Interview with Daniela ‘GypsyFly’ Lao on experiences as a ‘girl gamer’, her role at PMS Clan, and future of e-sports

With almost ten years experience in the games industry, the community manager at the PMS clan tells us about the future of esports, women in the games industry, and about the global gaming community as a whole

Gypsy Fly PMS at Major League Gaming 2008

This piece is part of a series of interviews we are running with prominent female role models in the games industry – keep checking back here at the PostDesk Blog for more in the coming days. You might also be interested in our interview with Melonie Mac – former Frag Doll on her experiences, women in gaming and working at Razer.

How did you get involved in professional gaming?

I didn’t play competitively until I joined PMS Clan in 2003. I played my first ranked matches on online ladders like Team Compete and Game Battles in Halo and the Ghost Recon series. I wasn’t aware of how lucrative gaming was until PMS started to really become established. We always worked really hard to find sponsors and make it to all the major industry events on our own dime, but it wasn’t until a big boom in pro-gaming around 2005-2007 that things really took off. New gaming leagues were born, Pro gamers were appearing on mainstream television and PMS Clan started to appear in magazines, on the news, and even MTV. Obtaining sponsors becoming easier and they were paying us to attend events. So I’ve been in the professional gaming scene for about the eight year span I’ve been with the clan.

…on PMS clan…

How did you get involved with PMS Clan?

In 2003 I bought an Xbox for my boyfriend (now my husband) as well as Xbox Live which had launched the prior year. Most of the draw of Xbox was that you could play with people from everywhere from the comfort of your couch. We had games like Crimson Skies and Star Wars: Jedi Academy and I slowly started taking over the console. At first I would play while he was at work or after school or we would play together.

Eventually, I played more than he did and started getting a ton of friend requests. I never really encountered any women or at least ones that actually spoke in the game. So I just played with the same guys over and over again. Most were fine and could care less that I was a girl but there were others that seemed to only focus on that fact by constantly messaging me or following me around in game. Some folks I encountered were simply abusive and would say I should be cooking or doing “girly” things. I would usually kick their butts and they suddenly became my best friends. I was also a brutal smack talker at the time and would shut them down to the point where they would keep silent or just leave the game. I hated the fact that I couldn’t find a median playing with guys, most either tried to flirt or incessantly follow me or they were just abusive.

So I eventually joined the Xbox Live message boards and searched for other girls to play with. I saw a post by PMS Clan leader and founder, Amy Brady aka Athena Twin PMS. The year before she had started a small clan and was looking for girls to join and play competitively. She sounded friendly and more importantly feisty. I wanted to find women that had guts and personality but who were still approachable. In a few months I became an administrator on their site and then the Marketing Manager contacting sponsors and organizing events. I also served as the Community Manager working on our social networks and community events. PMS became my second family; we were a sorority of sisters and it was wonderful.

PMS Clan

What does the PMS Clan do for girls in gaming – and what is the philosophy and thinking behind an all-female gaming team?

Our biggest draw is creating an atmosphere where friendships are allowed to flourish without pretence or having to prove your skill. Within each division members have shared habits and rules unique to their teams. Each division within the clan has the same unified template, organization, hierarchy rules, and clan codes of conduct, however what is appropriate in one division may not be in another. So each division has freedom to build their own little culture under the umbrella of the clan. That’s a huge draw to groups of girls who want to play together but may not have the experience or knowledge of how to maintain an organized leadership or community structure. We’ve seen countless clans and teams disband or break apart. You can’t just create a website, a forum, and a roster of players and call it a day. It takes a lot more work to sustain a viable and healthy gaming community and clan that will last years.

