Frankie Ward: For me Counter-Strike is the best esport in the world

16.03.2019, 16:13:00

She fell into gaming almost accidentally, although had realised instantly, that she didn’t want to do anything else. Starting as a producer, to conquer esports world as a presenter and interviewer. She immediately became the favorite of the audience and hers latest performances at Katowice Major and LEC caused that thousands of people loved her. The one and only… Frankie Ward!

Being a reporter, editor, producer, host, interviewer, presenter… I could continue, but I have to ask. Is there something that you can’t do?

I’m terrible dancer. (laughs) I stream Just Dance, that’s not true. I’m really bad at playing a lot of video games.

Before your journey in Twitch as a producer you were working for many british media, such as BBC, so before becoming a presenter you’ve been taking a bit different role.

I just got to start presenting full-time less than a year ago. I love being a producer. I really wanted to present, but I haven’t found the thing that I could present about and then when the opportunity came to get into gaming, I kinda fell into it almost accidentally at first. Then I realised I didn’t want to do anything else.

Your first contact with esports was in 2015, when you produced Worlds Quarter-Finals for BBC, so it all started with League of Legends. Were you playing LoL before that? What happened that it turned out this way?

I wasn’t playing League of Legends. My role was a Senior Producer on digital coverage, so part of my role was to setup the team that was doing the Worlds cast with the online platform. Then I ended up editing text updates, so we had stream and also text updates underneath, which was more exclusive to BBC platform. I was working with a caster called Pulse, he worked on Riot at that time. I worked with him and I just had to learn the game. During the coverage I would be checking Reddit and seeing feedback and things like that. I realised things that if you’re watching the game and we were trying to do less complicated version of what the official Riot broadcast was doing on Twitch, you might actually not be able to cross-reference what was happening on the screen and the commentary, so I was creating written guides as well, so you could actually consult that why you’re watching the coverage on the screen. And that’s kinda how I learned League of Legends. I learned it week before the event, because I worked on multiple projects. I didn’t actually play LoL for a while, because I was trying to pitch a format to the BBC, where I learned to play and tried to form a team.

I’ve read at your website that it was the time that you’ve realised you wanna make gaming your career. Why gaming?

Because I have then realised that I could make gaming my career and I always played video games, so it was such a strange epiphany being at Wembley, producing Worlds quarterfinals broadcast, being surrounded by all these people and realising that gaming career is a more than making games or reviewing them. At that time I don’t think I really thought too much about what this could be. I just enjoyed playing games and enjoyed them. I never even considered actually having a job in gaming, it never crossed my mind.

It was a moment when I realised i really like people that I was working with. Being a producer in music radio is so much harder in a way than gaming, because in gaming, even it’s a multi-billion dollar industry, which is bigger than film or music industry, it doesn’t have the same snobbery that you can find in music. Music people hold themselves in very high regard – of course not everyone – but there are some people who do.

I tried for years to get to Radio 1, which is the main music station in UK and I had my heart broken a couple of times. Then, when I tried to get into gaming, I was accepted straight away and I’m kicking myself for not discovering that sooner. I don’t know why I was trying to do something that didn’t want me, when gaming would have had me all along.

Riot Games / Michał Konkol

Getting a job at Twitch was the first step to get into gaming. Why have u decided to pick specifically this company?

I discovered Twitch because of that League of Legends coverage, because it was where everyone was watching and you do your research and find out what’s already there with the audience. What we were doing with the BBC coverage was lowering the barrier to entry for new viewers, because League of Legends is such a complicated game to watch if you haven’t played it. You don’t know what a Baron buff is for example. When researching, I discovered the forums on Reddit and Twitch as a platform.

Then I was thinking about what my next move from the BBC would be and the first place I thought of was Twitch, because I’ve been to BBC for four years and it was going to be harder and harder to move up. I could also do this work very easily, it wasn’t a challenge, so I looked up Twitch, just out of curiosity and they happened to have a job – this was a couple months after the LoL event. They had a job called a Product Manager. I applied for it and I had to do five interviews, and I remember in one of them.  They were surprised that I played video games, they were interested in me because of my BBC background, but I was interested in them, because of the video games aspect, so it was really nice crossover.

