Community and pride: staff spotlight with Sarah

July 15 2022

Community and pride: staff spotlight with Sarah

When I think of Liquid+, my mind immediately thinks of one thing and one thing only: community. The fans that roar at their computer screens from the sight of watching their favorite esports players rep that famous blue stallion logo on their chest as they score that goal in Rocket League or 3-stock their opponent in Smash.

But not only am I thinking about the competitive side of the Liquid community, I’m also thinking about the stories we might not normally get to hear on a regular basis. It’s time we shift gears and turn the spotlight away from the Team Liquid fans & pro players, and towards the individuals hard at work behind the scenes: the staff.

We want to highlight people who make your esports experience exhilarating through Liquid+, and who better to highlight than someone who knows the ins and outs of the ultimate fan experience. You’ve heard of path-to-pro in the competitive sense, but here’s someone with a path-to-getting-a-job-in-esports story.

Sarah (They/Them) is Team Liquid’s Liquid+ Marketing Coordinator. A well-known member of the Team Liquid community staff, Sarah tries to make every Liquid+ experience the best it can be. Their work primarily focuses on including more women and LGBTQIA+ voices into the Team Liquid branding, earning them a lot of love in the Liquid+ community. As part of our mission to spotlight more of our staff, I got a chance to sit down with Sarah and hear about their hobbies & passions, listen to their journey of discovering their identity, and reflect on this past Pride Month.

You started off as a fan of the org, and now you’re here helping us coordinate campaigns and experiences for fans. Did you pursue any sort of formal education to help with your job? Any specific classes?

I took classes in International Relations and German. I also ended up learning about game design…and now I'm here at Team Liquid. So you can see that my hobbies are all over the place.

It sounds pretty nice, because your main hobby essentially became your job. It’s like you have the best of both worlds.

Yeah, I feel like I got my foot in the door into esports at a good time, and I'm really happy working in this industry compared to other kinds of work I've done before. I've worked in legal and I've worked in technology, but nowadays I wake up in the morning and I feel really happy to be at TL.

It’s the best feeling in the world knowing that you can get paid to talk about video games. Speaking of games, why don't we dive into that? What games are you into, esports or otherwise?

So my main game for a really long time was World of Warcraft. Generally, I will at least dabble into any Blizzard games. Lately I've been playing a bit of Hearthstone, too. It's a good wind down game to mess around with, especially with Battlegrounds. I do get the perks also, so that I can get two extra heroes unlocked. I find that worth it.

Hearthstone is heavily inspired by a lot of characters in WoW, and as you previously mentioned, you’re a huge WoW fan.

I love reading the WoW lore, and just the story overall. It might not be the best right now, but this is probably the most invested I've been into any story outside of books.

Are there any specific expansions that stand out to you?

I don't know if I have a specific favorite or standout expansion. I started playing in Mists of Pandaria, so if I'm going for nostalgia, it would be that. My first ever raid there was Siege of Orgrimmar.

That expansion came out back in 2012–almost a whole decade ago! That’s incredible. You must be really ecstatic about Team Liquid bringing on WoW content creators then.

I got really hyped up when we announced that we were getting into the MMO scene in general. Everyone that I've been working with, like Adrienne [Azorea] and Eiya–they're amazing. And I love them so much so far.

Adrienne, Eiya and Naguura are not only part of our MMO roster, but they've also joined the team as part of our mission of including more women and non-binary people. As you are non-binary yourself, I'm sure this means quite a lot to you.

I would say that out of all of the communities, WoW is probably the one that gives you a chance the most as someone who's like, not the traditional cishet gamer guy in the scene. When I first got into WoW, it did take some time for people to understand who I am, to take me seriously and see my skill to make sure that I'm actually a good player. In the end, I think being part of a team, you have to have that trust in other people. Once they get to know you and you work together, it all comes together. You have the same end goal of wanting to kill the boss and get loot.

I think that’s a good key message: no matter who you are or how you identify, when you play Wow, you still have one goal: get to the end of the raid. That’s a journey in itself, which lends well to my next question.

Everyone, as far as I know, experiences their identity journey differently. What was your experience like in understanding your gender identity as non-binary?