Our members who truly know how to take advantage of the opportunities of PMS Clan take away more than a t-shirt or membership titles. There are countless leadership and staff opportunities for those who want to be more involved and help the clan grow. You get real world experience as staff or leader in PMS; something many of our members have put on their resumes. Some of our members have gotten huge opportunities through the clan such as industry jobs or contacts that have lead to jobs. The members that work at gaming events not only get paid but get to meet new friends outside of the clan. Through consistent engagement with countless convention attendees and cameras some members even learn how to work a mic onstage. Of course one of the best perks is getting event swag and going to invite-only industry parties. If they were shy and introverted entering the clan, most members become extroverts. The clan also has an internal support system so when a member needs our help they have over 800 active clan members and over 30,000 registered forum community members there for them.

Although we’re open to all skill levels, PMS was born from a competitive spirit and a drive to push ourselves to be the best we could be. We still have competitive outlets for our members. Within each division they can create “Small Teams” where members can have focused practice and compete on online ladders and at competitions together. PMS also has Pro players who are under contract and paid by our sponsors such as our Warcraft 3: Dota team, PMS Asterisk*, who won the Iron.Lady Championship in 2010 and are very popular in Singapore.

I think initially the idea behind having an all-female gaming team was and still is the same reasoning behind creating sororities and fraternities and any other group where there needs to be a shared trait. For many of us we couldn’t just say, “Hey I’m a gamer. Let’s play!” The fact is no matter what our differences was getting pointed out by many male gamers like we were a unicorn on a battlefield. With PMS all of the girls already had something in common so we were able to protect and encourage each other. The girls also drive and push each other without feeling like they are being judged by anyone. I’ve seen confident girls that dominate in a game wilt and lose all their confidence when playing against guys who only know how to smack talk and ogle during a competition. We try and build up that confidence and thick skin so they are able to dominate online and at events. It doesn’t work for all girls to be part of an all girl team but it works for many of them. Our male counter-part clan, H2O Clan, is all male and we also have coed teams so I think all our members find a place that they feel most comfortable in. Our guys value the idea of joining a brotherhood of men who value good sportsmanship and being in a positive and organized community. Many people who harass and abuse online don’t discriminate between genders, races, or sexual preferences. Sadly, many of our guys have encountered abuse online as well.

PMS Clan at VG Expo 2007

What challenges do you face as Community Manager?

My biggest challenge is finding a balance between all my duties since they sometimes run together. I also add more work onto my plate since I’ve held every level of leadership in the clan. So I’m able to deal with disciplinary issues within every level in the clan because of my seniority and experience but I don’t need to when I practice my delegation skills. We built in a very strong hierarchy within the clan because all the leaders were getting too overwhelmed. So I think for the Executive team and senior leaders and staff we get so use to doing things a certain way it take some work trusting another person to share the work load and letting go of duties.

How important are sponsorships for the PMS clan?

Without money from sponsorships we’re not able to send as many teams to events, t-shirts for our competitive teams, or product for our giveaways and charity initiatives. So in that respect sponsorships are important. However, sponsorships don’t prove our worth.

There was a pro-gaming crash around late 2007-2008 when many of the leagues that flourished a few years before simply couldn’t sustain their financial viability and closed down. Many pro teams lost their sponsorships and some leagues couldn’t even pay their winning teams. We saw a drastic reduction in the money our sponsors were offering and sponsors where no longer sending members to work events. We had just enough sponsors to sustain our website, team servers, and have a few shirts for our teams. I think we made it out stronger during that time.

I think teams can get so tied to sponsorships that they start losing their identity and what makes them a team. It did feel like we were starting over in that many of us had to find alternate ways to make it to events or we had to make do with what we had, but I think we grew closer and began focusing on what is important. We love our sponsors and partners and appreciate the opportunities they have given us and doors they have opened. We have built a known brand and do depend on the visibility of that to attract sponsors but we don’t necessarily depend on the next sponsorship to make us into a community.

PMS Clan at Multiplay i34 2008

PMS Clan at Multiplay i34 2008

What work have you done with Entertainment Consumer Association?

Through the clan I worked some events for them talking about ECA memberships and gaming rights, handing out flyers, that type of thing. Then I started writing an official blog for them where I covered events and different game culture topics. I eventually became their Chapter Community Manager where I grew the chapters to 50+ and helped them establish communications between different partners. I also ran weekly game nights and helped manage their communications to forum members.

