Interview: LA Gladiators’ Joy Chao discusses the evolution of gaming culture

Joy Chao has been in esports for the past two and a half years, first on League of Legends team Phoenix1 and now as the Director of Marketing Communications with the Overwatch League’s LA Gladiators. At the Inven Global Esports Conference, we had the opportunity to sit down with her after the Gaming Lifestyle: A Cultural Evolution panel to further discuss how gaming has ingrained itself in our lives.

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GameCrate: Gaming and nerd culture has become more popular in the past decade and the popularity of it only seems to be rising. Do you think we’re going to hit a peak anytime soon and then see a backlash where it becomes measurably less popular and there’s a negative attitude toward it?

Joy: I’m going to preface this by the fact that I didn’t grow up as a gamer. My interest comes from the esports side of it. I’m an esports fan, not specifically a gamer.

That being said, I don’t think we’ll see a backlash. As we see the rise of nerd culture, gaming itself isn’t just something that people are fans of. It’s something people identify with. It’s more than a hobby.

It’s not even something that they do because it’s cool. It’s how they hang out with their friends. They have legitimate friendships and relationships that are made through online gaming. Because of that, because it’s such a lifestyle, I think that it’s a trend in how we’re behaving. I see it more like how we continue to use our smartphones more and more, it will evolve and become a bigger part of our lives.

GC: Gaming won’t get a backlash, it will just change?

Joy: Yes. You can also see the perspective on gaming is changing as well. I think esports has a lot to do with that, especially with parents. The development of esports has created a viable profession and career path. That allows parents to see gaming as something more than just a waste of time for their kids.

It’s not just being a player. You can run cameras, be part of marketing, or run social media. There are a lot of options behind the scenes for you to be a part of esports.

GC: You talked about how you can walk around LA and see the LA Gladiators jersey and people recognize what it is. As far as saturation points go for recognition, is the geolocation for Overwatch League the next step in gaming becoming dominant in culture?

Joy: I would say so. There’s still a difficult bridge to gap because of how many game titles there are out there, though. For people that don’t know what the difference between console and PC gaming would be, there’s still the education gap that needs to be bridged. But the next step is just identifying that the jersey represents a professional team. Maybe they won’t know what game, but they know it’s a professional team that plays games.

It’s also a really engaging topic for people. Everyone in esports has a story about going into an Uber and explaining to the Uber driver what esports is.

I have the same thing with my own parents. My parents are Asian immigrants and all of their community is made up of highly educated immigrants who look down on gaming. They don’t think it’s a productive use of time or a viable profession path.

So, me coming in and explaining that I do marketing for a professional esports team, that is already turning wheels in their mind. Now they’re thinking business. Maybe now they want to go see a game and learn more.

GC: Since we’re talking a little about parents, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced the classification of a gaming disorder. Since kids are often influenced by professionals and streamers with strong personalities, what should parents be looking out for?

Joy: In terms of the WHO classification, I think it’s actually a positive step forward. Having that identification of it being an addiction—people can be addicted to a lot of things beyond substances. We have a whole TV show about it.

Parents having a clear medical classification is healthy. It allows parents to ask themselves if their child is able to finish their game, eat dinner with us, socialize like an average person, get their homework done, and have a normal life outside of gaming.

There was that couple in Korea who had their infant child die because they were gaming. That’s clearly a medical problem they needed to deal with because they couldn’t remember they had a child to take care of. That’s the extreme, but that’s what the WHO classification is trying to identify.

GC: How do we draw that line between obsession and passion when we see pros doing 60-hour work weeks?

Joy: On that note, I think it’s a little harder to say anything about that. For professionals, it’s part of their jobs. You scrim for X hours a day and when you get home maybe you want to improve a bit more. You don’t have the limits that a basketball player may have.

You have to be able to find that balance. For children, it’s harder because their lives and professions don’t depend on them doing well in a specific game. I do think it’s a harder to compare that exactly.

LA Gladiators backstage discuss strategy

GC: Final question on that topic, do professionals, organizations, and companies have a responsibility to be good role models for the younger generation?

Joy: Yes. Whether or not they want to be a role model they are being put in that light. With the U.S. legal system, when you get to the point where you’re a public figure and can’t sue people for slander, it’s kind of the same thing. You’re being put in the public eye and it’s up to you to conduct yourself how you want to be seen.

As an individual not affiliated with an organization, that’s up to you. Once you start aligning yourself with an organization, that’s when you start to have more responsibility. With those organizations come partnerships with bigger companies.

If these companies don’t like what one of the players or people affiliated with the company are doing, then they are going to cut ties. You lose that source of revenue and that’s on you. You have to be aware of the consequences.

GC: Have we failed in making sure people know that we have to own those consequences?

Joy: I think it’s a work in progress, especially within Overwatch League. You have people who were 16 two years ago that are suddenly thrust in the spotlight with every move being analyzed.

There’s dumb tweets you made four years ago. I said dumb thing when I was young, but I didn’t put them out on Twitter and didn’t have 10,000 followers looking at everything I post.

For LA Gladiators, we do have them go through a quick training course for media interviews and general acceptable behavior. Some of it is cultural, but gaming is known for having a lot of toxicity and toxic behavior. Part of what we do is educate them about why certain things like slurs are not allowed and why they’re harmful to those groups.

It’s on the orgs to help support their players, especially since they’re coming in really new and may not know what’s going on.

GC: For better or worse, how are gaming and esports changing the way we socialize with each other?

Joy: I think it’s just the internet in general. Everything is so digital these days. It’s changed things like how we date. People don’t see people they find attractive on the street and go up to them anymore. They go on a dating app or try to find them on Twitter.

It’s not so much exclusive to gaming itself. Like I mentioned earlier, it’s having those relationships and genuine friendships that people have made. It’s just another platform for you to hang out with your friends. It is the same as hanging out in person.

To say that friendships online aren’t real is really a disservice to how true the friendships online can be.

Photo Credit: Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment and LA Gladiators