The trans eSports champion urging others to step into professional gaming
At 13 years old, Emma “Emzii” Rose picked up a gaming controller after being asked to play with a group of other youngsters. Now, 18 years later, she has become an eSports phenomenon.
After joining a group of strangers in a newly built, dimly lit gaming centre, Emma discovered a world of interactive online competitive gaming unlike anything she’d seen before.
This was the beginning of a career for the trans eSports player-turned-broadcaster, who has gone on to play for Team GB at the European Games and become a champion at the Commonwealth eSports Championships.
While her extraordinary skills speak for themselves, Emma has taken the chance to use her platform as a way to promote diversity and inclusion in what is routinely criticised as an industry dominated by cisgender, heterosexual men.
During her childhood, Emma found herself entrenched in the golden era of competitive video games – Counter-Strike, Call of Duty, League of Legends. These and so many more became a mainstay in her group after it flourished into a local competitive scene.
Almost every day, she would run three brief tournaments during her lunch break and dinner time – whenever they could all spare the time away from school or home life. There, she honed her skills and became one of the most talented in her group.
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But talent like that doesn’t simply stay in her home town of Coleraine. Slowly, Emma began making a name for herself by entering inter-city tournaments across her native Northern Ireland as well as in England.
“That was all like Call of Duty 2 and Counter-Strike, that’s where it all really started,” she told PinkNews.
“I mean, I was no age. I was so tiny and had nothing better to do with my free time other than play the games.”
While her skills improved, thanks to years of practice, things didn’t get serious for Emma until just a few years ago amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just prior to the first lockdown in 2020, Emma begun streaming and making gaming content to help promote her own brand, as well as simply enjoying the gaming scene, all the while planning her upcoming wedding.
But during her third and final suit fitting for the ceremony, she had a “full-on breakdown” in the changing room because of the underlying weight of dysphoria.
“I just sat in there for about half an hour crying,” she said. “I came home that night and started writing a letter to myself because I couldn’t sleep.
“I was linking all my really bad depression dots like a big spider diagram. I was like: ‘OK, when you were 15 you weren’t allowed to buy this hoodie because it was in the girl’s section and when you were 18 you weren’t allowed to wear makeup’.”
The night was as revelatory as it was emotionally overwhelming for her. In the space of a few hours alone, Emma realised she was trans.
“It was like one of those eureka moments where my brain was clapping, being like: ‘Well done, you’ve caught up now, you know what the deal is, go do something about it’.”
‘eSports is for everyone. Gaming is for everyone’
Coming out was a difficult experience for Emma, resulting in a break-up with her partner after nine years and a hiatus from eSports streaming for “quite some time.”
But things eventually changed when she was sent an advert through social media for a group looking for female gamers in Northern Ireland, which she described as a “fairytale” moment.
“I replied being like: ‘First of all, I’m trans, is that going to be an issue?’
“They said: ‘No, you’re a woman, that’s all that matters to us’. Happy days, I applied, got through.”
After trying out a few of the games on offer, Emma chose to go with the Pro Evolution Soccer series and stuck with it, not just because of her love of football, but also because the idea of a trans person representing eSports for Northern Ireland was “too big to turn down.”
She initially struggled with the game, but after an intense training session with her coach and teammate, Emma went from learning the ropes to winning gold at the eSports Commonwealth Games final against Wales, last year.
From there, her star rose across the eSports scene, allowing her to start networking and ultimately make the pivotal decision to leave her day job and start working in eSports full-time.
She would eventually go on to represent Team GB at the European Games, an experience she described as overwhelming.
“I’ve logged the whole experience, it’s all on YouTube,” she said. “It was just like, pinch me, [I] have to be dreaming.
“There were a couple of other trans competitors as well and I got to meet them and hang out with them… It was so good.”
Part of Emma’s work in the industry involves advocating for representation and diversity across the various corners of eSports – from fighting games to shooters.
Despite a hefty percentage of gaming fans being women, Emma says that female eSports leagues are often viewed as “lesser entertainment” and can often suffer from a lack of funding despite there being a clear interest.
Her mission, she says, is not only to prove that eSports can be more than the male-dominated industry it is often seen to be, but also to give those marginalised groups who want to dip their toes into the pool of eSports the inspiration they need to keep going.
That mission has taken her to panels across the UK, including the Birmingham gaming festival Insomnia, EGX London and ESI eSports London.
“I mean, eSports is for everyone,” she said. “Gaming is for everyone. It was never made to have barriers and yet somewhere along the line, they were put up and I do my damndest to break them down.”
The participation of LGBTQ+ gamers such as Emma is a huge part of the fight, but efforts by industry organisations to facilitate marginalised groups has always been a vital point of change.
For Emma, a huge part of the struggle in being an audience-facing eSports player and broadcaster is the stream of hate that can come her way from viewers, which she said has been “pretty horrific” in the past.
“I got death threats,” she said. “I got told I’d stolen a woman’s spot and I should be ashamed of myself.”
Even her fans, who are inspired by her tenacity to keep going, have felt the force of the anti-trans backlash against her success.
“There was a picture of me with a school teacher’s kid who I let wear my medal… he had to take the picture down because he was getting hate about, you know, how could he let his kid be in the same room as me.”
Her advice to corporations is to “check in” with their competitors, especially after televised games, and ensure their mental and physical health is as good as possible.
“It’s the same as TV shows. You put people on TV, and if someone doesn’t like them, they get loads of hate. They need to have counselling and stuff like that. That’s what I would love to see.”
Emma’s eSports adventures continue – just after her interview with PinkNews she announced her inclusion in an upcoming tournament at Wembley Stadium.
Of the wealth of opportunities she has had in the past few years, her one hope is that she can be a beacon of light to future LGBTQ+ eSports competitors.
She has now pivoted towards the broadcasting side of eSports and takes part in live shows, but tries to get back into the gaming chair as often as possible.
When asked to give advice to those starting out in eSports, she said: “Find your people. Find a game you love, then find your people in that game.
“Compete in every tournament you can and start using social media as a positive tool to advertise yourself. Network, reach out to people. My DMs are always open.
“If my story inspires you, I want you to be able to reach out to me and talk to me for help and advice.”
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