Queer Women of Esports is working to bring LGBTQIA+ representation to the mainstream. We spoke to QWE COO Gillian “Kendryx” Linscott about their journey and their mission.
The esports world is an incredibly diverse one. With fans across the world from numerous cultures, gaming is a melting pot of the identities of millions- including the millions of queer gamers across the globe. However, queer people are often underrepresented as public figures in the world of gaming, and although the tide is slowly beginning to turn towards more universally representative and inclusive front-facing teams in esports, there is still work to be done.
Queer community members are working tirelessly to bring LGBTQIA+ representation firmly into the mainstream of esports, and throughout Pride Month, Esports.gg will be conducting a series of interviews highlighting LGBTQIA+ trailblazers in the world of esports.
This week, we spoke to the Chief Operating Officer of Queer Women in Esports, Gillian “Kendryx” Linscott, who is nonbinary and goes by they/them pronouns, about their experience of the gaming and esports community as a queer person. Kendryx’s journey in esports began from a lifelong love affair with Dota. They made the decision to jump into esports professionally after a near-death experience reminded them that if they weren’t going to pursue the things that I loved in life, then what was the point?
That passion quickly became a profession, and that profession became a pathway for Kendryx to help queer members of the community find their place in the esports world. We discuss the work Queer Women of Esports (QWE) is doing to increase accessibility for queer women and gender non-conforming individuals in the esports space- and how true inclusivity comes not only from the community but from the corporate side of the gaming world.
From starting out in esports as a Dota fan, to building a career and a presence in the world of gaming, what has your professional journey been?
Kendryx: “I do a lot of work in esports regarding marketing, social media, and partnership work as generally where my professional life lives. I work at Esports.gg as the Head of Digital, so I oversee anything that’s on our socials or marketing stuff. I work a little bit with partnerships, I help run the social team, and I also work with our talent on creating really innovative and industry-pushing content.
I also work as the marketing and partnerships manager over at TyrusTV, which is an influencer talent agency dealing specifically with the gaming world. There, I get to teach creators, mostly streamers on how to develop their personal branding, how to do social media, and how to truly market themselves. I got really good at that, in the beginning of my career- at helping players understand that they themselves are a brand.
It does sometimes feel like I’m shouting into the void trying to convince players of their own brand value, but it’s genuinely fun work that I find a lot of enjoyment in.
My main passion in gaming, however, is that I’m the chief operating officer of queer women of Esports. We’re a 501(c)(3) (I always mess that code up), registered nonprofit in the United States. Essentially, the organization is founded on the idea that esports is not inclusive, and esports is not diverse.
It’s most definitely not a safe place for a lot of people and specifically, it’s really not inclusive or safe for queer individuals, people of color, or just generally anyone who has the experiences of a marginalized individual- whether that be marginalized genders, races, or orientations. Our mission statement is to create initiatives and a safe community for individuals to explore esports or explore their career progression in esports. And, just as importantly, to find people to enjoy gaming with!”
You mentioned your involvement with Queer Women of Esports- where did that journey begin? What was the moment in which you thought ‘this is something I can do to help the community’?
Kendryx: “So I’m the Chief Operating Officer. I came on board in June of last year, almost a year ago, after I was approached by Dr. Lindsey Migliore (also known as GamerDoc), who is the executive director and founder. She essentially came to me and said, I created this nonprofit, I’d love to have you on this panel, let’s talk about what we can do together.
This seemed like the perfect role for me because I have, unbeknownst to most people in esports, been publicly outspoken about how uninclusive gaming and esports are for those who are queer and gender nonconforming, and specifically women and femme-presenting people. Queer individuals get pushed aside a lot of the time.
GamerDoc created this nonprofit because the experience of queer people, and anyone who falls under the umbrella of the LGBTQIA+ community, all have similar issues of harassment and marginalization. She created this organization so that people who had those experiences had a place to go to, to be safe, to have a community of like-minded individuals.
On the flip side, we knew that the hiring side of esports was a place largely dominated by men, and that at that time men were more likely to be hired because men hiring managers are often more likely to gravitate towards men candidates. Esports is very much about who you know, and the people you know might just hit you up with a job opportunity. So, on the flip side of just creating an inclusive space, we also wanted to create opportunities for people who wanted to get into esports or people who wanted to elevate their career in esports.
It really not just be like, Hey, we’re a safe place to chill and play games. But also, how do we give that education? How do we inspire the next generation of individuals who want to participate in esports professionally? And how do we provide them the information and tools in order to compete alongside a lot of cis white men who are already in hold a lot of positions in esports? We wanted to give queer people in esports the tools to turn their obstacles into opportunities. “
As someone who is very much blazing a trail for queer people in esports, what has your personal experience been of navigating the gaming world as a queer person? Has that experience changed with time?
