Seattle player Lonness Valenna sat down for an interview with Super League’s Audrey Miano to discuss finding a niche in the gaming space, enacting positive change within one’s community, and what it means to play support. Responses have been edited for clarity and length.
Michelle [Super League’s Sr. Community Manager] has told me you have a history with Super League since City Champs Season 2. Can you tell me about your experience as part of the community?
Well, I have been gaming a lot in my past including major tournaments for Pokémon and Mario Kart games, but I also play support in League of Legends. I saw an ad on Facebook about the Super League Gaming City Champs tournament. I didn’t think I was good enough to compete, but my good friend and unofficial adopted sister, Sarah, encouraged me to try out and even lent me her laptop. She was by my side during the qualifiers and I made the Seattle Siege team. Sarah went to each game to cheer us on, despite the severe pain she suffered due to fibromyalgia. I have never had a gaming team experience like it, and I’m so happy I did.
The next year Super League held City Champs Season 3, but I figured I wouldn’t have another chance at making the team. Sarah’s condition was getting worse, so she had to limit her time leaving the home, and her laptop finally bit the dust, but I made the team once more. I needed a laptop to borrow and I got a message from Michelle who worked at Super League. To my surprise, Super League was giving me a new laptop and all the things I needed to travel and game on the go. And there was also a letter that was signed with words of encouragement from all the staff as well.
Words cannot describe the feeling of validation to see Super League not only show such kindness to a girl gamer, but also see that it wasn’t just a faceless entity here to make a quick buck off the competitive gaming front. It was a family of people who cared about the players and the experience of true team gaming that is usually cut off from all but the most dedicated players. This is what I love most about them. The tournament went okay, we came in fourth overall, and it was still a fun time.
Sadly, the victory of making it to top four was short-lived. My sister and dear friend Sarah decided to check out early from this world. Soon the time rolled around for Season 4, and I honestly could not look at the game, but three days before qualifiers I looked back on Season 2 and how close we made it to the win. I don’t know what came over me, but I had to play, if only for the memory of my friend who could not be here to play. I barely made the team, but I did as an alternate. That was good enough for me.
My story’s not done yet because Michelle saw the lack of safe spaces for fellow female gamers like me. She created an online tournament for gamer girls called the Galentine’s Games, and I must say this was one of the most progressive and fun tournaments I have ever been a part of. It showed me that I was not alone, and I could strive to build a full gamer girl team of my own. In short, Super League didn’t just give me a place to play a video game. It saved me from quitting competitive gaming by building a community and a family that I will never forget.
And you mentioned that in Seattle you’re known as the Fairy Godmother. Can you tell me more about that?
Well, the Fairy Godmother was a kind of program I started a while back. It’s there that I help new trans people come out and I give them information, or I take them out shopping for new clothes and go with them to the Pike’s Place market and show them how to get on hormones. It started out like that, but I also do that in gaming. I play a lot of support roles, do a lot of teaching, and sometimes even work with young kids to teach them more team-based strategies. I hate to say in gaming right now, everything is very aggressive. I try to bring it back to being fun. If you knew a bit of my past, I was abandoned at age twelve for being intersex. I always wished that a fairy godmother would take me away. But, sadly, one never came. So, after I was sixteen, I started volunteering at places and putting my time towards the community and trying to make things better. I like trying to live life like the next day’s your last. Well, I’m now 36 and I became what was needed in the world.
So, what role have gaming and the gaming community played in your life, whether in your past or now? And how do you see yourself within the gaming community?
In the past gaming was a wonderful escape. Especially being transgender, it’s the only place I could express myself. I started back in the old days with EverQuest and Phantasy Star Online and played on the Dreamcast when that came out. My first professional experience in gaming was with Pokémon, and there’s actually a commercial I did for Pokémon GO where I explain this idea that when you’re in a tournament they don’t care what gender you are or how you look. They want to know how the hell did this person beat me?
Did you play the card game, or the video game?
The video game. I went to Nationals on two separate occasions and got an invite for Worlds. That was way back in the day during the Silver and Gold era. I got a trip to New York all paid for and everything, and for someone that was homeless, it was amazing. I still play that a little bit, and I play League, which has also been an interesting turn of events. Being a female in gaming, I would say that playing games has definitely helped me grow. Because most trans people, they’re introverts, but in tournaments you get out and meet people, you make friends, and you go out to their houses and everything to play games.