I was bringing in disciplines that I had learned at BBC and sort of adapting them for very different audience. It was just a very, very different platform I suppose – learning about Twitch partner ecology, how the system works, getting to know game developers, inviting them to bring that things to stage. I was developing Twitch partners as hosts as well, so I get to use them as presenters on the shows that I was producing and I got to produce formats, and that was so much fun.

Maybe many Polish people don’t know that, but you were also producer at gaming events, such as gamescom or Poznan Game Arena. How was it? What was the hardest part of this job?

I can talk about Poznan, because I’ve been there a couple of times. I worked with Wojtek (Aster), the Polish partnerships manager. He’s just left Twitch, so I need to message him, because I met him in Katowice and I didn’t get to say bye. Anyway – I’ve been to Poznań a couple of times. It was a collaboration with Poznan Game Arena and I would work with Wojtek in terms of getting the right partners onto the stage and the games as well (shoutout to Tomasz from XBOX).

I had worked on a schedule with Wojtek and one of my favourite memories of working for Twitch is definitely when we had a couple of Twitch partners. One of them was Brunecia, she’s one of my favourite Twitch partners in Poland. We did Just Dance segment and the audience – they all got up and they were all doing dance routines with the guys on stage. It was amazing and I loved that so much! I loved that audience was so into this. Actually one of the things about Just Dance, because people probably think: „ah, it’s kids and girls”. Actually no! Because this game can be really competitive. I streamed Just Dance and I play for points, I don’t play to look good. Boys really enjoy dancing as well. Any dinner party I have at home, we all play Just Dance – it’s great! My favourite song in the latest addition is a Polish song, „Miłość w Zakopanem” by Sławomir – it’s on my YouTube channel as well.

Another thing I discovered working at PGA, especially in the first year, was Izak. Because he was and he still is the biggest streamer in Poland, he is absolutely lovely. But I can’t imagine what it’s like to be him. He’s a Polish Ninja, he was big in Poland before Ninja is as big as he is now. I remember Izak had security with him, when he came to our stage. There he did a Polish cast of EPICENTER and at one point he needed to use a bathroom, but the security wasn’t around, so I basically escorted him to the bathroom and I had to stand outside the door not to let anyone come in. Izak haven’t asked me to do any of this, I just knew that if I wanna get him back to my stage on time, I needed to do it. (laughs) I was basically standing outside the door of bathroom and I didn’t let anyone in. Only Polish that I know was: „Idź”. And all I was saying was „idź, idź, idź”.

I’ve read that during that time you were covering hosts who needed a break.

Absolutely. I’ve done little YouTube videos and things like that when I was on BBC – just some things on the side, I was interviewing comedians, I made some interactive videos, and it was all on my channel. But in terms of doing a live broadcast with actual production, this was the first time.

The first time I did it was Insomnia 58 in Birmingham. That was six weeks since being in Twitch. I was co-hosting with a presenter called Nysira, aka Marcella de Bie. I just went on stage with her and I maybe did one CS:GO interview and I probably closed the show at the end of the Overwatch game, but I literally I said a couple of things. I remember the end of the day, when we did the OW broadcast. I was running around the stage and I was terrible. I was moving too much. I remember watching it back and being like: „Oh my god, what were you doing?”

Then I ended up again in Birmingham at EGX. We had two presenters and four days and these were 8 to 10 hours long, so I just popped on stage to give the presenters some breaks, because normally we had two of them on the stage at the time, rather than having them on their own, because they had to talk about the game they haven’t played for twenty minutes. Also because I’m a Final Fantasy fan and I could fill in some knowledge, because my two presenters didn’t know much about it.

It was only a year later when I started presenting regularly and did a show in the UK called The Bridge, which is on channel called Ginx TV, which is syndicated around the world. That was really great, because it was live. Every Thursday I’d leave my office, get on the tube in London and I go to studio and do that show for two hours and be very tired on Friday. It was really good lesson. I was a co-host, but then I did a few episodes as a lead host covering for regular host and that was really exciting for me, because people who hosted that show apart from Frank, who was the regular host, there were also Machine and OJ Borg, so I got to be fourth lead presenter of the show, even if it was for three or four episodes. It was really cool, but I really looked up to Machine and OJ. I finally got to work with OJ at Katowice Major and he is awesome, and I learned a lot just literally watching him and talking to him.