Kendryx: “I’ve always been openly queer in esports. My identifiers are that I am non-binary, polyamorous, and bisexual- that’s my identity, and I’ve never been secretive about that identity. So my journey when it came to that wasn’t really too challenging because I came into the esports world openly bisexual and polyamorous, and generally, people were fine with it and didn’t really care.
My biggest challenges, both professionally and personally, came about in July 2020, when I realized I just didn’t fit the she/her, woman identity. That was challenging for a lot of people outside my close friendship circle to come to terms with, because I’m a very femme-presenting person, and the default when seeing a femme person is to assume they’re a woman.
I did, however, have an issue with one team I was working with. I remember sending them an email where I basically said “Hey! Quick life update, I have realized that my identifiers are they/them, and I’d really appreciate it if you could use these pronouns when you refer to me”. I sent that email, and not a single person responded. Every single meeting, from that moment onwards, I was misgendered.
I’ve worked in these environments in esports where people see queerness as oppositional to how you’re supposed to run a business- but I’ve also worked with some incredible people who have really allowed me to put my queerness at the forefront, and who have respected all the facets of my identity. They would correct people on my behalf on my pronouns in meetings, they would mention my pronouns in emails to new clients, just a lot of super-inclusive and super welcoming behavior.
Overall, the communities I’ve been a part of as a player and a fan in esports have pretty much all been welcoming of my identity. Professionally, though, it’s been more of a 50/50 split of people respecting me and respecting my identity as a queer person.”
What can people in these professional environments be doing better to combat the kind of prejudice queer people are facing?
Kendryx: “This is a challenging question because when looking at esports you sort of have to look at the fan side and the professional side separately. I’m not going to pretend for a second that there aren’t toxicity issues in esports communities, but fans are also from all across the globe with different backgrounds, races, pronouns, sexual orientations.
However, our mission at Queer Women of Esports, and the much more challenging part, is breaking into esports as a career. Years ago, when I was doing social media, I’d consistently call out problematically sexist or homophobic social media posts or memes and people would just say “Oh, my boss has no issue with it, so I’m just going to keep doing it.”
The people in leadership in esports are often cis white men, and I think that particular set of identifiers is kind of a dirty word when it comes to discussing diversity. I think cis white men absolutely have a place in some of these positions of power, but when your entire board is made up of cis white men you can easily create an echo chamber. That happened on socials a few years ago where everyone was just posting the same toxic, boring stuff, because if one brand did it then it was okay for everyone to do.
When you want to change ingrained attitudes, it starts at the very bottom. With teaching, with hiring managers, with educating executives that ultimately, diversity is useful and it is profitable. Having people on your staff with differing perspectives means you can grow and develop a team and create a better product.
At Queer Women of Esports, we’re trying to break those echo chambers in esports jobs and to bring new perspectives to very homogeneous teams. And it shouldn’t just be your diversity and inclusion team and staff- you should be including people of color, queer people, gender non-conforming people, at every tier of your workplace. “
Although you’ve said that the community is a generally inclusive place, is there anything the community can do alongside these corporate advancements to help the inclusion of queer folks?
Kendryx: “Don’t be afraid to call out your friends and teammates for using toxic language or slurs in-game. Every time you’re in a game and there’s a woman or femme-presenting person or queer person who is being attacked, or whatever it is, and you’re remaining silent, you’re complacent. You’re not supporting the victim, you’re supporting the attacker because you’re saying that it’s okay to continue to do that.
We need to see community members advocating for the victims in cases like these. You hear someone use the F slur? Call them out. You see someone making sexist comments towards a woman? Call them out. You hear someone using racist language? Call them out.
Advocating for marginalized people shouldn’t just come in-game, either. When you see talent announcements for events, or panels, or conferences, you should be asking yourself if that panel is diverse? Are there women involved, are there queer people, are there people of color?
When you see exclusion, and you don’t comment on it, you’re allowing that exclusion and marginalization to continue. Allies can make it so much easier for queer people to exist in this space, and although queer people can educate allies, it’s up to those allies to speak up.
Support queer content creators, support queer businesses, support events with queer people in front-facing roles. Likes and retweets can mean so much for smaller content creators. There’s this toxic mentality that in esports there is only one pie, and we’re all fighting to get a slice- that’s just not true.
There is an infinite number of pies, and a queer person succeeding is not taking your slice. Queer people and allies can succeed alongside each other and celebrate each other’s successes, and lean into growth and change. That’s what is going to truly help inclusivity flourish in the esports world.”