I did not want to go to the Grand Finals.
It had been a hellish two weeks for me. On July 14th, my beloved grandmother who raised me, Mama Gene, passed away. Worse, I couldn’t return to Pennsylvania to her funeral because I was so far away. This, along with various other events and internal insecurities that this death seemed to amplify, made the subsequent mental and emotional anguish that I carried in my body for the next two weeks almost unbearable. However, I refused to draw attention to myself (har har), nor did I want people to show me any pity. I was doing the latter perfectly well on my own.
I hoped to find sanctuary in the Overwatch League, as the semi-finals were finally here, and I buried my grief in my work. I created the hero “Rapture” to help cheer on the Valiant, since Queen Valla was cheering them on in San Diego (also because I hate Hammond, and hero 28 should have been a black female hero. Don’t @ me.)
I was so excited to debut it, and when I did, people were so receptive and kind. However, that happiness was short-lived. As we all know now, Los Angeles Valiant fell in the semi-finals to a dominant London Spitfire team in brutally methodical fashion. I was literally speechless. Anyone who has seen me during this season knows that that is not a common occurrence.
Not Like This
I soon regained my voice–well, what was left of it. I don’t care what anyone says about the Valiant. They had an outstanding season, rising above all the challenges that were thrown at them. And while every instinct in my body was telling me to sink into the sadness and drown in it, I stood up, right as the team stood up to leave for the season, I turned to the devastated fans behind me, and I screamed at the top of my lungs.
“No! We will not end like this! This is your #2 team! They made it to semi-finals, they played an amazing season! CHEER FOR YOUR TEAM! WINGS OUT!”
To the crowd’s credit, they did. I saw the looks of sadness on the players’ faces turn into smiles one more time as the arena screamed their chant. Smile after smile formed in the audience as people remembered how the Valiant got here in the first place, and before I knew it, the arena was booming. It had the intended effect, even though I knew deep in my heart that I was mainly, possibly selfishly, inspired by the fact that I could not bear anyone feeling as sad as I was.
Yet despite that brief respite, I believed I didn’t really have a good reason to go to New York. I was so blinded by grief that I didn’t see the point. My grandmother’s death made me question everything about myself as an Afro-Caribbean, as a Hispanic, and as a bisexual woman, especially when it came to my place in Overwatch League as a fan and in the gaming world as a whole. It made me ask myself, “Am I being taken advantage of? There are so few people who look like me that are here.” There was even a tweet that was sent to me earlier this season which made that very point:
So what’s the truth?
My truth, based largely on instinct with a bit of thought mixed in, is that it’s a little bit of both. I enjoy myself and express my passion for many reasons, but the main reason is that I know I could drop dead at any second. It’s that simple. For me, life is not guaranteed, so why waste it worrying about what people think of me?
That said, I do also know – from glancing at Twitch chat, and the messages and replies I receive – that there are a loud minority of people who thrive on throwing racist, sexist, and homophobic remarks at me because, well…this is America. Plus, it’s apparent to anyone with eyes and ears that mainstream esports coverage caters to people not like me. Which, if you look at literally any recent statistic in regards to women and minorities in video games, is kind of ridiculous and incredibly antiquated.
While I don’t take it personally, I do realize there is a real significance to me being on camera. For my passion and unfiltered love for the game to be shown to people all over the world. I couldn’t deny that anymore. Maybe I could be the representative that I was deprived of when I was younger. I can say, “We aren’t going anywhere, and we’re only going to grow.”
New York, New York
So despite my fears, my grief, and my insecurities, I punched my ticket and flew back to New York City. A place where I spent a good decade of my life, and where I left a lot of things unresolved. I only had five days there, and three of them were full of Overwatch-related events, but I was determined to make the most of it.
Through the fog of depression I felt as I traveled there, I remembered a single, amazing fact about that weekend: it would be the first time ever that all of my friends from California and all of my friends from New York City would come together and I could hang with all of them. And I did. I wish I could remember it all… I went a little 1950’s and indulged myself a bit, to say the least. Thank God for pictures.
What I Do Remember…
…is that I am part of the most inclusive, amazing community I have ever had the pleasure to be a part of in my life. I ended up cheering for my hometown, Philadelphia. On Day 2, I couldn’t help but represent the Valiant. Fans across the arena accepted me with open arms. I watched with pride as Josh “Squashmoen” Moen, the #1 Spitfire fan, cried as London won it all. And when the Fusion fell like the Valiant had a week before, I held my friend Alex’s hand. The Fusion’s #1 fan felt the same way I had a week before. But he wasn’t alone, at least.
I rode a wave of euphoria from Thursday night to Monday morning. As I flew home to California, there was just so much going through my head that I honestly didn’t know if I could get this article done by its deadline. But I did.
The most important thing I took away from Mama Gene’s death, the Grand Finals, and from New York, was to remember who I am. I am Brittany “Briggsycakes” González, a positive force, an old-school hedonist who will not let anyone or anything dictate when or where I have a good time. Life is too damn short for that.
And Grow, And Grow
You see my face. You see my brown skin, my big smile, my braids, my loud, infectious nature. I am here to show there is no shame in being passionate and dedicated to video games. To show the mainstream sports scene that no matter how you want to see me – as a token black woman, as a meme, as a passionate fan, or according to Twitch, a paid actor still waiting for her check – I still exist. People like me do exist in the gaming industry. This is who I am, and I will never change. We will never change. And we will only grow.
The day after my grandmother died, I called my mom. It was her birthday, and Mama Gene’s death hit her hard. But at the end of the day, when I was grieving and trying not to burst into tears, my mom told me one thing. That all she wanted was for me to be happy.
I’m finally able to say yes.
I am happy.