I definitely appreciate that now there are different ways to get involved with the community that otherwise wouldn’t be there for a lot of people.
Yeah, and finding your niche in gaming. Like, I prefer strategy games, like Teamfight Tactics. I love it! I can use my analytical mind, placement, itemization. It’s just like when I used to play card games, so I’m really enjoying that. And I also do LARPing, that’s like a whole other genre where I can just be whatever I want.
Tell me about LARPing. Is it kind of like in Dungeons and Dragons where you have like a different campaign or story?
Well, it depends on the LARP. Currently I’m in a steampunk fantasy LARP, which takes place in the World of Oz. I grew up with the Oz books and Ozma, a trans character that’s the head of everything, which was amazingly empowering for me when I was young. And now I get to be in that world, and it’s just so much fun. We also have something strange here in Seattle which is called the Underground Amiibo Cock Fighting Rings. We have tournaments where people customize their Nintendo Amiibos and put them in tournaments, and when one loses, it gets horribly destroyed.
In real life?
Yeah, in entertainment fashion. And then the final one gets bronzed, or like dipped into a vat of gold, and it becomes the trophy itself. It’s just something they do twice a year here, and you can see each person’s individuality in each figure. People make outfits for them, or completely redo them, and the artistic talent becomes a conversation in itself. So, you can find community in weird little gaming niches everywhere.
Would you say you prefer the in–person events to online?
It’s a whole different atmosphere when you’re sitting next to a person, not on a headset or a mic, and you get to pat them on the back and congratulate them or cheer them on. Especially when your jungler makes a wonderful play and you don’t have the time to type out, “Well, that was just amazing!” It not only streamlines communication, but it sets a type of camaraderie that you just don’t get online. It’s an experience that a lot of people don’t get, and just how Super League is making that accessible—even with your Minecraft events to instill that into children—is amazing. And we need more of that.
And especially if you don’t already know people who are doing this on their own, there’s like not a huge space for people of all skill levels to do some level of competitive gaming event.
No. It’s understandable. The nearest place I can regularly go play games is at the university. They have a huge gaming room, plus we have many internet cafes around. We have a lot of top gamers here in Seattle and they all have their spots, but it’s hard to go play anywhere unless you’re at a certain skill level. These pros play night and day. But someone like me, I do homeless advocacy and gaming is like a thing on the side that I do. But still, it’s fun.
How was your experience playing in Galentine’s Games?
It was great. I got to meet a lot of other women and there was no trash talking really. What little there was remained positive and, even when we lost, all the support was still there. It wasn’t like when you’re playing normally—there was no pointing out faults, it was all about uplifting and empowering. Which is something that’s completely absent in normal tournaments. I think events like [Galentine’s] should be many more—not necessarily just for women, but where the expectation is different because you have more diversity than you do with just the normal hodge–podge of gamers. Sure, I would have loved if we could have all met up together [in-person], but to have Discord, build a team, and talk afterwards—it was great. It was a way to make new friends that felt the same way because, I don’t know if you do, but we get a lot of harassment.
How would you say, when events like that are done, what makes them done well? What allows them to serve a purpose, provide a space, and facilitate community in the way the gaming world needs?
First of all, we all look up to Michelle. She does everything in a way that’s like talking to a friend, not like a ref or a game master. I wasn’t a number, I was a person, I was a gamer. You don’t get that a lot. There’s a camaraderie, the feeling of being included in something. As a trans person, even in women’s spaces, we don’t feel all too safe, but just the fact that they allowed transgender and nonbinary people [in Galentine’s] was amazing.
So what would you like to see more or less of in amateur and pro gaming, whether in regard to Super League or just in general?
Representation is first and foremost. But also having little side events. Like when you have City Champs, I love how you have practice day. I think we should do more teambuilding, and that some of the older players would start mentoring some of the younger players. I would love a big brother/big sister program. I don’t have my medal that I got for City Champs, because I couldn’t be here without Sarah. She’s the one who got me started in [Super League], because I didn’t feel that I was good enough at all, and she said I was. She currently has my medal on her grave. Sure, I could show it off to people, but that’s not what gaming is about. It’s not about being a show-off. It’s about having fun and enjoying yourself and a community of like-minded people.