[SAG] Let’s talk about confidence. We’ve discussed it before, but I wanted to come back on it since it is such an important part of being a caster. You previously mentioned how you had to work to gain confidence in front of the camera, how to present yourself, and how that affected you in various ways. Do you think your confidence changed a lot in just the last year; do you see a difference in yourself?[ZG] Yes, absolutely. It’s always an issue and it’s always something you can improve on. But I kind of forgot how much time I spent thinking about it, practicing it, and worrying about it before Montreal last year. But I’m actually pretty much used to it. I still prefer NOT to be on camera, in most scenarios. There are only a few shots I really like, but I’m pretty comfortable on camera now.
[SAG] I have seen a difference in the way you present yourself and your confidence level. I remember the beginnings with BaseTradeTV, where your body language was very different than it is now. I’m not sure if the change happened naturally or if you had to work for it, but it was nice to see. I think you did a really good job on that.[ZG] Thanks. I guess I never really worked for it until Montreal last year. So whatever improvements I made before that, just naturally developed. [SAG] Montreal was the one step further that pushed you to start focusing on your confidence and presentation? [ZG] Yeah, yeah. It’s also a different frame than a webcam or an event where the talent is just sitting down, whereas WCS has the talent standing behind the desk. I definitely prefer standing, both while casting or at the analyst desk or even just being on camera.
[SAG] You recently were a guest on ESChamp’s channel in an episode where the topic was whether or not Starcraft is female friendly. You talked a bit about the pay gap you experienced, which at first you attributed to your level of experience and skills compared to your co-casters, who had been casting for years. But as you now have more experience and honed your skills, the quality of your work has reached a similar level to your coworkers. I was wondering if you have thoughts or resources on what to look for or what to ask for in contracts to obtain the best outcome possible?[ZG] To be honest, I bettered it some when it comes to negotiating, because I tried it all. But there are still some issues everywhere because people don’t think about negotiating, especially women. I don’t think I’m particularly good, but I do negotiate. There are certain times where I think that it’s so much better to get an agent, especially in the talent industry. It depersonalizes, which in some ways is a bad thing for an industry where it’s all about being personable and with the “we’re all in this together. We’re all in this small community called esports” mentality. Obviously, esports is not small anymore. So getting an agent is definitely the better thing to do. To have someone who can say, “Well, this talent is definitely worth THIS much”. Saying that yourself is so strange. To also stand your ground and say you’ll walk away if you don’t manage to negotiate your demands is a very difficult stance to keep. Most of the time, it’s not as if you have another job lined up or even a regular job. For a lot of esports, if you say no to a tournament organizer, for example, if you say no to WCS, there are not many other opportunities. Maybe IEM, but there are not many other big companies that would. You’d have to come crawling back to them contrite and say, “Okay, never mind, I was just kidding. I’ll take the job.”
But there are still some issues everywhere because people don’t think about negotiating, especially women.
[SAG] It puts you at a disadvantage then. You can’t really negotiate anymore.[ZG] Yes, exactly. It makes it incredibly hard to negotiate further and, in general, everyone in the industry talks about how much they’re paid, as most of us are freelancers. The whole idea of not talking about your salary is something that’s not helpful in American society. There is definitely talks and it can be intimidating because a lot of these guys will be very blunt about how much they negotiate. Maybe one day I’ll be confident enough to do the same or experience enough. But for now, I think I’m doing okay enough to be negotiating. It’s really difficult. There is also the question of “Is my esports scene big enough to be trying to push for more when negotiating?”
[SAG] True. You also have this difference that most other casters don’t have, especially in StarCraft II. You are the only English-speaking female caster in the scene at the moment.[ZG] At this level, yes.
[SAG] Exactly. In the ESChamp interview, you mentioned that your father told you to use this difference to your advantage in negotiations. Have you tried after he recommended it?[ZG] No. I mean, I felt very uncomfortable. It will probably sound all well and good to everyone who reads this as in “Oh, she’s very egalitarian and all that”, but the truth is, my dad is just better at negotiating than I am. (laughs) You have to be somewhat full of yourself, very confident, to kind of hit them where it hurts a little bit, saying “Look, I see that your company has little to no women representation” or something similar. If my dad was a woman, he would absolutely say that to a company, because he’s become so good at negotiating. But yeah, it’s hard to tell someone how to negotiate, because it’s never just a checklist of things. You could say “Well, I did this many events” and maybe negotiate for more, but it’s never like that. You have to be full of yourself and say, “Well, I am DEFINITELY worth it, not just because of my experience, but because I do a really good job.”