…on Frag Dolls…

What is the Frag Dolls ‘cadette program’?

The Frag Dolls Cadette Academy is a type of internship program where woman have a chance to experience the gaming industry from all angles and everything that goes into marketing and promoting games. Cadettes work directly with their sister Frag Doll at events where they demo games. The girls are paid for their work and expenses as well as transportation and accommodations. Cadettes also write blogs and create content for the site or help run community and partner events. Five of the nine current Frag Dolls are PMS Clan members including our founder and Co-Clan Leader, Athena PMS aka Valkyrie FD. Two former Frag Dolls were also PMS members. So it’s no surprise that many of the Cadettes are also PMS. I was in the very first Cadette class but I’m still invited to events and work on content as well as share ideas with the team

Before Cadettes I was already experienced with the gaming industry so the greatest experience I’ve gotten is having a chance to meet a new group of girls, many outside of PMS and helping them learn the ropes so to speak. Cadette’s has grown into what we call the “sisterhood” and we’re able to share each other’s pain and success and everything in between.

What do you say to those who claim Frag Dolls is a group of ‘girl gamers currently used solely as a PR and marketing tool by Ubisoft to bring the attention of male gamers to their products’?

The Frag Dolls will tell you themselves that they are a marketing branch of Ubisoft. However, they were and are real gamers. They were hired because they’re multitalented personalities with gaming and marketing skills. Ubisoft could have easily hired booth babes with no established gaming skill or true knowledge of the games they sell. Instead they chose to hire woman with a passion for games and game culture. The fact is the Frag Dolls have attracted as many females as they have males, which really speaks to their wide appeal. The sad thing is this misconception some people keep spreading in the gaming industry that a little bit of makeup and good photography makes a woman lose all validity and she suddenly becomes a tool to attract males.
Over few years have you noticed gaming becoming more popular amongst women at all over the last 10 or so years?

Women were always part of the gaming scene, we were just less visible. The commonly quoted statistic by the Entertainment Software Association says that woman make up 40% of all video game players; that doesn’t just happen in 10 years. Many women were playing Xbox Live when it came out but many chose not to speak through their headsets or were playing under nondescript gamertags. No woman wanted to draw negative attention to themselves. I have seen women become more visible during the last few years. More female gaming clans started attending competitive events and placing high. We would attend MLG (Major League Gaming) events and the girls there would be sisters or girlfriends and PMS members. Now there are more female teams which is a great change. There are a ton of female focused online gaming sites now as well such as GamingAngels.com and PopChiX.com. Another great site that focuses on some of the funny and downright strange abuses all gamers and woman in particular suffer through is FatUglyorSlutty.com which was actually started by Frag Doll community members as well as a long time PMS Clan member. It’s eye opening to actually hear and see what some woman actually get sent.

Frag Dolls

What is the biggest challenge you have faced in your career so far?

I took about a 2 year break from college when I became busy with PMS and I’ve been playing catch up ever since. I think balancing school, family, and PMS has been my biggest challenge. I’m in my last year so things have been better. Right now we’ve been planning a 24hr gaming marathon for the charity, Extra Life which is a huge event for gamers every year. So we’re working on game streaming, promotions, and donations and it’s just been a big challenge focusing on every aspect of the event, creating our clans weekly social media and content plan while going to school.

There are so many positions I’m experienced for within the industry and I’ve been approached many times, but I’ve had to turn them down because I can’t move right now. Remote jobs are hard to come by. The few remote jobs I have applied to I wasn’t picked for. It’s hard not to tie your sense of worth to a certain job and be rejected, but you push through and just move on to the next thing. I’m also a writer so I just chalk it up to experience and possibly something to write about in the future.

…on women in games…

How can we get more women involved in gaming ?

