Theresa Gaffney is the Editor-in-Chief of Collegiate Star League (CSL), a Proleague-based intercollegiate multigame league for universities and colleges of North America.
Sarah: What is your first gaming-related memory?
Theresa: My first gaming memory actually goes really far back. Probably Commodore 64 with my dad, playing some really basic games, and then we were kind of PC-based our whole life, so we moved on to SimCity, you know, basic baby games when you’re young. Civ (Civilization by Sid Meier), and I played console games with my cousins, because we weren’t allowed to have a console at home. My dad said: “Everything you can do on a console, you can do on a PC.” So even back in the 80s, my dad was a PC elitist, which leads me to probably why I’m here today. (laughs)
S: Favourite game as a kid?
T: That’s probably a loaded question! When I was a kid, the most time I put into a game was probably Civ 2. But my favourite game would be more games that I played with my cousins, like Mortal Kombat. We would play Final Fantasy games and just sit there for hours, munching out. But honestly, I would still go back (to games) with replay value like Civ 2 or something. Just because I also have a Master’s Degree in History and I love the background and the development of that game. Sid Meier’s a god.
S: Favourite recent game?
T: Oh wow. Well, probably Overwatch is one of my favourite very recent games. I’ve put a lot of hours into that, when the Beta was around. But, also Dota 2, one of my recent-ish favourites in the last 3 or 4 years. Starcraft 2, if we go back a little further. But Overwatch is the one I was putting in a LOT of time into, recently.
S: How did you get involved in gaming?
T: I think the best way to put it would be just thinking about the CSL history, because before that, I was just working as a writer for a comic book website. That was somewhat of a soft entry point into working in gaming, because after I had a little bit of a portfolio with the comic book reviews and convention reporting. I applied for a staff position at the CSL as a volunteer in 2011. I was a StarCraft 2 writer for their tournament. That’s how I started; I’ve been with them ever since. I haven’t really done too much outside of CSL, I’ve pretty much put all my efforts into that. It’s been about 5 years now.
S: How did you discover eSports?
T: eSports is something that’s always been in the background and I never really realized it was a thing. In New York City, everyone played fighting games and went to arcades back in the glory days of Chinatown, and the arcades down there were poppin’, and you have people that are still playing (in eSports) that came out of that scene. I didn’t there was an eSports, though, we just played fighting games. I guess I realized more that this was an eSport when we got closer to the StarCraft 2 (SC2) Beta. People were telling me: “You should be watching more livestreams.” I saw some for WoW (World of Warcraft), so I told myself: “Let’s just try this.” So, I was kind of oblivious for most of the early to mid 2000s, and then, SC2 changed a lot of people’s lives, I think.
S: That means CSL is how you became involved in eSports?
T: That’s how I officially entered into eSports, yes.
S: How did you discover CSL then? Other than applying for the staff position.
T: I was in school for teaching. I was getting my licence to teach, I was going for grad school. I was really into watching a bunch of eSports at the time, and I thought: “You know what? Let me see what’s out there. I love writing, I still want to be creative, I don’t want to just write papers for school.” So I found on Reddit that CSL was looking for new people. I had heard of them from other people. I had seen their Twitch stream at the time and back then, I was impressed at the idea of collegiate eSports. I applied and it worked out, so we went from there. It was just happenstance, I guess. Everything just collided. I was a college student, they needed a writer, I loved the idea, and I still love the idea. Here we are today. (laughs)
S: The scene has been evolving rapidly in the last few years. How do you feel about it?
T: We can go with a few angles. The rapid change in the scene, from an RTS (Real-time strategy) focus to a MOBA (Multiplayer online battle arena), is probably where people like myself see the most difference. Again, I’m not the longest generation of eSports people. I’m not going to lie and say that I was incredibly aware of Brood War (a StarCraft I expansion), but still, it was a big change over a short time. Being a person working with an organization, I’m a little bit more indifferent than if I was just a fan; I might be a little more sad because my favourite game is not a central focus anymore. But I think it’s good, it had to happen, it’s brought more people into eSports. There’ll be more and more diversifying down the line. It may not always be focused on MOBAs, I feel that it’s a “Let the best game win” situation. That brings the best amount of people into this field. I’m pretty different nowadays than I would have been a few years ago, maybe I would have been a little bit more edgy. Now, I’m just cool with it. I love see that they are so many people at this event and they are all here for a bunch of different titles, whether it is a console game or a PC game. I love the differentiation; I love that everyone can participate in something they enjoy. It would be nice to keep our favourites (games) in a special little place in our hearts and a special little place on the convention floor, but it’s supply and demand.
S: What do you love and/or hate about the eSports industry?