[SAG] I don’t know if it’s really being full of yourself, but it’s definitely knowing how to sell yourself.[ZG] It’s an issue I also talked about in the ESChamp episode. Very commonly, when a woman tries to be as confident as a man, her colleagues will subconsciously, without even realizing it, react with something like “Yeah, I don’t really like her. She’s kind of pushy.” Whereas, if it’s a man, it’s more along the lines of him being strong.
[SAG] Yes. It’s funny you mention that. It makes me think about an article and a study related to this subject. The article said that, generally, women will only apply for a position if they meet 100% of the required criteria for that position, whereas men will apply to that same position if they meet around 60% of the same requirements.[ZG] It’s incredible how much this is documented. When we talk about these issues, and there are so many of them, you will find people, guys usually, who will say, “You’re over-exaggerating. It’s not an issue” or “suck it up.” To some degree you should be trying to overcome these issues, but then you also realize how big of a scale this is through the many studies. This isn’t something you can simply get over. There are other things you have to do to fix the inherent issues it.
[SAG] The study showed that women who earned better grades in school are less likely to be selected for a position compared to men with the same grades, background, and experience. The researcher created applications and duplicated them with the name and gender changed of the applicant. For applicants who had earned high grades, men were more likely to receive call backs than women. The researcher decided to push further, asking the recruiters why they preferred men instead of women with the same background. I won’t go further, but it was very interesting to read.
[ZG] It’s the weirdest thing. I don’t know if it’s true for everyone, but it has been shown in studies before. When you think of women who did very well in high school, they were usually regarded as high maintenance. They were the ones trying to do everything, which is actually a good thing, but high maintenance is normally not a compliment. But if you think of a man doing the same thing, he was a cool guy, an achiever. There are tons of studies on this, and it’s really interesting. I guess as “the woman” in the StarCraft II field, I am the one doing the power negotiation. It is something to think about. The TL; DR of the ESChamp episode was that StarCraft II does seem to be better in a lot of regards, but I think that trials and tribulations are shared among my male co-casters as well.
It’s incredible how much this is documented. When we talk about these issues, and there are so many of them, you will find people, guys usually, who will say, “You’re over-exaggerating. It’s not an issue” or “suck it up.”
[SAG] In my opinion, the nice thing about esports is it has the advantage of not being too set in its ways. Since it’s a new industry, do you think it might be easier for women to get opportunities, compared to other industries that have been around for decades, especially in the casting field? Especially if we compare esports to traditional sports?[ZG] I can’t really comment on traditional sports, because I know there are some sports where women have different rules, so I suppose it could make it a bit more difficult for them to be hired in analysis. There could be the reason of “well, the game you play isn’t quite the same.” I’ll use the example of shot put. For women, a lighter weight is used. But simply because men use a heavier weight, doesn’t mean that a woman can’t cast the game. If that person says “I want to cast the Olympic Games for shot put” and they get an answer such as, “Oh, I’m sorry, you don’t know what you’re talking about, you can’t do it”, that doesn’t really compute. Anyone who has the knowledge, communicates well, and does research should be hired.
But I do believe it’s easier in esports. As I mentioned in a previous interview, if we just look at what happened to the US women’s soccer team and what they went through, then yes, it’s a bit easier. But the other side is the Riot article. We’re like “Well, that would probably not happen in traditional sports companies because they’re so big and they have HR departments.” I’m sure they had and still have their own sexism issues, don’t get me wrong, but certain jokes or statements would not fly in the corporate world. But obviously, the situation at Riot finally came to light and everyone is being chastised for it. I guess that’s the type of issue that can happen in a new endeavour. USUALLY, gamers are a bit more progressive-thinking, I believe.
[SAG] In a way, the esports industry is a kind of derivative of the gaming world itself, which has its own universe in a way. Do you think that what happened with Riot was also the fact that when they created their corporation, they decided to keep the gaming vernacular and some of its behaviours, and that somewhat backfired on them?[ZG] Yeah, of course. But I also feel that it’s not completely true about the gamer talk. I know what you’re saying, but I feel like other gaming companies and other gaming situations I’ve been in, all the friends I’ve made and all the LANs I’ve been to, I feel like most guys did not have to sit and think about inside jokes. We all have them and we all do really immature stuff. So gamers won’t encourage it, but we won’t chastise it either and that backfired on Riot.
I had a friend that was that[kind of troll. He would BM on ladder but he was laughing behind the computer screen. He wasn’t serious at all. I get it, you’re not supposed to take trolls seriously. A lot of people online are not what they are in real life. It’s a more of a persona.