So while I was in college, I took a sociology class and it opened me up to the idea that gender is a spectrum and there's fluidity. At that point, I started exploring my identity. I always knew that there was something different about me, but I could never pinpoint what it was. I went with the assumption that I was like, weird or something. Once I figured out that I don't fit into the traditional sense of one gender or another, that’s what sat with me. I did explore the idea that maybe I lean into a transmasculine identity, but I felt like that wasn't really 100% of me. There was still part of me that was tied to womanhood and being a femme person. So I would say that's where I am now. I’d say I'm gender fluid in the sense that I will feel the femininity sometimes and I will feel the masculinity other times. I could even be somewhere in between there.

The biggest thing was when I told myself, “Hey, my pronouns are they/them.” When I started hearing my friends using “they” when referring to me, it felt good. I said, “Okay, that's it. Those are the pronouns for me.”

That’s so wonderful to hear! It’s always wonderful to hear people have positive experiences relating to gender affirmation. Was there anything similar that happened on the gaming side of things? Any positive WoW related or general gaming experiences that you've had?

I made friendships on WoW when I had a lot of trouble making friends in person, so I established friendships with these people and spent hours and hours per week trying to kill a boss with them. There was a time where we all ended up going to Blizzcon and being able to meet in person, and I teared up. I felt like I fit in somewhere.

This sounds like such a natural process for gamers to make friends, compared to participating in things like icebreakers in a corporate setting. When you play an RPG, all you need to tell people is, “Hey, I need party members because I need to fucking kill this boss.” And that somehow feels more natural.

Yep, and that leads me to another point. I joined a local Discord in hopes of making local friends. They hosted some meetups every once in a while, and occasionally I would bring some of them to our arcade. It works out because if you're going to the arcade, you already have some sort of hobby of gaming–you're not going just to go. It also provides an escape for when you’re feeling a little socially anxious, because sometimes you’re like, “I love talking with you guys, but I'm gonna go play a game for a bit.”

That’s the beauty of arcades! Some of them are nice and cozy, while others are huge and might host tournaments. But even the biggest gaming spaces seem small compared to traditional sports spaces–they're not really well known. And what’s so wild is that when you do decide to play games, people shame you for doing so. The common stigma I see is that as an adult, you’re expected to quit video games altogether.

I think the stigma has definitely changed over the years once esports got to its enormous hold. Fortunately, my family takes it seriously. They’re happy that I have a job that I love doing. When I tell them I have to go to X city to go see an esports tournament, they're all for it.

Sometimes, though, when I go to parties with family and friends, I’ll get the “What do you do for a living?” question. And the moment I hear it, I go, “Oh no, here we go again”.

It’s almost like playing video games ties into a person's identity as well. Not just with being gamers, but how they identify as. Naturally, when we think about gaming communities, we know that a subsection of that community consists of people who have gender identities and orientations outside of the traditional binary. We see them all year round, and especially at Pride.

Actually, let’s touch on that for a bit since Pride Month recently happened. Did you celebrate in any way?

So this year, I didn't actually go out. Last year, I went to Pride out in Miami Beach. I think they have it in October now too, which is why there wasn't really much this year. There was some sort of concert that I wasn't super interested in going to. Outside of that, I quietly celebrated Pride online. And of course, I had my “it's illegal to be mean to me” tweet. *laughs*

I wish there was more to do locally for Pride, but it ends up just depending on when our local places want to celebrate it rather than around the month. I do enjoy walking around at parades and seeing cool people being themselves, though. That's always fun.

I kinda noticed that there wasn’t a lot in terms of celebration, either…but I’m sure that many reasons factored into that. I still think that people understanding the core message of celebrating is more important, anyway. Is there something specific about Pride that means something for you in terms of your own identity and how you express yourself?

I would say…I get to be me and be unashamedly me, just loud and proud. It's me. I'm Sarah, fuck you. *laughs*

I don’t know if you want to put that in.

If Austin okays it, I'm not gonna say I won't put it in.

[Editor’s note: 😎]

It seems like with each iteration of Pride, there are two sides to it. There are more people around you who are accepting of you, and there are also people who troll, and they get louder with each year.

It's funny because it seems like every year, there are people who…may not be trolling, but are maybe uninformed. I do have to explain to them why we have to have Pride month, and it's so draining. I feel like it's important to let people know, but it’s also draining to have to put in this energy.

I agree, I think it’s always important to inform and educate people about the meaning behind Pride, but we obviously don’t want it to come at the expense of people like us enjoying it ourselves. With that in mind, I know that there are plenty of ways for allies to support the LGBTQIA+ community–not just during Pride, but any day. Do you know of anything they could do?