T: That’s hard to say! I love that I work with such wonderful people. I think most people say that it’s the people that keep them here, when they actually work in it, because otherwise, you go a little bit stir-crazy. We all look forward to this kind of event, to meet each other, work in-person with each other, especially if you’re doing more telecommute-based stuff. My coworkers make this worthwhile. I also just like the fact that I’m in a creative angle in this field, working the coverage of our tournaments, that makes it satisfying. It’s hard for me to pinpoint what I hate, because it’s going to be something that everyone hates, maybe. Long days might be hard, I guess, when you have unexpected problems, like an Internet interruption when you’re trying to start your event at 10 am and you don’t start until 11:30. Those are just structural issues. eSports is also growing, so it’s trying to figure out where its feet are going to land. It’s a little bit unpredictable, your career stability may not exist, and that’s something, especially at my age, I kind of hate that idea. But you have to take a risk and if you’re risking it, you’re putting all your chips down; I did that. I had a job, I was teaching in Korea and I put my chips down, I said: “I’m coming back home and I’m going to do this full-time. And if I’m not doing this next year, I will have no regrets.” So, even though I don’t like the instability, it was my choice.
S: Any game that is a guilty pleasure?
T: I don’t think you can ever say that a game is a guilty pleasure! I think that’s unfair, because games are developed for a reason, for you to have fun. People have a way to look at it in different ways. I feel like I may hate myself a little when I spend so much time on Neko Atsume (a cat collecting game) on my phone or something, but I don’t think any game is really absolutely terrible. No one’s too cancerous. I don’t go down that route. (laughs)
S: Any stream/streamer that is a guilty pleasure?
T: Guilty pleasure streamer? No, that’s a hard question. Right now, I’m so in my zone with the CSL and all of our work, that’s I’m just kind of like: “What’s going on outside?” So, I’ll have to get back to you on that. Actually, when I watch stream, I think everyone is pretty much equally entertaining. I mean, I don’t like Cam Girl type streams, but I’m not going to call anyone out, that’s not my style, I don’t want to make anyone feel bad for what they’re doing.
S: How many events like this have you been to?
T: Oh, I’ve been to probably… MLG (Major League Gaming), DreamHack, New York Comic Con, PAX (Penny Arcade Expo)… Probably 4 or 5 different brands of events, big conventions.
S: Is this your first DH?
T: Yes, this is my first! Because it’s the first in America. I never flew out to the ones in Europe to see one. I really wanted to, but I’m glad it came here.
S: What do you look forward to the most for this event?
T: Making sure that our finals wrap up cleaning and everyone’s happy and goes home with their prizes and their gold medals and they say: “I had a great time at DreamHack.” I’m also looking forward to tomorrow, when our event ends, to see what’s going on otherwise with the other events, because today and the last couple of days have been hard. We haven’t really planned much outside of this. I mean, we have some of our people in the Pokken tournament, so I’m going to cheer them on! I’m looking forward to seeing them kick some butts. (laughs)
S: Your best memory of gaming/eSports?
T: OK, maybe 2013? The CSL Grand Final event that was in LA. That was the first time that I went in person to an eSports event of that magnitude. It was fully sponsored at the time. A lot of money was put into it, I met a lot of people that I’m still working with, or that are still in the eSports industry, whether working at Twitch or Team Liquid or whatever. We all met at that time and it felt like the quickest weekend, but it was the most impactful and it made me realized that this is a great industry to work in. We met everyone from Day, down to random people that were catering. Everyone was super cool and super hyped. It was kind of a launching pad for a lot of other people getting involved and thinking of collegiate eSports as a something that matters. It was rough at some points, in production, but the idea and the passion was there. One of my best memories is just meeting everybody that day and not killing each other and thinking that this is where I should be.
S: Other hobbies/passion not related to gaming?
T: I was in a metal band for like 8 years. I still play music on the side sometimes. I go to shows all the time. I mean, I feel like we’ve talked about this so much already! (laughs) I go to shows all the time with my cousin. I still play music when I can. I’m trying to redevelop that hobby, because once I left that band, I actually went into eSports. When my band broke up, I think I was also looking for something to do to fill my time. I guess I’m like one of those people that don’t like downtime, so I went right into CSL and I put all of that heavy metal energy into whatever little area of eSports I was in. Recently, I’ve been going back to playing guitar again and singing. So, mostly music!
S: Final words?
T: Final words! Well, it’s a beautiful business, the eSports world. Don’t give up, and the future is going to be really good if you’re into it. Keep pushing forward for your passion. Find your niche inside the industry though. I find that a lot of people are floating around, not sure what they’re doing. You have to grab hold of something, that’s why I grabbed hold of this and it worked out for me. If I was going to give kind of a career advice, that would be it. Stick to some area in eSports you’re either good at or really interested in and keep developing that portfolio.
You can follow Theresa Gaffney on Twitter: @theresagaffney.