As part of my series of interviews on women in gaming, I have been lucky enough to talk to Lilian Chen, a.k.a Milktea, former competitive Super Smash Bros Melee player on her experience on the eSports scene, how she felt as a woman in gaming and the projects she's working on now.
TechRaptor: Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you are working on at the moment.
Milktea: I am currently a designer living in New York City. Actually, I just left my role at TED to pursue my own design projects for a bit, a personal sabbatical, if you will. I used to be a competitive Smash Melee player when I was younger, but have since moved onto producing various bits of content for the community occasionally.
TR: You used to be a competitive Smash Bros Melee player. How did you get into eSports and what motivated you?
Milktea: It's a funny little story. I traveled to a local anime convention in Connecticut when I was maybe 16-17 years old. There, I met some of my oldest friends within the Smash community. They actually aren't involved much more but at the time, we agreed to go to a tournament together. Upon arriving, I did not plan on entering, but they entered me without telling me! Shortly afterwards, we went to a national event in Massachusetts named Cataclysm where I met tons of competitive players. It all snowballed from there.
TR: What were your experiences as a female gamer in the male dominated eSports circuit?
Milktea: So I actually began chipping away at these questions a while back and when I got to this question, I had to stop for a few days to think about my answer. It's a tricky question.
I think because there are less women in eSports, they are still perceived as a novelty and thus, receive a lot of attention. This excess attention can be both good and bad. A younger me perceived much of the attention I received to be positive upon joining the community. It took me a few years to realize that said attention had its roots in sexism, even if it wasn't meant to be malicious. That's definitely not to say that all attention I'd ever received was negative! I definitely also had great experiences where people supported and empowered me for my gender.
TR: You have written about the need to empathize with people instead of calling them "sexist neckbeards". Why do you think that empathy in this situation is so important?
Milktea: I think my peculiar "upbringing" in the competitive gaming community has led me to value empathy. I used to be misogynistic as a teenager, but I had NO idea. It was not until I matured that I realized I had ever harbored such attitudes. If you had told me I was sexist years ago, I would have gotten extremely defensive and dismissed you. This made me realize that sometimes, sexist behaviors are not always intended to be malicious and are a byproduct of ignorance. Empathy paves the path for this back and forth communication. In my experiences, being accusatory tends to reinforce defensive walls. As a result, I do believe that in some circumstances, empathy is one of the greatest tools to spread awareness around these subject matters.
TR: You were also at GDC this year as an eSports summit adviser. How do you think eSports have changed since you began?
Milktea: The growth and acceleration of the eSports industry is absurd! The Smash Brothers community isn't quite at the level of MOBAs like League of Legends, but even our scene has matured significantly in the last ten years. It's still shocking, really, to see my friends now sponsored and traveling to pursue professional Smash Brothers. I'm not sure if I would have believed you if you had told me this even half a decade ago!
TR: Have you attended GDC before? How do you think gaming and conferences have evolved?
Milktea: I actually have not! And this year I was only able to be around for Monday and Tuesday during the summits. Unfortunately, I can't comment much on this as I hadn't participated in many conferences until this year.
TR: You also work for TED. How does your work in gaming compare to your work in the tech industry?
Milktea: Ha! Surprise! I actually left TED just two weeks ago. With that said, most of my time these days is spent figuring out how to overlap my design and gaming worlds. Design lends itself as a great tool for nearly everything, so there must be a way to marry the two together! It wasn't until this past year that I even realized I could try to merge the two. It's going to be an interesting path ahead of me.
TechRaptor would like to thank Lilian for taking the time to talk to us. You can find her on Twitter.
What do you think of Milktea's experience in the eSports scene?