The Esports Diaries – Overwatch Contenders, Kiev

By now you likely know that during the course of 2018 I’ve been working as the Desk Host for Overwatch Contenders Europe. The competition has three seasons and each “regular” season is roughly four and a half to 5 weeks. The studio we film out of is in Kiev, Ukraine. Blizzard takes really good care of us, putting us in two apartments. There are 5 talent members so each season 3 stay in one apartment and 2 stay in another.

I had some worries coming into Season 3. Unlike the others working on the broadcast – I didn’t use the “down time” between Season 1 and Season 2. Instead, I landed back in South Africa and worked. As the end of the year crept closer I felt exhausted. I wanted the holiday and this final push seemed that much harder. Coupled with that was my fear of 4 and a half weeks in an Eastern European Winter. I just didn’t know how I’d handle the cold. I’m also someone who enjoys working and being busy. Being in a space which ultimately forces you to stare at a screen for 4 days (we have two broadcast days and a rehearsal day), isn’t ideal. Which is why you now have this: a journal, if you like, updated weekly with some thoughts and feelings as season 3 occured.

I shared these emotions weekly with my newsletter subscribers. However, I decided to put them all together here and include some pictures as a means to share. So here we go:

Volume 1 – 21 November 2018

Week 1 of broadcast is done and dusted. I had a somewhat weird feeling in my tummy coming back to Contenders on broadcast day 1. The nerves before a broadcast are always there, I don’t think they’ll ever go away, but it felt… different. I suppose by now the entire team knows the drill. It’s more like slipping on a pair of your favourite socks as opposed to brand new high heels. You’re familiar and you’re comfortable. You also know what to expect in the weeks ahead. The 4 days off each week sounds fun but it really isn’t. After week 1 you begin to feel frustrated. For me, anyway, because I like to be on the go and in below freezing weather every day – exploring isn’t really an option.

A tiny glimmer of the sun. I haven’t seen her since.

First day of broadcast was… special. We woke up to no water in our apartments. A broken pipe on the street meant we’d be without water for 24 hours. I have a very specific routine I like to follow before broadcast and it includes a shower. We ended up having to pack up all our things and catch a cab to a hotel across the road from the studio, where some Blizzard employees were staying. We used their rooms to shower and get ready. The broadcast started with a hiccup when one of the team’s players suffered internet trouble but by the end of the night we were comfortable and moving along swiftly.

Working to fix the broken pipe!

I’m really struggling with the weather. My body isn’t used to the constant cold and a lack of sunshine. To try mitigate “the grumps” as I like to call them, I started my week off by booking a ticket to Bulgaria. I have some friends currently working on some esports things there and figured I’d go visit them. I also think familiar faces will help speed up time. The first week here is always mentally tough for me. I need to adjust to the weather and also adjust my sleep schedule to later night and earlier mornings. I’m really going to try be healthier in my eating here. With every food label in Russian it can be easy to slide into a diet of fast food and comfort eating. But I’ve purchased a bunch of frozen veggies and chicken breasts. Last night I even did some meal prep! I cooked and packed some meals for the rest of the week. This morning I set up a mini gym on my room’s enclosed balcony and did my first work out here. I felt much better once I’d started moving so I’ll make sure that is a regular thing.

Friendly faces experiencing snow in Bulgaria. I’ll join them soon!

Missing my player 2’s birthday was a bit of a downer. He turned 30 and I did feel a bit sad that I wasn’t there. He is incredibly supportive of my career but I know he takes strain and, not being able to go over the top for his birthday was a bit tough for me.

My face after working out in my baby gym for the first time. Lol

When I read this back I feel like it is far more negative than I’d like. I’ve actually enjoyed my first week. I’m staying with Legday and Jaws this time round and we’ve got a nice routine going. I’ve woken up later in the mornings and chosen not to work but rather sleep a bit more – which I haven’t done all year, at home or away, so it’s nice. I’m also really excited to head to Bulgaria. Here’s a scary one: this will be my first ever trip alone that wasn’t for work. I’m getting on a plane and going to a foreign country, alone, with no work obligations or expectations… or anything planned by the company hiring me. Lol. I’m actually a bit nervous!

Volume 2 – 28 November

It’s my second week in Kiev filming and I’m actually writing this update from Sofia in Bulgaria. Confused? I’ll explain!

Some of my friends are working in Sofia currently. I was aware they were here and thought it would be good for me to leave Ukraine for a few days and come visit. I’d originally planned to jump on a plane in the third week of my stay but their work schedules didn’t align. On a whim I booked a flight for Tuesday morning to spend 4 days with them.

I headed out to do the Contenders broadcast on Sunday and returned home at about 2am Monday morning. I was woken up by a message from a friend at around 7:30am asking if I was alright. When I jumped onto social media I realised why: Russia and Ukraine had had an “incident” at sea and the Ukrainian president was calling for parliament to vote in martial law in an emergency sitting that day!

Red Bull South Africa sent a little care package to me all the way in Ukraine! <3

Ukraine has an “interesting” political dynamic and martial law doesn’t bode well. Martial Law is also a scary thing. The military takes power of the country. If you follow history this is a slippery slope to military dictatorships. Martial Law in Ukraine is also hazy. There’s implications that travel bans can be put in place and that civil rights lost. On Monday morning we had no clear implication of what a martial law vote would entail and if we’d need to get out the country fast. For various reasons I actually can’t go into more detail around my personal situation on Monday but, by the time I arrived in studio at 4pm, I was extremely concerned and upset. I was also scared. My family was scared. I don’t think I’ll ever really be able to express the emotions that come about when faced with being so far from home, uncertainty and a very real risk to your safety.

