Like many other creatives, I channel my emotions into my work.
As we are a quarter of the way through the second season of the Overwatch League, I find myself in my feelings quite often. It has been a rollercoaster for me, full of ups and downs, and while I don’t talk about my personal life often on social media (because it is the devil and I hate it), I do enjoy talking about my characters. So as I enter my one-year anniversary of participation within Overwatch League, as both a fan and journalist, I wanted to share with you all why as a black female cosplayer, each and every one of my costumes I have made holds significance for me, and how they have affected how I viewed the league, esports in general, and my ability for survival in this atmosphere.
Rapture /ˈrapCHər/ noun
- a feeling of intense pleasure or joy
That was how I felt last year.
I created Rapture after having been inspired by Queen Valla’s incredible cosplay and her graciousness in allowing me to portray one of her warriors. She even helped me design the armor as I had zero experience in costume making. We got so into it, we turned her into a potential Overwatch character and even created an epic kit for her. Looking back, I feel nothing but fondness and joy. Having gone to many Overwatch League games by then, I was overwhelmed and humbled by everyone’s support of me just being myself.
This was something I rarely received in life; being passionate and genuine about something you enjoy is looked down upon so much in this day and age, so to be accepted unconditionally in the community was almost too good to be true. The resultant enthusiasm showcased itself through my work, the only goal being to help people to understand that it’s okay to smile, to laugh, to enjoy yourself for reasons other than schadenfreude.
I believed in the Los Angeles Valiant from the get go, having been surprised by how much they wanted to do for their community and how successful they were with connecting with their fan base. Everyone supported each other; there was no gatekeeping allowed. It was honestly the closest to heaven I could possibly think of, with an impressive season, a great team, and just an overall phenomenal experience that I wanted everyone to experience. On top of all that, I was given an opportunity by Brandon Padilla to write for Overwatchscore, to tell my story as a black woman in the League given that at the time, there weren’t many in the arena. I hadn’t written for a website before, and while I didn’t have a journalism degree, he believed in me anyway—and much to my surprise, so did you, dear reader. Words cannot express how much writing means to me, and to see it being welcomed this much was more than I could have possibly wished for.
Even while a small part of me wasn’t willing to accept this good fortune, believing that I didn’t deserve it, the execution of Rapture suppressed that feeling and supported an almost childlike giddiness that enveloped me. While I am proud that it didn’t turn out badly, there was definitely room for improvement, which I almost immediately thought about as the season ended. Unfortunately, I didn’t have much time after Grand Finals to really bring Rapture 2.0 to the table, and I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to bring her to life at Blizzcon as originally planned.
Fortunately, I have a couple of nerds as best friends which solved that problem very quickly.
Yep. They built that.
I’m just going to leave it there because this clearly shows that I have the greatest friends a woman could ask for. It was then I truly felt like a hero. I was on top of the world and nothing could bring me down.
Except for when I nearly died.
Photo credit: @oddlyawkward
Last year before Halloween, I was in a car accident while driving to work early one morning. I don’t like talking about it and even when it happened, I passed it off as a joking tweet because my brain literally couldn’t process it further than that. I put my faith in the excitement of Blizzcon to help me not focus so hard on it out of fear of breaking down completely.
No matter how much I tried, the aftermath showed a lot in my work, or lack thereof. I wasn’t making deadlines. I experienced a severe case of writer’s block. A couple of articles I wrote read as if written by a faint spectre of myself. I would jump whenever I heard a honk or a loud noise. I would have panic attacks when I walked in the door even though I got home safely. I was moody, irritable, and severely depressed. I became more irresponsible, turning the hedonism up to eleven and neglecting my goals.
Fearing my very survival was on the line, I spoke to a therapist. Turns out it was PTSD that had resurfaced after the accident. Not exactly a diagnosis you want to get when you’re trying your damnedest to keep people from thinking you were crazy. So I hid it. I suppressed all of the symptoms as far below as I could.I didn’t want anyone to worry about me.
I’m sure you can guess how well that worked?
After Blizzcon, I almost immediately felt a shift in, well, everything. The initial giddiness I felt gave way to self-consciousness. Everything I believed in was questioned, and the people I thought I knew turned into strangers. I was told that I wasn’t genuine. My motivations were not pure; I just wanted to be famous. I was either a trailblazing queen or an obsessive fan. I saw the community grow and the lines drawn much to my horror; it was the beginning of the gatekeeping culture within OWL. Something which went against everything I stand for.
Where I was open and honest with everyone, I received subterfuge and resentment. This wouldn’t have been a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that this came not from strangers on the internet, but from people I honestly thought believed in me as much as I believed in them. People I looked up to, some who had inspired me, shot a hole in my chest and reduced me to feeling subhuman. I became more bitter. Things looked darker. Whiskey tasted a lot better.
I suffered from severe writer’s block. Rumors were spread, accusations were thrown, and at the end of the day, there wasn’t a morning that didn’t go by where the constant image of me crying my eyes out had to be forced from my head so I could finally start my day. I was becoming a monster and I was powerless to stop myself.
It got so bad that at one point, I wished the accident had killed me.
Beyond my own personal issues, I had to witness immense changes during season two that admittedly, I didn’t expect. After streamer and former professional Overwatch League player Brandon “Seagull” Larned released a video post-BlizzCon explaining his views on the state of Overwatch over the last year, whether you agreed with him or not, the effect was real. The shift in meta to GOATs polarized the community as well as the players. The lack of “exciting” plays during matches as a result caused viewers and arena guests to literally boo the players after choosing off-meta heroes for a small amount of time before going back to the meta ones.