Then I made a showreel, I had my agency, but hadn’t done much work with them at that point, and then when I unexpectedly had my job post closed at Twitch, I was kinda ready to go.

What happened that you left Twitch?

I didn’t decide to quit Twitch. What happened was in March last year they closed quite a few jobs, I don’t know how many, but Twitch studio that I worked for was particularly affected, so I think at least ten jobs in Twitch studios went and my job was one of them. Luckily I was only person in Europe affected, so that was I was something grateful for, cause people in this office were and still are my friends.

I’m still on very, very good terms with Twitch. I’m a Twitch partner and I still bleed purple and I’m very evangelical about them. Everything worked out really well and actually there were options for me to interview for different roles within Twitch. I could’ve potentially stayed there, but you asked why did I left – it’s because I had been spoken about the PC Gaming show at E3 and I had desk host role at NHL in May in Stockholm, and there were also other jobs that I had to turn down, because of my full-time job at Twitch. So I had a feeling that maybe I could try make hosting work and I had savings, so I thought: „You know what, I’m gonna give myself from May until September, this is gonna be my time to see if I can make this work”.

So I hosted PC Gaming show at E3 and that kinda changed my life. There were some moments, when I left Twitch, particularly in April. There were definitely some times when I laid on the floor just slightly out of my mind going: „Oh my god, what am I doing? I miss my friends in the office and how am I gonna do this?”. I was really shocked for a while, but then May started and it was like: „let’s go!”. Since that I haven’t really stopped much apart from around Christmas time, when I wasn’t working so much and I panicked again. (laughs) And now I wish would made more of that time and finished God of War, because it’s going crazy again. I don’t have any time off apart from this weekend and it’s crazy. (laughs)

You’ve worked for example at PUBG, LoL, NHL, Hearthstone and CS:GO events – once again you’re proving that you’re not afraid of anything Do you feel like presenter like you needs to have a great knowledge about the game and scene? How important is that in your work?

It’s really important, absolutely. I turned something down recently, because it was a game that hadn’t played and I didn’t have time to learn.

I write my own questions. I remember sitting on the floor and reading about LEC and people were really lovely and positive, but someone went: „Oh, she did bad in that one interview,  they were writing the questions for her”. That’s not true, I write my own questions, but I do talk to analysts about what kind of things I should be asking. With the things that I’m asking, it’s gonna be collaboration between me and the analyst, because I need to feel the discussion that they’re having on the desk. That makes for a better show. There’s no point of me doing an interview, that then isn’t useful. I’m not there just to say: „How are u feeling?”. That’s not my job.

So I’m playing  Hearthstone, League of Legends – playing a bit and watching it, and obviously had more of a history with it, and Counter-Strike – I try playing, I’m terrible at that and I find competitive solo queue quite… difficult.

Yeah, you can’t play Counter-Strike on your own.

I have a very bad experience with it, so it’s not something I’m looking to repeat. I can learn the guns by playing the modes. In Counter-Strike you don’t have to play it, you just have to watch the best players do that.

Right. Counter-Strike looks simple when you compare it to LoL or Hearthstone.

I was streaming HS and I think every esports how some aspects of trading. You’re entry-fragger in CS and you’re potentially trading, so your teammate behind you can get the kill. With Hearthstone you’re trading cards for a better end result. My approach with this game it’s similar to the others. Where I can, I do pre-interviews, so when I worked with HS I pre-interviewed all of the competitors and then I found out more about the decks they were bringing – are you bringing control decks or are you bringing anti-aggro decks. I found out a lot about their playstyle, three decks that they had and that made a lot of more sense. I learned not to try and be too clever. I need to find out how they made it and that kind of things. That is basis of Hearthstone.

You’re bringing decks with similar cards and there’s about eight cards unique to that class, so I can’t learn all of these things, but what I can do is to listen to the cast and I can talk to analysts and players about kind of things they want to discuss. That’s another thing I do – i talk to the players and I find out what kind of story they want to tell. I’m getting material from pre-interviewing them that I can use on stage. I find out about their English skills, if they’re not native English speakers. That’s my three-pronged attack when it comes to preparing the interviews. And then I do loads of research beforehand and watch what I can and I also look at numbers. Statistics are so important in esports, particularly when it comes to LEC as well.