There are so many layers to getting woman involved in gaming it’s not as simple as saying, “Give her a positive female character to control in the game” or “Give the story more depth and diversity”. Men have had a head start and have been the majority since the start of gaming, so there really are no simple answers. We can start by attracting more female game designers, along with marketing teams that target their entire audience. Marketers target guys, the same thing with game magazines, and ads. The first and/or last thing they mention when they talk about a female character is “Oh, and she’s HOT too.” Most girls don’t care about the hotness of a female game character. We want game characters that add personality and skill to the team as well as a deeper storyline. We don’t want females that have to be saved or escorted. So, apart from developers creating something more than bodies with a face, better marketing would work as well.

I think the fact that there are more welcoming gaming communities and teams helps as well. Eventually I think girls will outnumber the guys. As far as being a pro gamer or working in the industry it’s the same for a man or a woman-a ton of hard work. There is nothing special or novel about being a female gamer anymore; we’re everywhere, however there is novelty in finding someone with multifaceted marketing and gaming skills. There are pro gamers everywhere and not enough sponsorships for all of them, so you need to push your way through by not only being the best in your game but also know how to build your own brand. You have to ask yourself, “How do I stand out among all these gamers with the same skill level as me?” It’s a hard life being a pro gamer and it isn’t all parties and money. You have to continually work to maintain whatever sponsorships you have and seek out new ones why trying to maintain your place in competitions among younger and more dedicated players.

Contacts and friendships are one of the biggest ways people find their way into the industry. Attend events, establish a dialogue with gaming communities and personalities, know the game culture inside and out, build your brand through blogging and social networking. The best advice I ever heard was make people feel like they would be stupid not to hire you and fill a need they didn’t even know they had. You’ll be rejected a lot but once you make it your success will be even more satisfying.

Daniela Lao

What is attractive about gaming to ‘girl gamers’ – why do you think women like it?

Women like gaming the same reason guys do, we get to kill things legally. Besides that there are a million reasons we like gaming, including the chance to escape work, school, and personal obligations. I personally love shooting things and dominating at a game but I also enjoy watching a story come alive like an interactive book.

What misconceptions do you think there are surrounding ‘girl gamers’?

I think many people especially other female gamers tend to group all female gamers into categories as either “feminist grrl gamer” or “attention whores”. If a female gamer chooses to express her femininity in any way she’s grouped into the latter. If a female gamer chooses to be part of an all female gaming group or petitions for more female characters and diversity in games and advertising she’s considered feminist grrl gamer. Female gamers, just like male gamers, are layered personalities and can’t be easily grouped into categories.

I personally don’t refer to myself as “girl-gamer.” If for some reason I have to reference my gender and the fact that I play games, I usually just call myself “female gamer.” We’re all gamers fighting for the same mainstream acceptance and acknowledgment.

Guys that are just as visible or market themselves are not put into categories or called “guy gamers”. I think because women were not as visible as men, there was a tendency to have a subcategory for their existence. I think the very connotation behind the term “gamer” implied guy for so many people it wasn’t a gender neutral term in our language.
Guys have had a considerable head start when it comes to gaming professionally and the market is, at times, directly targeted toward men, but I think women are starting to approach an even playing field. So eventually we won’t need to justify our existence.

However, it really depends on the person. Many women have taken the name “girl-gamer” and embraced it, and shaped it into something they are proud of because they do feel different for whatever reason and it gives them a chance to easily identify with other gamers because they already have something in common.

Do you feel that female clans are taken less seriously than male clans? [It’s clear that some men (frequently just online) objectivity girl gamers as ‘sexy girl gamers’ and nothing more?]
A few years ago I would have answered yes. Many of us were seen as just “a bunch of girls” brandishing controllers like accessories. Now I think if you can prove your skill or your value in the gaming community and hopefully not contribute to the number of negative stereotypes all gamers suffer than you will be taken seriously.

Booth Babes at E3

Booth Babes at E3

What do you feel about the sexualisation of women who promote games – i.e. ‘booth babes’?