[SAG] We’ll now turn towards the esports scene a bit. We’ve talked about esports in general and how much it has changed since 2015. For example, we now have the OWL [from Blizzard] and Epic Games is investing 100 million in a Fortnite tournament. What do you think of the esports scene and the large growth it has had from 2015 to now?[ZG] I think getting bigger is always better. Ninja, who’s mainly the one really pushing Fortnite and Twitch. He’s a very family-friendly guy, which has helped improve the image of gamers and Twitch. Another thing that I believe has helped better the image of gaming and gamers is the OWL, which is very clean-cut (they had to be, especially when they were on Disney XD).
I think the worst thing about esports and Twitch getting bigger was the fear that things would come to light, such as the Riot issue; that there would be people coming out saying, “I was sexually harassed” or prejudices because of the colour of their skin or their sexual orientation.
I remember four years ago, when contracts were still laughable, teams backed often back then. Four years ago sound like forever ago, but for other industries, it’s more, “Oh wow, only four years, that’s a lot of growing to do. Should we trust them? I don’t know.”
I think that, so far, Twitch is coming into a positive light. Twitch IS the platform that currently propels esports. YouTube tried, and is still trying, and Overwatch is on live television. Let’s be real, Twitch it synonymous with esports. But I’m overall pretty happy with how big it’s become. It has somewhat contributed to the continued rise of SC.
The decision to make Legacy of the Void free-to-play was huge. We’ve had weird WCS’s and it was a Wild, Wild West back in 2010. I have talked to some of the Heroes of the Storm guys and they say they’re also getting bigger. And I may have my own opinions as to why, but it’s also the fact that Twitch has become bigger, the whole idea of watching esports is more mainstream.
[SAG] We’ve seen with a lot of changes on Blizzard’s part, partially because of Twitch getting bigger, and maybe because viewers were getting tired of Battle Royals and MOBAs, we’ve seen a lot of people coming back, and new viewers. Did you think it would happen? Maybe the game would get back to a good level of popularity, but maybe not this level?[ZG] Yes, I did. My prediction was always that when LOTV was released that it would be a huge resurgence, like BAM, instantly 500 000 people. That was idealistic and there was a big explosion, but it died down. I always figure it would be like the Smash community, where it’s just steadily getting bigger and bigger. We’re back to the point where we were when LOTV was released, which is pretty impressive. New triple A titles are going to bring a lot of people, so to get back to that point is pretty cool.
It has to do with everything I just talked about, but also the game itself got better. We have skins, cosmetics, we have player tournaments, viewer tournaments, and the War Chests where you can actually feel like you’re part of the scene. We’ve improved on a lot of stuff. I still enjoyed StarCraft in Heroes of the Storm, but you can’t really blame people being disinterested, from Broodlord Infestor builds to Swarmhosts, they weren’t fun to watch. There wasn’t really anything keeping them in the game. LOTV came out, with better meta, coop, and Archon mode. Now there’s the feeling that you can support the custom scene and map-making became a bigger deal. Everything has finally come together. It makes a lot of sense in my mind, as a person who thinks StarCraft is a fantastic game and fantastic esports, that people would be drawn to it once they realize it’s not the same meta anymore. They have something to play that’s not just 1v1.
[SAG] Last year, we touched a bit on how much work you’ve put in your career. I’m not sure if in the beginning you thought you would make a full career out of it. Through everything, the bad and the good moments, you managed to keep a good reputation, no matter what happened around you. Do you think that was pure luck or do you think it was the way you dealt with these situations?[ZG] I don’t think it’s luck at all. I think it’s definitely how I carried myself. For most of the issues, if there were any issues, I didn’t say anything, or I continued grinding and somewhat ignored it. For example, something happened at Nation Wars and I ignored it, even though it really bothered me. Regardless if it’s someone I already don’t like or someone that I do like, but that might have made a wrong decision, I just usually stay away from it. I generally had the persona of someone trying to keep their heads down. So, I don’t think it was luck at all. I think it was just the way I presented ZombieGrub online, as someone who wasn’t overly ambitious, who wasn’t pushing issues, or overly complaining all the time.
[SAG] The fact that you didn’t exactly ignore the issues, but didn’t address them publicly, and then went to the person directly, might have helped you at that time. But, in today’s day and age, do you think it is still something we can do when we see all these people saying “You can’t ignore this”, be it a political or societal issue?[ZG] I think it’s important to note that most of the stuff that I could have been involved in isn’t political by nature, and I don’t consider most of those things, “big deals.”
Ultimately, it is almost always better to talk to someone one on one, or to talk to the organization about a situation, as opposed to bringing it to Twitter or any social media.