Regardless, I sucked it up and went on air. I think if you watch that stream back I did the best acting job I’ve ever done because I don’t believe my mental state shows at all. I spent most of the broadcast checking for news updates on the break.

Leaving Ukraine for a Bulgaria visit

Martial Law was voted in. For now it only effects regions of Ukraine on the borders of the country. The situation is being closely monitored and my employer has supplied me with the support we need. At this point we will continue to work in Kiev till 18 December. After sorting this all out and finally rolling in to bed at 2am I was about at 6 to get to the airport and fly to Bulgaria.

My Sofia look. Gangsta AF! Jaws gifted me this funky little mask from Korea. I love it.

I’ve been in Sofia for a day now and it has been amazing. The city is so charming with its cobbled streets, old school European feel and street art littered among the tiny hideaways. I also think the stress of the 24 hours meant I really needed a warm home with familiar faces to just ease the heavy feeling I had. It is also warmer here than the Ukraine. Which is funny because it is still snowing!

Sofia in the snow

I’ll be back on a plane to Kiev on Friday with only a few more sleeps before the halfway mark hits. I’m desperately missing my Player 2 at the moment. I think this is amplified by staying with my friends who are a very happy and in love couple. But I know we can push through. I’ve also been working on a recap show with a friend, called Pitstop, which I’m enjoying and takes up a large chunk of my time – so that definitely helps!

Let’s see what next week holds!

Volume 3 – 6 December

Broadcast ready!

I’m a day late with this update. I want to make a valid excuse but the truth is I just was feeling a bit depressed yesterday and didn’t feel like spewing words onto a page. I’ve done this long stint away from home twice now so I expected the emotional drop coming into Week 3 of being away. It’s just over 3 weeks actually and we’ve started the downhill slide to a trip home. With less than 2 weeks left I tend to fall into a sort of lazy haze. It’s freezing cold outside so visiting spots and venturing into the outdoors isn’t high on my priority list but I’ve exhausted games, series and books so I begin to feel a bit bored. Boredom leads to me not wanting to create and ultimately puts me in the slump I’m in now.

But we move forward.

The snow right outside our door!

Last time I caught up with you I was in Sofia, Bulgaria – spending some time with friends and enjoying a mini holiday of sorts. I explored the incredible little town and got back on a plane to Kiev on Friday. Broadcasts went off without a hitch and I eased into the second last week of work. I’ve been binge watching House of Cards as it is available in its entirety here in Ukraine. It isn’t yet available on Netflix. I’d like to finish it before I head home. I’m also reading “Wild” – a book suggestion by a friend. Though I’m struggling somewhat to get through it and am not a fan of the main character. But this might change. Jack, my housemate, and I found a small gym up the round and I trained properly yesterday. My legs ache today. When bored I eat so I’m trying to keep moving to ensure my “food to work” ratio isn’t swayed to heavily on the side of the food.

I bought proper boots for the snow. How cute is the lace detail.

I’ve really enjoyed making Pitstop with my friend Trinoc. Cutting my teeth on script writing and producing has been an adventure and possibly something I want to pursue moving in to 2019. I still have no idea what my plan is next year. I know I have Contenders Finals Week the second week of January but thereafter I don’t know what the future holds. This might be what is feeding into my depression – a fear of not knowing and having no real plan. Something to ponder in these final weeks.

Volume 4 – 15 December

It is 8:30am on a Saturday morning. I’ve got no idea why I’m awake. I should have remained snuggled in my bed but instead, here I am, sharing my last Volume of the Esports diaries. It’s cold today. It has been for most of the week. It started snowing on Tuesday and hasn’t relented. The entire outside world is covered in a layer of white. I know for many the idea of snow is exciting. They squeal at the thought. Live in it. You’ll change your mind. It’s cold and wet and a slushy mess.

The view when I look out my window each morning. Now – all white!

I know I should have expected the sads in the last week but they still surprised me. I’m feeling a bit down. It is a combination of things: the joy of knowing home is around the corner and the feeling of finality that comes with the end of a regular season broadcast. The weather hasn’t helped. At this five week mark – I miss the sun. The constant glum and grey skies have taken their toll and I skidded down a slippery path I know rather well. My mini gym has stagnated and my eating has gone in the wrong direction. Popcorn and chocolate has replaced my meals of chicken and broccoli. When I was woke up to train for an hour in the mini gym I now laze around in bed reading books. Writing this has made me cringe. There is a chance that today at least 30 burpees may be had – more out of guilt than much else but at least it is something.

Just fooling around in the bunker…

I went out on Wednesday to explore what was advertised as Stalin’s secret bunker. It was not. Rather it was an old World War 2 bunker that was a two and a half hour drive away. I’ll try get a video up today about that. On my return home my flatmate, Legday, was unable to leave his room because of a headache. It was the start of the flu, which has continued into our Saturday. Rehearsal Day. While we’ve all but quarantined him to his room I’m still terrified. Its is, unfortunately, the nature of the broadcast beast. My job is to be on camera and I cannot afford to be sick. Jaws, my other flat mate, feels the same. It’s a difficult line to walk – we sympathise with our friend but are also terrified of living in the same space as him for fear that we are all knocked down. I’m not sure why I’m sharing this story with you if only just to showcase how truly odd my job is.

This is my last update from Kiev. Tomorrow sees me start my last two days of broadcast before the long flight home. Though you’ll likely read this on Monday morning. I’ve written these more for me than for you. It has been some what cathartic, just to word vomit. So I suppose this is thank you? For letting me share and letting me escape into my words. When I look back on these volumes I chuckle. So much shared and yet, so much left unsaid. 

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