Many of the actual hired booth babes I’ve met at conventions are some of the nicest woman I’ve met working. They work on their feet for hours and always have a smile on their face (if it’s within character). I think there is definitely still a place at industry events for woman who embody female characters. All gamers love to take pictures with their favorite characters so I don’t see an issue with that. I do think game companies hurt their image when they have females that are only eye candy with no other purpose but to wear a tight t-shirt with their logo and barely anything else. If it doesn’t really fit your brand it’s simply distracts from your product and alienates your female audience. Great games don’t need gimmicks to attract an audience. Game companies are better served hiring approachable people who actually play and understand their game. There is also a strange branch of gamers that are selling their time like a dating service or a sex chat service through sites like Game Crush and Pwned by Girls which could possibly be compared to Suicide Girls for gamers. None of us know what to make of them yet.

Booth Babes at E3

Have you ever faced any sexism as a ‘girl gamer’, or any prejudices? (This is especially something that might put off women getting into games)

I’ve faced plenty of sexism and abuse in the gaming industry, the very same factors that drove me to seek out other female gamers. Of course it didn’t end when I joined PMS Clan; in certain respects it became worse since I was part of the clan when it first became popular. Our PMS tag was known by everyone in the gaming community. We couldn’t play a multiplayer game in Halo without someone making a comment about our gender or something stupid. For some of us it became a curse because people were consistently asking us to prove our skills why calling us disgusting or derogatory terms. One time a possible sponsor took us out to dinner in Las Vegas and we were arrived to one of the best restaurants in town via a Hummer limo. He explained to Amy and Amber, our clan leaders, at the table that he wanted to sponsor only the prettiest girls in the team. They explained our clan wasn’t about that. Needless to say we ended up taking a taxi back to our hotel, but we did end up ordering the most expensive items on the menu. I think you eventually grow a thick skin and learn how to deflect negative comments and attitudes and grow stronger because of it.

Morgan Romnie

Morgan Romine, better known as 'Rhoulette' in the video game online community is one of Daniela's main role models in gaming

Who do you feel the most influential women in gaming are – and who are your role models in gaming?

I’m honored to say I’ve personally worked with three of them: Amber DaltonAmy Brady, and Morgan Romine, founder and former team captain of the Frag Dolls who recently joined the team at Red 5. They’ve all done so much in the industry I could probably write a few pages on each. There are also many women that I wish I could personally know like Jane McGonigal for her amazing research within the culture of games. As a writer I think Susan O’Connor is very important in that she’s guiding force for where writing is going. Her writing on BioShock was beautiful. A few years ago Next-gen.biz (Edge Magazine) created a list of the game industry’s 100 most influential woman, which outlines many of the ladies that deserve more recognition.

Daneila 'GypsyFly' Lao

…on the games industry, esports and the gaming community…

What do you think is the future of PC gaming, and is PC gaming ‘dead’?

I don’t think PC gaming is dead or was ever dead; I think gamers were simply playing a few dedicated PC games. Game turnover is slower with PC games than console gamers who have a tendency to play it, finish it and move on to the next thing. I think now that the replay value of many games has risen through multiplayer features and downloadable content, PC and console gamers play just about the same amount of games. Plus more studios are releasing their games on PC now that gaming licenses and titles are not strictly tied to one platform. Plus it helps that gaming PC prices are less expensive and gamers can actually afford to have a great gaming experience on PC.

What is the future of e-sports – and what will it take for it to become mainstream and widely accepted?

I think it really depends on what the leagues do and how they approach media partners and outlets. Major League Gaming has had their foot in the mainstream door for a long time now with major sponsors and partners like Dr. Pepper who had an MLG pro gamer on every Dr. Pepper can. They also had a content sharing partnership with ESPN to feature their games.
E-sports really needs to be treated like any other sport, yet its unique approach to sports can’t be ignored. You need a combination of dynamic personalities, a large scale investment among many partners, and a stream of media content introduced into mainstream media that touches on the gaming niche, which is exactly what the World Cyber Games is doing with their WCG Ultimate Gamer show. The show premiered on the Syfy Channel and was popular enough to come back for a second season. We actually had a few members on both seasons of the show including our Co-Clan Leader, Athena PMS.