After stage one, as the hypewoman for the Valiant, I had to find ways to armor myself against the wave of criticism I received for continuing to cheer on the Valiant after a winless stage, because apparently that concept is still hard for many people to comprehend. Back in the arena, it didn’t feel the same. It was more subdued, less active, more hesitant on many days. There was even a case of attendees acting very inappropriately, spewing racist bile and insulting the true fans who called them out accordingly, specifically during a Houston Outlaws game that I thankfully was not present for. Finally, when Nate Nanzer announced localization beginning next season, I admit my eyebrows raised. The localization of the teams is something that would be immensely exciting for the fans of each respective team, as well as, an opening up of incredible opportunities for the players and staff. But I do fear everything was happening a little too fast. If not executed well, this could be disastrous for everyone. Nevertheless, I had to have hope for the league’s survival through this process. I was told I inspired people, but how could I do that if I couldn’t inspire myself?
Dark Rapture was borne out of this fear. This insecurity. This vulnerability. She became a revenant after being executed under false charges of treason. She was imbued with the ability to summon the spirits of dead Vikings to augment her strength to immense levels. Yet even with that invincibility, that cold and unforgiving nature, at the end of the day, she trapped herself inside her own head, believing she truly deserved what was happening to her and that she didn’t need anything but her own misery.
She was a shadow of her former self.
So I took that risk. With everything I was dealing with, I decided to expose myself fully. I made myself feel vulnerable to convince myself that it was okay to do so. I made sure to show that in the design, with the help of the immensely talented artist Mercury. I lost ten pounds so she could look more lean. You can see it in the costume; the armor shaped like a skeleton, the torn skirt, the spikes. I was never one to shy away from showing skin, but in this case, it wasn’t to be sexy or controversial. It’s laying myself bare for all to see so that there was no doubt about who I was as a person.
But did it work?
I am a firm believer in actions speaking louder than words. As much as I am appreciative to the internet for allowing me to develop bonds with many people that would have otherwise never happened, I have never forgotten the importance of looking into someone’s eyes. The process of knowing that what people do, can mean so much more than what they say.
The mistake I made was accepting words over actions and making myself vulnerable to people who simply weren’t capable of dealing with that. I commend myself for taking that risk, but it failed, and only caused me more pain. That is okay. I learned from that mistake and I moved on.
That said, I need to make it clear to you that it isn’t wrong to feel hurt. It isn’t weakness, to feel weak. You can cry, you can get angry, you can cope in any way you see fit, as long as you are not hurting yourself or anyone else. Nowadays, people are expected to have thick skins due to the words coming from faces they never see. One is supposed to accept being treated with disrespect. Sure, there is something to be said for that, that you should shake it off, as it were, especially when you will probably never meet these people in real life; but it’s okay if you can’t, especially when someone is just asking to get ethered on Twitter. I’m not ashamed to admit that I get a lot of joy from shutting people down with facts.
All the same, I had to personally adapt and open my eyes. I was rejecting those who supported me in search of answers I would never find. My writing suffered because I didn’t know how to effectively channel my strong emotions into something literate, let alone cohesive. I even considered leaving the League entirely since I already knew that if this kind of environment was perpetuated, I wasn’t certain I could survive. I had to go back to basics, to realize that to expect even basic respect and tolerance from those unwilling to provide that was not only unrealistic, but selfish. I mourned my losses, dusted myself off, and I stood up again; older, better, wiser.
All those lessons forged Clarity.
Leesha Hannigan, an amazing illustrator from Scotland, was kind enough to give me her blessing to bring this to life and even helped me with design. This is why everything is flowing in this costume; it is simple, yet effective.
She has grown. She has matured. She has learned from her mistakes and is no longer fearful of making new ones. Her scars are healed. She is solid. She has the optimism and spirit of Rapture Prime and the strength and resilience of Dark Rapture. Her ability is shapeshifting, and while it’s not shown here, she does have wings. They are modeled after those of an owl.
What I can tell you right now is that I feel uncertain about the future. What social media does for speed and efficiency, it lacks in quality and fulfillment. Furthermore, it has become easier than ever for people to stomp on those who have open hearts like mine. To spread misery, since we all know it loves company, because the current social climate allows this with rewards aplenty.
I don’t expect everyone to empathize with me. I don’t expect people to be able to understand what I went through. I certainly don’t expect many people to appreciate my bluntness and honesty about how and why I feel a certain type of way. That’s why I surround myself with people who do appreciate me.
Those who do support me and want to see me succeed. Those who don’t spend their time attempting to drag me to their hell. Who instead of interacting with me out of fear or exploitation, do so out of love and camaraderie. I would not be sitting here without my friends and family showing me that being myself and deserving respect isn’t unattractive. Rather, it is imperative for living this precious life.
While I may be uncertain at times, and even a little anxious of what is to come, I shall still fight. I will make sure to do whatever I can to make esports inclusive for everyone, whether it be through my articles, my cosplay, or just showing my stupid face on camera for you all to see and meme. While I still believe in all of us, the most important lesson I have learned is that the only thing I have to truly master is to believe in my own survival and what I can do.
For there is no danger of traffic on the high road. It’s Maturity 101.