I’m not very shy to say I’m a feminist and a liberal. If there were a huge problem with a job, I would seriously consider not getting hired by them, if they offered. There have been times in the past where I’ve felt uncomfortable with certain things. My reply was, “You know what? I’m not really comfortable pushing this or advertising this.” Am I the perfect person who sticks by their morals and ethics? No, absolutely not. And there are times I wish I did say something. Ultimately, it is almost always better to talk to someone one on one, or to talk to the organization about a situation, as opposed to bringing it to Twitter or any social media.
[SAG] We’ve talked before about your “chill ascension” as you called it, into the StarCraft II casting scene. Let’s do a quick recap: you started with online tournaments with online clan tournaments, MLG community casting, the MLG studio, and the online WCS coverage. Later came BasetradeTV, HomeStory Cup, DreamHack, and then Nation Wars. You were telling me that Dreamhack is more relaxed and willing to give chances to smaller casters. I know you appreciated them working with you on Austin and Atlanta. Then Blizzard hired you to fully cast at WCS Montreal last year. Not only was that ascension impressive at the time, you also ended up casting the StarCraft II finals at Blizzcon, even after telling me you didn’t think it would happen for 2017. It must have been incredible.[ZG] I do have to point out something, because it’s kind of important. Before, StarCraft II, WCS events at DH used to be more of its own thing, with its own hiring process and with the support and input of Blizzard. Now, it’s actually WCS at DH, you know? Though DH was nice enough to bring on two casters and not having to worry about the legal stuff. I’m not sure WCS would be the same. For me to get that best of five at DH was very, very different. It was also a different set of people than today’s WCS hiring team.
[SAG] Do you think that casting this BO5 had any impact on you getting hired for WCS Montreal?[ZG] I don’t know. I hesitate to say yes. I think Nation Wars was the biggest push. I’m not even sure if Austin was well received. I know the crowd really enjoyed it, but I don’t know if it proved anything. I don’t think they (Blizzard) hired me because of any previous offline events either. Their idea was that they liked me as a caster, that I did a lot of smaller tournaments, and that I did a wide variety of regions.
[SAG] At WCS Montreal 2017, we talked a bit about the fact that it was your first WCS. We also talked a bit about the possibility of you casting the WCS Finals at Blizzcon that year. I remember you telling me that you would love to do it, but that you didn’t see it happening. But it did end up happening! How did you react to it?[ZG] I had told my dad, because he tries to follow me and he was asking, “But what about that global finals?” I told him there was something like a 5% chance of me being hired for that. I just thought it was out of the realm of possibilities. I know I did a good job at Montreal, and maybe a lot better than people expected, but I don’t know if it was Blizzcon-level. When I got the call for it, it was one of those times where I almost cried. On a scale from 1 to 100, 100 being me crying, I was like a 60? I was close to it, because it was just a surprise. A friend or two had been hinting that I might have something really cool happening soon, and the only thing left was Blizzcon. But I was like, “Yeah, whatever.” So it was a complete shock. The person who hired me gave me a little bit of a critique about my Montreal cast and he said, “Yeah, you did very well. Surprisingly well. And as such, we would like to have you for Blizzcon.” I think it would be anyone’s dream to do Blizzcon. I was happy with it and I don’t think it was undeserved. I think I did a great job at Blizzcon. I don’t think many people would expect to get Blizzcon after one major event. I don’t know if it’s unprecedented or anything, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was. A lot of the casters at Blizzcon had been there almost from the beginning. So they had tons of events. Now it’s so much more streamlined. It might be that I’m the one person who got it after doing only one event.
[SAG] It was one official WCS event, but we also have to take into account all of the other events you’ve worked.[ZG] Yeah, of course. But it is this weird thing where, yes, a lot about being a caster is knowing your stuff, being able to communicate, and having your specialty in a matchup. That’s what everyone thinks they want the most, someone who can tell them detail by detail the build order, the process. But really, what makes it an enjoyable broadcast is the chemistry between the casters, the narratives you build, and the hype. On top of that, how good of a caster you are and how well do you really know the game. That’s what makes an enjoyable broadcast, in my opinion. I know a lot of people will say, “No, I want the guy who doesn’t have any chemistry, but who can talk for days on the ZvZ matchup.” I know that’s what DOTA seems to want. I do watch a couple other esports events, not just because I enjoy the big pageantry, but I think it’s important to note how the analysts work, how the desk works.