PAX Expo

Penny Arcade Expo

What gaming events and conventions would you say are the best and why?

Penny Arcade Expo is my favorite event right now because it’s open and caters to the gamers. Like I mentioned before the community is full of gaming purists and it’s staffed with volunteers who love helping out. For gamers who go PAX it feels familiar and like you a huge house party full of your friends.

Electronic Entertainment Expo or E3 is huge within the community; it’s basically our Oscars or Grammys. Game companies get to share their upcoming games and products and gamers who are not in the industry or invited get to drool watching the show on TV or online. For those of us who have to work the show it is a bit of a circus but it does have its great moments and it is very important to the game industry.

Comic book conventions are also huge in the industry as comics and game audience typically entwined. San Diego Comic Con would probably be the biggest event which draws thousands of fans and celebrities. I haven’t actually gotten the opportunity to attend but I’ve always wanted to.

DreamHack is held in Sweden and is the largest LAN party recorded that draws thousands of locals and international gamers every year.

Dreamhack

Given your experience, what would you say the top gaming communities are online?

There are so many types of gaming communities, many that focus solely on one game or one type of topic within the community; it would be a pretty long list. Some gaming news sites and blogs like Destructoidthe Escapist, and Gamasutra have created a huge community following. When I do have time to branch to other sites other than Frag Dolls.com or PMSClan.com I roam over toGamingAngels.com and PopChiX.com who I mentioned before. I also enjoy the Penny Arcade webcomic community who are populated by a large community of gaming purists. The Penny Arcade Expo draws thousands of people to Boston and Seattle-that’s the power of community. Rooster Teeth are another community that produces funny live action shorts and machinima. They’re hugely popular and loved within the gaming community.

I prefer to go with content based communities that produce news and features because the community interacts within a comment or chat feature and possibly a small forum. I deal with large forums and groups of people all day so it’s great to not feel obligated to create a forum signature or build up your presence in community and just jump right into the conversation.
The traditional discussion forum declined in popularity in recent years – what would you say is replacing it in brining communities together to discuss online?
The PMS Clan forums are still healthy and very active. However, we also use Ventrilo group communication software which is like a second home for many of us, especially the PC teams who never hear each other’s voices on a game console. Within our Vent server each division and leader has their own channel where they can speak with each other while playing games, doing homework, or working on other things.

In general though, conversations and dialogue are no longer strictly tied to forums. Large groups of people are talking within comment features connected to posted content and media. People still feel a sense of value within the community with features that allow your posts to be ranked, promoted or get a “thumbs up” such as blog sites like Kotaku. Aggregation websites like Reddit are also hugely popular among gamers. Sometimes we’re in a hurry and not interested in creating a detailed profile but we still have a need to contribute our opinion in some way. It’s also easier to load those sites into our smart phones than wait for a huge forum to load. There are also streaming sites like Twitch.tv or video features and sites like Skype and TinyChat that, along with chat features, have allowed gamer communities the added value of being able to see and hear each other in real life, something forums don’t offer. One of the biggest factors that effected forums is social networking. Almost all of our members have a Facebook or Twitter account and this has been the biggest driving force behind all our promotions and growth. However, I think all these factors haven’t killed healthy forum communities but simply given them added venues to find and communicate with members.

…and finally, on Daniela’s favorite current, and upcoming videogames…

What are your top five all time favorite video game?

Any gamer worth their pixels will tell you it’s almost impossible to narrow down your favorites to five games. I will list my top favorites in different categories of games though:

Horror games: Silent Hill

Adventure games: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Platformer: Jak and Daxter

Role-playing: The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion

FPS: Ghost Recon

What videogames are you most looking forward to right now?
I’m really looking forward to Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, Ghost Recon Online, Bioshock Infinite, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, Twisted Metal PS3, Silent Hill: Downpour, and Borderlands 2. It’s actually pretty daunting when I look at the list of games.

So – what are your opinions on what Daniela Lao has to say – specifically about women in the games industry? What are your views?