I saw your article where you explained that during Katowice Major you were focusing on emotions of teams and players.

I still do talk about the games and what happens during them, but the way I approach things is I can see someone has a terrible t-side, so my job is to find out why they think they have terrible t-side. Because could’ve gone with their game plan, they could’ve been working on those strats and it all went wrong, so I want to know why. I know for example FaZe Clan was working with Janko on executing their t-side strats. We didn’t see that really come to fruition, so therefore I’m not gonna go with: „You said on this HLTV interview that you did this, this and this. Why didn’t that work?”, I’m rather go with: „So I noticed you had some difficulty with your t-side”. Then I’m gonna be listening to what they say and I think there’s something I can dig deep down on, then I will or when they deny it, then I can say: „But you did mention in that interview that I’ve read, that it was something you’ve been working on”. You kinda decide where to actually use that information.

If I go into the interview and I have got seven questions prepared and I have two minutes, am I going to ask all of them? No, but I’m gonna ask the one that I think is gonna open up more of a conversation. If there’s something I wanna discuss, then I will, but sometimes the desk might want me to get to something else, so therefore I will try and get to that point.

It really depends on what are the players like. I’m fairly flexible during my interviews and I kinda judge how my interviewee is reacting, so I’ll be very different in an interview, with – let’s say – Twistzz from Liquid than I would be with Aleksib from ENCE.

ESL / Helena Kristiansson

Speaking about IEM Katowice – it feels like this was the event that gave you a lot of recognition among CS:GO fans. What were you first thoughts when they asked you to be a part of this event?

So at first they don’t necessarily offer you job, you first find out you might be up for the consideration. I was filming Project Shadow for McLaren, a show about driving in esports and racing simulators, and I just done an interview with one of the contestants and then I checked my phone and I had a message from my agent: „You’re booked for the Major” and honestly, I totally cried a little bit. It was magic, because I never imagine I would be doing the Major. I got to see the FACEIT Minor, which is lovely – I was a desk host at the Americas Minor in London, but i never imagine that I would get to go to IEM Katowice. It was just the best. I knew it would be the biggest thing in esports that I’ve ever done.

I prepared as hard as I could and learned a lot particularly in my first week there. Counter-Strike means so much that I sometimes I might stumble over things or second guess myself, because I put it on this high pedestal and therefore I think I couldn’t possibly be good enough to do it. Those three weeks were a period of time for me where I learned more about what I can do and learned more about the job.

Did you expect that CS:GO fans will react to your person like they did? They all were amazed by your job.

The hardest thing when I do a job like that is I go to HLTV and Reddit to do the research and catch reactions etc. and I had to stop going on Reddit after part way through the Legends stage, because of the things that were written about me were not very nice. What happens with that is it kinda clouds out anything people are saying positively, because you just don’t understand why people go almost aggressive, I guess, about your presence. So I had to learn to shut that out.

I got a really nice email from someone during the event. They must’ve found my email on Instagram on something, and they wrote me such a nice email and I remember reading it and being like: „Oh god”. I wasn’t expecting that, but also there are people on forum posts and then there are people actually think that you’re doing such a good job that they will write freely email and they will take their time, because it takes a lot more to sit down and write an email than it does to say: „Yeah, I agree” on HLTV. That was overwhelming and actually people have been really nice on Twitter. That’s obviously where people can reach me directly, that’s where people want me to see what they’re writing.

It was encouraging, like I should focus on positives. They mean a lot more and made me feel at home in Counter-Strike. Counter-Strike is definitely going to be my main focus to me going forward. For me it’s the best esport in the world and I wanna be doing more of it.

How did you like cooperating with CS:GO players? Some of them are really emotional, but there are also ones that are introverted.

I treat all the players differently, as well as doing pre-interviews where I can. I didn’t really  get to do that at all for the Major, unfortunately, because of the scheduling, people arriving, media day being in three different locations before Champions Stage. What I do when I join interview area, is have a conversation with the player, so I would actually ask them how are they feeling straight after the match, before the camera is switched on and I’ll get the idea of it.