[SAG] Talking about the chemistry, was it difficult to make your own place within these “established” casters? There’s not that many casters for StarCraft II. There are community casters, but for the official events there’s just a handful of them. How was it to make your own little corner in that community?[ZG] Yeah. That was the biggest thing I was concerned about when I did Nation Wars, because I’d never cast with the big league casters, right? Like Rotti, ToD, and Funka… I trusted that there was a reason that they were in this position. They’re just good casters and that’s exactly what happened. It was a breeze. I’m sure there’s also that maybe I am pretty good. Maybe I have some talent, but some people refuse to admit that. (laughs) I think that was a lot of my focus for that and Montreal. Like I told you, it was not necessarily not game-related stuff, or getting all the build orders, but rather building the narratives and the storylines. It was the last stop before Blizzcon. Then making sure that I got along with everyone, because for that event (DH MTL 2017) I had to get along with Maynarde, iNcontroL and also Nate, to an extent, as he was the host. So, Maynarde I was already friends with, so it was no big deal. In fact, casting with him right off the bat helped settled my nerves, same with Rotti. And then iNcontroL, I didn’t get to do much with. I think the first I casted with iNcontroL was actually this past Challenger. Sometimes I feel they intentionally hold him back from the newbies, because he has a very strong personality.
— ZombieGrub (@ZGGaming) September 7, 2018
For the other guys or for appearing on the panel and just being well liked and well-adjusted, I think it was actually quite easy. There’s partially the fact that I’d already talked to some of these guys at other events, so I wasn’t a stranger to them. There’s this nice thing where I also find it kind of easy to get comfortable with people once I’m on the broadcast anyways. It’s caster ZombieGrub that comes out. It’s almost like putting on a mask, I guess. If you put me with 8 people that don’t play SC and you tell me I’m supposed to make friends with these people, I’d have a lot tougher of a time. (laughs) So, meshing well wasn’t really difficult, but it was something that was very important to the broadcast and my continued career. It’s nerve-wracking for a lot of other people. There’s barely any training pad. How do you train yourself to be more likeable? There are some self-help books, about general people’s skills, but it’s actually very, very hard.
[SAG] Some of that group has been casting together for a long time, they’ve known each other for a long time. Since they work well together, how do you integrate yourself into that and still have a good working dynamic?[ZG] For me, it was that some of these guys have larger-than-life personalities. That’s why it’s so hard to think, “How can I ever be that?”, because again, there’s no training. You can look at someone and say, “I want to be as charismatic as that guy, let me work on that.”
[SAG] Since Blizzcon 2017, you have done a lot more offline events and a lot more travelling. How are your cats taking it? I know you’ve mentioned before on Instagram that they miss you a lot. (laughs) But also, how has traveling affected your life?[ZG] My cats being sad is not cool, but you know… I like travelling, so I haven’t had as much wear and tear mentally as other people might. And not having a daily outlet to do physical activity can be really difficult. But then, I stayed in Korea for 3 months, and that was not a big deal. I had everything I needed. That type of job can be some sort of tax on your mental health, but as far as weekend excursions, like WCS or Challenger, is not such a big deal. I’ve never been, “Oh, travel is coming up? Ugh, I hate travelling”. It’s always been, “Oh, travelling is coming up? Great! I can see my friends.” It is something concerning for the future, as far as whenever I move out and get my own place. For my cats, there are no more two and a half months to Korea. That’s something a lot of people worry about in this industry, especially when they’re not with a solid job in one place, right? They’re still doing the travelling and freelance thing. “Can I even have the “real” at home life? Can I have a pet? Can I get a girlfriend/boyfriend? Will I find friends in the area with me travelling all the time?” That’s a bit of a fear for me. I always figure I’d solved that problem as it comes. It’s also really hard to keep to a diet, especially when your friends want to go out and party six days in a row.
[SAG] I’m now going to ask the very cliché question of “Where do you see yourself in a year?” I’m not even going to go over a year, because things change so much in this scene, but where do you see yourself in a year? What are your hopes, plans?[ZG] I hope to do Nation Wars again. I don’t know what they thought of the format, but there’s no easy way for them to get casters for such a long event. I’m not sure if it’ll be a month long again or if they’ll just fly us out every weekend. Then I want to go back to Korea because I have the miles, so I want to go back. (laughs) And stay there for an extended period of time. Beyond that, there are talks of having a reason to move to California. That’s where a lot of the industry jobs are in the first place. It’s generally a good place to be, even with it being really expensive and it might not be that safe. I’m assuming I’ll be doing many of the same things I’m doing this year, including some of the similar events. Blizzard seems to have come into a really comfortable state of how they run events, so we’ll see if it changes. I know people will say it in a disparaging way, but there is no harm. In fact, there are a lot of benefits. Theoretically, I could move to California or be flown out for less than many others.
[SAG] Any last words?[ZG] Thanks to anyone who actually reads this. (laughs) Hopefully, it was insightful in some ways!
[SAG] Thanks for your time, ZombieGrub.