Every June, millions of people from around the world come together for parades, conventions, workshops, and other social events to celebrate Pride Month, a time to commemorate the contributions that members of the LGBTQ+ community have had on a local, national, and international scale. This Pride Month, Super League reached out to folks from across the LGBTQ+ gaming community to speak on their experience and look at the ways in which video games can empower LGBTQ+ players to explore their identities, as well as offer a supportive community—whether online or in-person—for individuals who may not have one otherwise.
To open this discussion, we reached out to Dylan Zaner, AKA 8BitDylan, Twitch Partner as well as Community Marketing Specialist for Twitch; Emily Gonzalez-Holland, Community Manager for Cloud9; and Gabrielle Renfro, Apparel Designer for Team Liquid.
*Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
What role have video games played in your life, personally and/or professionally?
Gabrielle: Video games were always a part of my life as a way to disconnect from the real world and be an important part of a different one. I was never one of the cool kids, I was made fun of a lot for my appearance, style, and interests. So when I came home, I’d play on my Nintendo setup by myself or with friends until we were forced to do something else. Games like Zelda, Mario Kart, and Smash are huge in my memories, from elementary all the way to high school. I never thought I’d get the opportunity to combine my two biggest passions, gaming and design, into one career, especially while I was grinding League of Legends in between classes in college, but here I am, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
Emily: Video games, and specifically competitive video games, have always played a large role in my life. As an only child, I didn’t have siblings to play with, my parents discouraged gaming and I didn’t have a PC until I was in college. Once I got to college, I discovered Melee Weeklies at my local card shop and started getting involved in that community. I also built my first gaming PC and was introduced to World of Warcraft and Blizzard games. At this time I also started to figure out what I wanted to do in school, and I knew that it was going to be rooted in competitive video games. I studied Human Factors Psychology so I could conduct research on different facets of games—immersion, team work, training, education, UX design, and more. I started getting more involved in local tournament organizing, online communities on Twitch, and it opened a whole new world for me. Because of video games, I was fortunate enough to create amazing relationships with people and have the tools to pursue a career in esports.
Dylan: Video games have played a major role in who I have become as an adult. They were a way for me to escape my regular life and shut off my brain to the world around me. I had issues coming to terms with who I was as a teenager, but it was my love of video games and geek culture that allowed me to discover I was a gay man. The friends I made from playing video games were some of the first to find out about my sexuality and I would have never met them if it wasn’t for my love of gaming. It’s funny now thinking back about it how much Queer culture shapes the games we play and how much gaming culture has integrated its way into the culture of Queer folk.
What does it mean to you to be part of the LGBTQ+ gamer community?
Emily: Being a part of a gaming community means being a part of something that is always growing, learning, adapting, and encouraging passion. Gaming communities have the same common goal: to come together around a game title, esport title, or team—and that vast reach is something that is undeniably incredible. Everyone is a gamer now in some fashion, and because the discourse aims at making gaming more accessible, that also means the discourse needs to extend to accessibility and inclusivity for those who want to participate in gaming communities—which includes LGBTQIA+ gamers, and it really starts with listening, constantly educating, accountability, responsibility and actionable change across the gaming community.
Dylan: It means a lot to me because when I was growing up LGBTQ+ people were only the villains in video games or only the butt of the jokes, but as time has progressed so has the gaming landscape. Now our stories are more prominent in gaming, and as a gay man I want to lend my voice to that gaming narrative as best as I can. I want to be that fun role model for a teenager dealing with their sexuality and know that they aren’t alone, and that being a gamer and being gay are not things to be ashamed of.
Gabrielle: I myself only came out as bisexual fairly recently, but it was never something I felt I had to hide. I realized this in myself, and was able to immediately talk about it freely with my friends and peers in the community, with a sense of acceptance and respect from everyone. This shows how far we have come in the community—the industry, players, cosplayers, and fans—and I’m super proud of being able to work in an industry that has evolved from homophobic rock bottom to a place where we are all beginning to work together and accept one another. In the same way that many of us turned to games to escape from a world where we didn’t feel included, we should be opening our arms to people and the true selves they bring to the community.
Do you have someone that you look up to, either personally or professionally?
Gabrielle: I am inspired by anyone—whether it be a professional gamer, a designer, or manager—who is passionate about what they do and is always striving to be better. I didn’t always have a positive outlook about my progress and growth, and struggle a lot with depression and anxiety, so seeing people do what they love and always wanting to do more and be more is the most inspiring thing.
Dylan: I look up to one of my best friends Erin, or Aureylian, because she has the best work ethic I have ever seen, as well as one of the biggest hearts. She has worked hard for what she has in life and I have so much respect for her and what she has accomplished that I hope to have that much success as well some day.
Emily: Professionally, I look up to all of the strong female leadership at Cloud9. These women—Mae, our Operations Manager, Paullie our COO, and Gaylen our General Manager—demonstrate an immeasurable amount of leadership and innovation in the growing esports space. It’s amazing to be a part of dynamic initiatives, creative problem solving, and culture-shifting discourse in a work place that not only encourages but celebrates inclusivity and representation. Personally, I look up to my Mother. She has always tirelessly pursued her passions and creativity and has never allowed what people think about her dictate her decisions or her feelings. Through every challenge and change I faced in life, she presented me with a choice—to see these changes and challenges as road blocks, or stepping stones. These have taught me some of the greatest lessons on resilience and independence. She taught me that there is no rule book to life, that I am responsible for my decisions and my path, and that allowed me to confidently step from a successful two year career in what I went to university for, to a passion-led career in something my heart pulled me towards.
What advice do you have for other LGBTQ+ folks in the gaming community?
Dylan: If you are trying to find other LGBTQ+ gamers out there, I highly recommend joining an LGBTQ+ guild in your game if you play an MMO. Or if you like to watch video games on sites like Twitch, use community resources to find gamers and streamers just like yourself. I found my friends back in the day through Gaymer forums, and it was a way to talk about my daily life with people who got me and shared the same gaming interests I had.
Gabrielle: Respect everyone, don’t exclude people based on your opinions or what you’ve heard, and don’t be afraid to be the person you want to be. Everyone in this community deserves these things.
We would like to say a huge thank you to Dylan, Emily, and Gabrielle for being a part of our conversation on Pride and gaming. For the remainder of Pride Month and beyond, Super League will be supporting a year-round donation to The Trevor Project, a national organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ+ youth. All proceeds from the sale of our #SuperLeaguePride rainbow enamel pin will be donated to The Trevor Project. Let others know how they can support a donation by posting a picture of your pin to Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram using the hashtag #SuperLeaguePride.
24/7 National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 (online chat also available)