In the sense of being an ally, if you want to financially support, the first place I would have to say is Trevor Project. Love them.

Do your research and find a local LGBTQIA+ support group and send your money there so that they can support your local people. It's so important to have it on the ground level of your city or your area. Sometimes you don't get that overall coverage in a national or global group.

As far as awareness or vocal support, the big thing that allies can do is just listen. Listen to people in the community, learn as much as you can. Ask [questions] if you need to, but really listen to the people who are already vocal, because it is exhausting every time someone has to tell you what you need to do. Listen, listen, listen, listen. Be willing to learn and keep an open mind. I think those are the big things for me.

Yeah, listening is somehow the easiest and the most difficult thing to do when it comes to supporting any marginalized community, in this case the LGBTQIA+ community. Your point of only asking if you need to, that’s so important also. Not to mention, the key thing is that…listening is one thing. Supporting and doing the work is another.

That’s so true. Bystander syndrome is so prevalent nowadays, in both physical and digital spaces. If people are truly supportive of the community, they need to put their money where their mouth is…or in the Paypals of queer people. That also works. *laughs*

Hey, my CashApp is–no i’m kidding. *laughs*

Haha! We can save that for the end of this spotlight.

I think that a lot of people can learn from this, especially those who may not fully grasp the idea of Pride like you mentioned before. In terms of corporate work culture, are there ways that you think companies can create a more inclusive environment for LGBTQIA+ employees?

I would say the first step is hiring diverse employees to begin with. Having diverse employees, especially in senior roles, is really important. From there, hiring diverse people in junior roles and listening to those employees, getting their feedback and taking actions are how you do it. For the people who are part of the [LGBTQIA+] community and are in these kinds of corporate environments, just be yourself as comfortably, but also as loudly as you can. You’ll start to encourage other people who you work with to feel comfortable in being themselves as well.

Yeah, I can see the challenges of taking action and how that may be a little bit more difficult, because [corporations] are thinking very thoroughly about how to implement it and apply it to their company. But the fact that they are even considering those actions I feel would mean a lot more to their employees than just listening and not doing anything.

Exactly, yeah.

And it really isn’t easy. I’m sure wringing out those plans came with challenges. In relation to your career journey, did you encounter any roadblocks during your progression from being a Community Moderator to a Marketing Coordinator?

Getting to where I am now took a lot of work, but in the process of getting there, I've been blessed with really good mentorships and a lot of opportunities to learn. It took a lot of effort to get from being a moderator when I first came here, to coordination which is what I’m doing now. I spent a lot of time asking questions, getting more responsibilities, doing as much as I can and trying out different things within TL.

I want to shout out one person specifically. Indu (Team Liquid’s Creative Lead) helped me feel worthy and made me feel like I’m a good employee, that I have a lot of potential. She made me feel like I deserve to be doing this work and there's so much more that I am capable of doing. She helped me really feel like I could be who I am now, and anything beyond that.

I can attest to that. Indu really is one of the people that I will forever cherish, because she sees people like you and sees that you’re able to do whatever it is you set your mind to. Even if you’ve had thoughts that convinced you otherwise, having someone like her reassure you that you can do what you want to do is very motivating.

On the topic of learning, do you have advice for any person who might still be on their queer discovery journey? Someone who is maybe still trying to figure out who they are?

Give yourself space to explore, and see who you resonate with. There are so many people out there who post online that you might relate to.

For example, I love scrolling through TikTok, and thanks to its wonderful algorithm, I get a lot of non-binary & trans-masculine people that show up on my For You Page. Seeing representation of people with bigger sizes, I see that and I'm like, “This person looks like me, and I can take fashion tips from them.”

Go explore and keep your mind open. Try out some different ways to express yourself. Never stifle yourself. Keep trying.

What a beautiful way to close out this conversation. I really hope someone reads that and feels reassured in themselves, no matter where they are in their journey.

Let’s wrap this interview up, shall we? Is there anything else that you want the readers to know about you that we haven't gone over?

Subscribe to Liquid+! No, I'm just kidding. *laughs*

About me? Hmm…I wouldn’t say this is about me, but to all of the fans that I get to interact with: I love each and every one of you. Thank you for being there in the community, because I was a fan first and I will love and cherish them.

Writer // Vivian "ViviContrast" Nguyen
Graphics // Yasen Trendafilov

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