Queens Gaming Collective Discusses Women in Gaming 

 

David Berkowitz  
Danielle, Taylor, welcome. Thanks for doing this. Why don’t you share a little bit about Queens Gaming Collective? 

Danielle Gruberger  
Queens is a collective of women, and collectively whose intention is to offer women a platform in the gaming industry. Right now, out of 100 top streamers, maybe four of them are women. The ratios don’t make sense, when about half of the players are women. So we have an incredible roster of talent, and Taylor’s our head of talent, who just just did an unbelievable job of curating a roster — women who speak to everything about our message and who we are and what we stand for. 

Taylor Heitzig-Rhodes  
I think of Queens as a 360 kind of business in gaming, where we work with these women, we help them develop their personal brands, we build content around them. And then we also do the whole brand deals side of everything. And so it’s really for them, like a one-stop shop for everything you could need in your gaming career.

David Berkowitz  
You’re speaking to an audience where most people probably haven’t brokered a lot of gaming deals and are still a little newer to the space. Is the collective model a very common way to go? 

Taylor Heitzig-Rhodes  
My background is predominantly in the esports side of the space. So there’s esports, and gaming, and people a lot of times put those two together. And I have worked more in the esports space in the past, and I would just tell you from behind the curtain, most of the time, that model is not working. Those businesses have a really, really hard time making money. And it is on the gaming side of the space where most of the money and revenue is happening.

And so Queens made really intentional choices about setting ourselves up in the part of the business that has the most area for growth. And so that’s why we’re focused predominantly in gaming rather than on the competitive side, which is a side where we’re not super involved.

David Berkowitz  
And so, how did each of you get into the gaming space?

Taylor Heitzig-Rhodes  
Like so many people in this space. I’ve been gaming since I was a kid. And I was mostly a casual gamer. I was always really into watching other people game actually when I was younger, and I also like to game a little on my own. And when I was in college, I got into PC gaming and League of Legends. And that space and that scene is really like where I laid the foundation of where I am now. I was a super avid active community member for years. 

If I tell you that I was at the NA LCS (North America League Championship Series) broadcast studio, hundreds, if not 1000s of times in the last eight years, like I’m not exaggerating, pre COVID they would do every weekend. Friday, Saturday, Sunday, sometimes Thursdays, and I would be there every single day, talking to people in the audience, making friends, building a network, and really trying to find the right place to insert myself in the space. 

I coached chess for a little while to try to get a little more gaming experience under my belt. I was an avid player as a kid. And coaching was a really fun opportunity to get a little bit more into the gaming space. When I left that job, I worked for Headspace, the meditation and mindfulness app, and I built a and launched a gaming initiative for them. And when they decided to pull the plug on that, I decided to leave. 

I left and joined Evolved Talent Agency, which is mostly focused on esports. So when I joined, we repped a ton of Overwatch league players. They had a Dota team, just like across the board in terms of professional players, and a couple of gaming creators. And I was really interested in working with more creators, working with more women. I signed a bunch of those folks while I was there, and then had the opportunity to join Queens and was just beyond excited.

Danielle Gruberger  
I’ve kind of zigzagged through industries, I’m always with the intention of landing in gaming. But that wasn’t exactly how it went down. I worked in the photo industry, I was a photo agent for a while, I also produced photoshoots. And William Morris was looking to start a leg of a production company that already existed in New York in LA when I lived in LA. So I was basically hired on to do that for them. I did that for a couple of years. And then I had been working with Vogue through that job. And then Vogue asked me to come on for them as the senior producer. So I did that the last two years. And the pandemic hit. 

Through all of that though, I’ve been an avid gamer my whole life, similar to Taylor. My dad got me an N64 for my third-grade graduation or some bullshit. It was obviously for him, but he was trying to make it seem like to my mom it was for us. And then, I watched him play Banjo Kazooie and Mario 64. And I played Starcraft, sneaking my time in when he wasn’t hogging the gaming console. 

In 2013, I was working in music and also was building up my agency. And so I had the opportunity to tour, the Blizzard headquarters. So we’re talking to them about working with them on some music stuff. And that’s when I realized I wanted to work in gaming, I was like, this is just so cool. I’ve only worked in small businesses or for myself really at that point before William Morris. And I just wanted to work in gaming. 

I tried and tried for years. I did interviews, but not many opportunities came up. And so I had given up, but I was still deeply interested. And that’s when I met Queens. And I was still in New York and they hadn’t launched yet. They were looking for support on projects, like producing the launch and elevating the content and just really helping with bringing the right aesthetic to Queens upon launching. And so that was how I ended up leaving Vogue and moving back to LA to to do that.