First time I’ve met GeT_RiGhT, he wasn’t happy and they just won! My priority there was finding out why he wasn’t happy, because that is unusual. So I’m looking for those kind of reactions. For me it was actually amazing, because, you know, it’s Ninjas in Pyjamas. I was telling him that after and he was like… „so? You’re doing your job, too”. Chris was just really honest with me and I think I’ve interviewed lots of different players in different esports, but I think that was the first interview, where I was like: „This person is being really honest with me”. He wasn’t saying that they have to play their own game, he wasn’t saying win is a win. He was actually giving me what he feels and that was a really striking moment for me, and that was on a second day of doing interviews.

There are obviously players who don’t give me as much. I really like interviewing the Liquid guys, but they won’t talk about matches in the same way that GeT_RiGhT will. They’re much younger as a team, so for example Chris has been playing for ten years, whereas the guys from Liquid were around nine years old. So those interviews are very different and obviously my approach is very different as well. Something I had to get used to this time doing the interviews. I’m not 100% happy with all of my interviews, so that’s something I’m gonna be working on for the future. I feel very protective of the players and I don’t want them to feel emotionally vulnerable on camera. It’s up to player to decide if they’re going to be emotionally vulnerable on camera and I should try to shield them, because they’ve agreed to the interview.

You were also interviewing players mid-game. That was something new for CS:GO. How was it? Who stood behind the idea to do this?

I think it was Carmac, Shawn and the producers Tom-Eric and Matt. Shawn Clark, is the Product Manager, so he is basically in charge of everything that goes on IEM, and then Carmac is like grand boss of IEM Katowice. Michal is a living legend and I am so lucky that I got to work with him. Both guys helped me to put my performance so much. I guess one of them made that decision to do it between maps and again it was my first time doing that.

That was really exciting, because you’re just trying to grab a player or a coach. At one point we got gla1ve during their match with Renegades and I was really surprised that a player would actually talk to me, especially of that caliber, and gla1ve was also a bit ill at that time, which I think we did joke about it on camera.

It was really cool, because those interviews were much more gameplay focused. Sometimes I only had one question, so you have to be fairly open with it. You don’t have time to focus on the small details. And also you don’t want to do anything that’s gonna put them off their performance. I had to be very careful with those. The one thing about doing those between map interviews is if you interviewed the person that has won a map and they also won the second map and you’re doing winners interview with them, you’ve kinda used up a lot of gameplay content, so it means that can be a lot harder. I had to learn not to worry about that, because people who were watching would understand that stuff has already been covered and I’m not repeating myself.

Last week you were also a guest interviewer at LEC. How was it?

It was awesome! I was absolutely terrified. I had Machine there with me as well, so we talked to Quickshot about doing it. I spoke with him about it first around October or November last year and then we set a day. I don’t think I booked the Major yet, maybe it was discussed at that time, and then we booked a day in and I remember when I dig at the Major and I was preparing to go to Katowice, I was like: „Oh my god, how am I gonna do LEC?!”. I was properly freaking out and the hotel WiFi in Katowice wasn’t great, so I was trying to prepare, but I also had to prepare for the next day of the Major, so it was very hard.

The day before a flight to Berlin everything was going wrong – my phone broke, it felt like I was fighting fires everywhere and I started panicking. I spoke to Quickshot and I was like: „I don’t know what I’m gonna do! This has happened, this has happened, how am I gonna prepare?”. And he just said: „We’ve got you. We’ve got a couple od days with you in Berlin, it’s gonna be great, we have all these producers, all these stats, all these figures”. I had whole analyst team who wanted to help me to the best job, so everything was fine.

Then I went to Berlin, set up in the Riot Games office and actually, to be honest, did what I do – just researching the teams, looking at the results, and all the stats were collected for me earlier. It was incredible.

There was so many people helping me to do a good job and hopefully I did. I really enjoyed it, it was so much fun.

Riot Games / Michał Konkol

Do you think there is a possibility to work for a LEC in the future?

Yeah, potentially, I think and I hope so. That door is definitely not closed, but we haven’t set another day or anything like that. I think both myself and Alex would really like to do that. If there’s an opportunity, then I’m personally really open to it. I really love the audience both at the studio and at home, and I appreciate the feedback, thoughts and things like that. Fingers crossed.

