Emily Rand is a freelance writer and journalist who covers League of Legends and Overwatch for a variety of publications; her most recent work can be found at ESPN Esports and VP Esports. She has previously held staff positions at Yahoo and theScore.
I’m very happy and honored that Emily agreed to share her insights for Draft Notes. When I first envisioned this series, I really wanted Emily to be its first guest — not only because she’s one of the best and most respected writers in esports, but also because her 2016 article “An Evening With the ROX Tigers” was what originally inspired me to try my hand at feature writing. I’ve yet to produce anything as good, but I feel indebted to that piece nevertheless; and based on my conversations with other journalists in esports, I’m not alone.
I hope you’ll enjoy reading her answers as much as I did.
1) Aside from your one true love (brilliant jungle pathing), what are your favorite things in — or about — esports? Your biases, your punctums?
Jungle pathing isn’t dead (yet)!
Jokes aside, this is a cliché answer, but meeting people and learning about them. When you’re tasked with telling someone else’s story, you have to do your best to see things from their perspective and take not only what they’re telling you but also their personal context and a lot of other factors into consideration. When someone I’m interviewing really does open up and share insight into who they are as a person, those are my favorite moments in esports.
2) You produce a lot of different types of content (columns, post-match interviews, features, power rankings, podcasts, on-camera studio work, etc.). Do you find them all equally enjoyable to produce, or do you have a clear hierarchy of preference? If you had the freedom to write/record whatever you wanted without ever worrying about money or views, what would your output look like? (Would you still be writing this much about esports?)
I love writing first and foremost, so I would definitely still be writing about esports, possibly also a bit about traditional sports as well. In my career thus far I’ve only had one or two occasions where I’ve truly felt that I’ve told someone’s story well, either because of time constraints or format, word count, maybe I didn’t ask the right questions, and so on. Esports is an excellent lens through which to learn about people and having a lens is nice because it gives me concrete direction and framework. Also I just love video games.
Initially I was terrified to do video content and actively avoided it. If I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted without worry, I would do a lot of team embeds and longform magazine-style features.
3) You closely follow a lot of different leagues and regions (off the top of my head: LCK, LPL, NA LCS, CBLOL, LMS, OWL… and I’m sure there’s more). What’s your method for keeping up to date with everything? Do you ever find it overwhelming or exhausting?
I waffled a lot on what the best way to answer this was. Really, I don’t sleep for long periods of time. In order to watch LCK and LPL live, I live on a schedule of rotating naps. VODs are really important because obviously I can’t simultaneously watch an LCK game and an LPL game, so even if I have two monitors up at once, or something on my computer and another stream on my television screen, I’ll revisit and skim the game I paid less attention to. As for whether it’s overwhelming or exhausting, I don’t find it to be the former but it still can be the latter, despite the fact that I love doing it. If I didn’t love doing it, it would probably be overwhelming as well, or I just wouldn’t keep up with this many regions.
4) While most elements of your voice can be felt in both, I’ve felt that your non-esports writing has a markedly different tone from your esports writing — more personal, more elliptical, more unapologetically judgmental (in a good way!). Are the differences mainly rooted in form (reviews for a personal blog vs. journalistic content for a client), or do the two topics trigger different parts of your brain to some extent as well?
When I was first trained, I was told that in order to tell someone else’s story to the best of my ability, I should remove myself completely. While I don’t think that’s always true (and to be honest, neither did my professors, I think it was more of a “you need to learn the rules before you break them” kind of thing) that’s the writing style I learned first and it’s my foundation, for better or worse.
Writing about something like anime or a piece of media that I’m engaging with, I need to put myself in there more because it’s always going to be about how I feel about something, or how something resonated with me personally. Even if I still don’t use the word “I” once, that piece is still going to be about me. Whereas finding your place in someone else’s story, even as a simple observer, is a lot trickier, even if it’s also something that resonates with me personally. There’s also the nature of the content presentation itself, like you alluded to.
5) Do you have any unpublished stories or interviews (that you’ve had to “vault” for whatever reason) you wish you could have released when it was timely?
I have so many interviews that I wish I could share. Most pro players are such interesting people in different ways. I always joke around that the most difficult pieces to write are actually when someone gives me an excellent interview rather than a mediocre or poor one because you want to include everything and can’t.
6) You’re probably the most prolific freelance writer in esports right now — what does your usual workday look like?
My schedule depends on the events that are happening that week, but typically, like I said before, I’m on a schedule of rotating naps outside of Sundays into Mondays where I usually have to pull an all-nighter going from NA LCS, to writing/transcribing, to LPL, to studio work on Monday morning.
7) I also imagine that in order to publish content at such a rate, you need to be pretty tough on the interior perfectionist that wants to keep on reporting, keep on rewriting. Do you have any advice on how to quell that urge?
Yes. This is the most difficult thing. Fortunately I went through similar, freezes, I guess you would call them, even writing as a hobbyist about anime. Originally I would rewrite and rewrite and never release anything at all. It took a long time for me to realize that the majority of what I write is going to be awful (or at least not up to the standard I want it to be). I still have the occasional freeze, but fortunately, the nature of my schedule and freelance work in general ensures that I can’t remain static for long. Also, “most prolific” is a pretty fortunate thing. I’m well aware that I could lose a significant portion of my income at any given time. I think if people see me as prolific, then it’s a good thing.
8) How optimistic are you about the future of independent written journalism in esports? Do you expect the industry’s current rate of growth to gradually spawn more publications and more staff positions, or do you expect a gradual exacerbation of the status quo (unimpressive freelance rates + elite talent aggregation by developers)?
Writing is difficult right now, and by that I don’t mean the craft of writing but just the nature of written publications, even video work, is difficult with a lot of nuances that people don’t think about or see. I wouldn’t say I’m optimistic or pessimistic about it, although I do think it’s tougher now to get noticed, so to speak, than when I started writing about esports in 2014.
9) Which of your pieces are you most proud of?
The ROX Tigers piece I wrote in 2016 during my first trip to Seoul will always have a special place in my heart. That Tigers lineup was a special team. I went to South Korea really wanting to tell some sort of story, bring people to Seoul with me for a moment, I guess. I think I achieved that with the Tigers piece.
There was a piece I wrote last year for Yahoo where I talked to INTZ jungler Shini, who had previously been banned for boosting. He gave a really candid interview that I think came out in the piece — a lot of his regrets and also the introspective maturation he went through before becoming a pro player were poignant. Even if I didn’t succeed in the telling of the story, I think his words were resonant for anyone who has made mistakes en route to getting where they want to be.
I say this frequently, but I’ll reiterate it here: Scouting Grounds is my absolute favorite League of Legends event to attend because the players are so excited and unfiltered. I remember when I interviewed the Team Ocean bot lane (Vex and Whyin) at my first Scouting Grounds event after a win and they were tripping over each other to talk, off the walls excited and that came through in the piece I wrote. [Ed. note: Emily also wrote a huge comprehensive feature on Scouting Grounds 2016.] This past year, Team Infernal pulled off a jungle Ezreal strategy that neither Parth nor I honestly believed that they would be able to do, but MikeYeung did, and their reactions after winning with it were amazing. It’s just really rare to see that level of emotion given so freely, and also to see how a little coaching actually goes a long way.
I’m working on a piece right now that I think will be my best piece to date, and I’ll leave it at that.