David Berkowitz  
Really cool. With women joining the Collective, is there anything that they have in common? Is there a typical age or location or kind of gaming that they’re into? 

Taylor Heitzig-Rhodes 
The main thing that I focused on for roster composition was actually people who had the chance to build a meaningful personal brand. I didn’t give a shit, what people play or where they live. But I think that a lot of women on Twitch get pigeonholed into sort of playing a character. And many people choose to do that. And that’s a totally valid personal choice. But it does really limit the growth of your personal brand. And so every woman that we work with, the main thing that they have in common, and I say this all the time is that each of them had taken the time, prior to us working with them to present herself as like a dynamic, holistic human being. 

None of these women are playing a character, none of them are being fake. Being fake is fine on the internet, right? People enjoy it; it’s very fun. But in order to have folks that we were going to be able to really build with and build upon, it was so important to us to have that authenticity from all of them. And so that is really, the only thing that I focused on in terms of, what did I want them all to have in common was that authenticity, because it gives you the ability to scale your personal brand. When you show up online, as authentically yourself, it allows your brand to grow as your personality grows as you mature, as you understand the space better.

And I think that is really important, and it gives us a lot to work with in terms of wanting to build something that’s gaming and lifestyle. We can’t build a lifestyle brand around someone who doesn’t talk about their life, or who doesn’t present themselves in an accurate way, because it’s not going to land. But when you’re dealing with somebody who’s presented herself as an authentic person, and then you’ve got, let’s say, an anime deal in the pipeline, then you know who to take it to, right, because you know already who’s super into anime. And when you put them on that activation, they’re going to be happy because they genuinely love it, the brand is going to be happy because they genuinely love it. And it’s going to activate well within the community, because it’s an established part of that person’s brand, and what they’ve been sharing with their community all along. And so that was really what I thought was the most important in sort of like thinking about how to round out this roster.

David Berkowitz  
For these women in the collective, are they predominantly reaching women in their audiences? 

Taylor Heitzig-Rhodes  
As we all know, about half the audience is women in gaming, and it’s really interesting to see who they’re watching. We also work on audience composition. Because part of what has happened in gaming is a lot of spaces don’t feel safe, or they’re not safe for women. And just because there’s a woman on stage or presenting or being a streamer, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the space is safe. And so one of the things we work on with these women is how to build women in their audience. 

And part of the problem is that historically, the marketing and gaming regardless of whether you’re using a man or a woman, the marketing is still targeted towards men. And so part of the reason that folks have a hard time activating with women in the gaming space is they’re not doing things that are meant to activate women. They’re not meaningfully targeting women. 

So recently we did a ColourPop activation, and there were a lot of things that were really amazing about it. But one of the things that I thought was really awesome about it was that it was a two-hour show, and every minute of it was family-friendly. It was something that you could put on for a little kid to watch. And it makes gaming accessible not just to adult women who are comfortable navigating this and what can be like a toxic space, but also to a little girl. And I think that building things like that, and shipping things like that helps shift audience composition, because it’s literally creating the space where women are welcome, and women are valued, and women are able to comfortably be in the audience and be shown something that they would actually want to do or participate in, if that makes sense. And it really sets the tone for how it feels.

Danielle Gruberger  
I think that this is something that’s been really important to me, just as the director of creative strategy, there’s this great opportunity to create that path. It doesn’t exist yet. The gaming industry has made their own creative path and whatever that looks like for them. But I don’t see it; it’s not in my view. So, now we’re making our own and that part, to me is the most fun.

David Berkowitz 
Our audience, I’d say, it’s not much about who we’re targeting to, because really, in the end, all we’re targeting are people who support women, so it doesn’t matter if they’re a man or a woman, or how they identify as long as they are for the concept of women having an equal space in the gaming industry. So far we’ve had that, aside from a couple of trolls, which just to me means you’re doing something right. 

Danielle Gruberger  
Everyone’s just, been so receptive; it’s so well received. And that, to me, it’s less about our audience and more about how we’re making women feel included by how we target like them, essentially. Our launch shoot was not shot with men in mind; it was knowing that men were going to be seeing it, but we were appealing to women, and that is our intention. And we trust that men who support us will also, like our branding, but it’s the first time that I’ve seen something that’s actually with women in mind before men in the space. And that, to me is normalizing the space. So I’m really excited about it.

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