Now it’s sjokz who’s gonna be a guest at CS:GO event. Do you feel like reporters should tend into this direction? To work on many games?

I think it all depends the person. My thinking when I started doing esports was to trying to be an European Goldenboy, he is someone I really respect, although he can interview, stage host, desk host and cast. I can’t cast, I’m not a caster. I’ve done it a couple of times, when there was low pression and it was fun, but I wouldn’t never be able to cast Counter-Strike for example.

If you’re a desk host, it’s not your job to know the game inside out, it’s your job to get what’s going out of your analysts and keep the show on the rails, so there’s real technical skill to hosting, because you’re the one that has direction from production and you’re the one that is in charge of executing the run of show, at least at screen. You can do really any esports, it’s just about how much you prepare for that and your style when you’re doing it.

Machine, he knows CS inside out and he knows scene inside out, so his questions are just beautiful, he is just so skilled. And actually he’s also really high League of Legends player. We played in a Riot office and he was amazing, he blew people’s mind, because they were not expecting him to be so good. Machine is a dark horse in that aspect. He knows so many games and he knows them really well. I think sjokz is gonna be brilliant desk host, because BLAST Pro Series is really fun event. It’s for a big audience and sjokz is no stranger to this and she also plays Counter-Strike, so I know she wanted to do CS for ages. She’s researching really hard, because we swapped notes and she’s done loads, so she’s gonna be brilliant.

People hire me because of what I am gonna for the show. I think when you hire me, you know what you’re getting, so you know you’re gonna get energy, because I love my job and you know that I’m gonna research and if I’m doing interviews I’m gonna put the player in a comfortable position whenever I can. I’m not saying I’m not gonna challenge them, but I’m gonna do it hopefully in a respectful way. The same goes with Machine and sjokz as well.

Getting more popular and working on more events means that you won’t be home too often. How do you cope with that?

I remember back in October I had like three days at home. I guess it’s a bit easy in some ways, when you’re going to multiple different places. I wish I brought my gaming laptop and Switch to Katowice, but I’m still learning. I am off to Brazil next week and I have five days, and also sjokz will be there, so I think it’s gonna be really fun.

You start to see a lot of the same people, when you work in the same game, so it’s like seeing a friend, so that’s really nice.

But you also have work and having alone time, because you spend a day with people, so I’m trying to get better at that. I bring my sleep mask with me, I might also start bringing candles, because I struggle when I first get to a new hotel room, I find sleeping really hard sometimes, so that’s really important I guess. I always bring gym stuff with me, so even if there’s a gym I will do exercises in my hotel room, so I’m sorry if there is someone in a hotel room below me, because I start jumping around at 7 AM in the morning. Having some kind of routine in that sense is really important.

Having people at home and friends you can WhatsApp is also an important thing. I’m still getting used to the social media aspect of things, because I had some followers and things before the Major, but during the Major and LEC, my social alerts went up by A LOT and I’m still getting used to that. Not that I’m saying I don’t like people messaging me, because it’s amazing and I’m so grateful and lucky that people want to talk to me.

Where are we going to see Frankie let’s say in three years? Do you have any goals or dreams to achieve?

Apparently my agent was saying, he was watching instagram stories i’ve highlighted and I think it was when I was doing World Showdown of Esports in July, which is PUBG event is Las Vegas. And I responded to a question from someone which was: „What’s your ambition in esports?”. And I said to work on a Major. So I did it, which is unbelievable.

Ambition-wise… I don’t know. I know it sounds crazy, but I am living in the moment. In the past, I always was striving towards something. When I was at BBC I was doing videos on the side or I was trying to come up with the formats of the games and things like that, so I always had side project, when I’ve been doing full-time job. And now suddenly I’m doing a job that I’ve always wanted to do, so I’m not really thinking about the future goals. I just wanna keep working, I would love to do some more IEMs, I would love to do ESL One Cologne, because of LANXESS Arena, the Cathedral of Counter-Strike. That would be amazing. That’s definitely something I would like to do. I just wanna go to places I’ve not been before travel-wise. There’s lots of things that would be really cool to do, but as long as I keep working, then I’d be really, really happy.


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