Last Friday, the first day of the Intel Extreme Masters 2019 in Sydney, I had the pleasure of meeting with Brittany Williams, the Business Development Specialist on Intel’s VR, gaming and esports team.
Thanks to Intel, I was able to interview her on her role at Intel, the nature of Intel’s interest in esports and the importance of diversity and inclusivity in gaming. Below is a transcript of our chat.
Tell me about yourself and what you do at Intel.
I’m actually relatively new to Intel and come from a banking background, and decided to make the leap onto the industry side because I wanted to be in the esports industry and follow the hustle and bustle of the industry.
Specifically at Intel, I am on the virtual reality, gaming and esports side and manage our key partnerships, specifically the NBA2K League of which, Intel is the leading technology partner for that league. All of the PCs are running our Intel Core i7 processors and the production facility, as well as, the entire arena are powered by our Intel Xeon processors. We are working closely with our PC partner, being Dell / Alienware to really power and drive the technology for that league. I also work to ensure that we’re thinking of other technology partnerships beyond just powering the league. That keeps me quite busy.
The other hat that I wear is for Olympics efforts. In 2018, we hosted the first ever esports exhibition associated with the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and it was incredibly successful. We had a StarCraft tournament and also had a esports exhibition for Ubisoft’s Steep.
It was incredibly successful and was a way for the International Olympic Committee to figure out what is esports and how we can really tap into this very engaged, very exciting market. So, my role is to work closely with the International Olympic Committee to help build out their esports strategy and to think through what is the potential for taking a bigger leap into esports.
How do you overcome the challenge of speaking with people who may not consider esports as a sport?
Currently, there’s a market of 380 million people who already view esports as a sport and that’s growing to over 400 million this year. That’s a significant market of people who already see esports as a sport. So, when I’m engaging with people about esports, I find that I’ve never had to engage with someone who is debating whether esports is a sport. Everyone in the industry is already well aware of the level of hard work, determination and fast motor skills that are involved in esports, so I’ve not had to overcome that challenge of dealing with anyone who isn’t convinced of esports legitimacy as a sport just yet.
What drove you towards working in games and esports?
I’m not a gamer, but what excites me so much about gaming is that it’s really shifting the landscape of entertainment in general. It’s not just gaming anymore. There’s streaming, there’s content creation and esports is now entering the University landscape, where there are majors being held. For me, it’s exciting to be involved in the industry during its nascent stages and be able to work to transform and shape the industry.
With many of the projects that I’m part of, we’re working with end customers and clients that are relying on Intel as experts in this space so for us, it’s really a way of shaping that industry, which is so exciting for me.
What does the partnership between Intel and the Overwatch League involve and how does Intel work with the larger esports community in that space?
The Overwatch League is also one of our key partnerships, now in its second year. For us we’re also powering those esports tournaments with our Core i7 processor and similarly with the NBA2K League, we’re also powering the production facilities with our Xeon processors.
What’s so exciting about the Overwatch League compared to others is really thinking through the local neighbourhood atmosphere and local culture that the Overwatch League brings compared to the other leagues. For us, it’s really exciting to be thinking about different ways to engage with the end user. Having local leagues within the Overwatch League was an interesting concept that we were really excited to dive into.
What are your thoughts on diversity in esports and the current landscape in the industry.
We actually had an informal poll of high school and middle school aged girls and boys, and we asked “How many of you are gamers?” and none of the girls raised their hands, which was really surprising as surely there had to be some girls who play games. So we then asked “Who plays Fortnite?” and all the hands shot up. That was very telling for me specifically because there’s this idea that women may not feel very comfortable yet in the gaming community.
There’s a lot of factors behind this discomfort, including the level of toxicity in voice and text chats, which is a huge deterrent for many women. That being said, technology is able to play an important role in helping to level that playing field. Our partnership with Spirit AI and the concept of machine learning is something that could really help with detecting this behaviour and policing what people are saying in those chats. It’s one way for many women and minorities to feel more comfortable and accepted in the community. Then the floodgates will open. It’s definitely about trying to make the environment one that is open and welcoming to all.
Beyond AI and machine learning, is there anything else that we can do to make gaming and esports more inclusive?
There are definitely some structural changes that need to be made like cohabitation and things like that. I definitely think that steps are slowly being made in that direction. In the NBA2K League, we’re now in our second season and we’ve just had our first ever female player drafted. That was a huge win for the league and for us at Intel, it was really important for us to showcase the fact that a woman player could perform at the same level, or even better, and was drafted on her skill. That was a great story for us.
As a female working in this space, has there been any challenges that you’ve faced in your role? What advice would you give young girls wanting a career in games and esports?
It’s so important to show up and be present. Oftentimes when you’re in a male dominated industry and you’re one of very few, it can feel like you may want to be in the background and not be in the spotlight but in gaming and esports, it’s really important for women in the industry to be present and show the younger generation that there are women in the space and that the industry is taking an active interest to have more women there as well. It’s very important for women in the industry to also be very vocal and be at the forefront.
What are your thoughts on the Girl Gamer Esports Festival. Do you think having a girl gamer only event segregates women or acts as a way to slowly include women into the esports ecosystem?
It’s an ongoing debate between single-sex leagues or coed leagues and there’s valid pros and cons on both sides. For me, I take a step back and think about the broader mission and broader goal of the Girl Gamer Festival of bringing more awareness to women in gaming and building a more comfortable space for all girl gamers. I think some of those broader values are so important and there is so many varying debates on which is best but thinking about it broadly on what will benefit most to women in gaming is so important.
If you were to play a game, what kind of game would you like to play?
I’m a big sports fan so for me, the FIFAs, the NBA2Ks, even Rocket League, would be my games of choice. NBA2K specifically because I have such fond memories of playing with my siblings when we were younger. Being from New York, the Knicks actually winning the NBA2K League finals was so great because the Knicks are finally winning something! So those traditional sports titles would really be the kinds of games I would play.
If I’m being honest, I had stars in my eyes while listening to Brittany speak about gaming and esports. Her knowledge of the industry from a business standpoint, as well as from a position of a female in gaming, was so inspiring. The way she spoke and answered my questions, showed just how passionate she is about esports and diversity. Being able to learn from her, even for a short time during our interview session, was such a fantastic experience. Brittany Williams is certainly a woman in gaming and esports that young girls will surely feel inspired by. I certainly was, and her insight and advice on how to cultivate inclusivity in gaming has only motivated me further to see growth in that space. Thank you Brittany and Intel!