplishments shut you down or discourage you. Don’t let a few stray comments on a stream define your worth. You’re going to mess up. You’re probably going to hate the sound of your own voice (oh god; I know I still do). Take the good feedback from the community and your team and use it to improve, not judge yourself.

Feedback is one of the most important things you can use from your peers in the streaming space. Consistently seek it out and treasure those willing to give it.

How do you stay motivated and focused on your goals?

To remain on track and not lose sight or hope, I think of the people in front of me — who I am doing this for — and the people behind me, the ones who have supported me since the start.

In front of me are the audience and the players. As I’ve become more involved in the esports space, I’ve noticed how little non-binary representation there is. I’ve made it one of my goals as a caster to show fellow gender-nonconforming individuals that their gender identity does not restrict their ability to get involved in the casting space if they are willing to putting in the effort — because it does take time to develop a resume or experience and a name in the casting space.

Not only being a role model for individuals wanting to get into casting, but also using my voice to uplift and spotlight marginalized players in the esports scene on broadcasts is amazing, too. If there are no casters, plays can be missed or their effects minimized. And if there’s no broadcast period, nobody knows the impacts these players have — other than the score outcome of a match.

Behind me is the insane supportive network I have found during my journey into the esports industry — from my parents being supportive of me (literally talking over pixels on a screen over focusing wholeheartedly on my Harvard computer and electrical engineering education), to the individuals who have taken a chance on me from the start and given me more mentorship and opportunities since then.

They gave me their confidence, and I cannot throw that trust or support in the garbage because I have a bad day or a bad cast.

Fans with signs in audience during Week 7 of 2023 VCT Americas at the Riot Games Arena on May 14, 2023. (Photo by Robert Paul/Riot Games)