A11yra on how "girls are more competitive than boys"
Interview with Irina "A11yra" Chugai as part of the Girls Got Game project where we discuss her journey through esports, life, and how girls are more competitive than boys.
Ira is one of the most important employees in our company and the core of creative ideas. The implemented concepts and the look of the champions' cups that you see at WePlay Esports tournaments — sometimes between madness or cringe, and sometimes between goosebumps and silent delight. They were born in the heads of Ira and the WePlay Authors' Workshop. After being thoroughly tested, only the best ideas are put into practice.
Today's interview participant's fantasies extend not only to her job but also to her personal, extremely eventful life: fluency in four languages, archery, sword fighting, and wandering through the forest in an elf costume are just some of the exciting stories that await you in the text.
Please tell me about your background: what city are you from, what are your interests?
I was born in Chernihiv (Ukraine). It's a small town, with about 300,000 population.
From the age of five, I began to learn foreign languages and therefore started to take a philology course in university. By some miracle, my brain pretty quickly understands the algorithms of a particular language, and then it's just a matter of expanding the vocabulary. I speak four languages fluently: Ukrainian, Russian, English, and German. I recently began to study Italian. I tried to learn Finnish, but I haven't yet reached Finland for practice due to my free time. And the language itself is quite complicated. So, for now, this idea has been paused. I can sing a song in Finnish and say a couple of basic phrases.
I know Polish a bit because I studied in Poland for some time. I began to understand the language during communication with the locals, but when you stop communicating in any language, at least sometimes, everything is forgotten. In general, if I feel like it, I can master the language at a basic level in 1-1.5 months.
So you're a polyglot?
In my understanding, no. Four languages aren't enough, and the rest of the languages won't let you get lost if you come to the country.
Among my other interests is historical reconstruction. I've always admired medieval Europe's history: the formation of chivalry, crusades, and all these "games of thrones," when someone won something or gave his wife/child to resolve the conflict and so on. When Crusader Kings III came out, a friend of mine gave his nine-year-old granddaughter in the game to the bishop, so that he would not weave intrigues against him :)
In my second year, I met the guys who did the historical reconstruction of Europe in the X-XIII centuries. And I was so involved in the process that I began to visit various festivals, fight a little with swords, and reconstruct the clothes and life of that time. Moreover, there were festivals of both medieval Europe and the X century of Kievan Rus. In Ukraine, most festivals reconstruct our way of life and history. For the reconstruction of Europe, I went to Poland, the Czech Republic, and Germany — this is an entirely different level of festivals.
In Ukraine, there were only "Forpost" and "Medzhybizh" of the European reconstruction. Near Kyiv, there is a historical center, "Kievan Rus": the guys there reconstruct our history. There were also festivals in Shestovitsa [a village in the Chernihiv region, Ukraine — ed.].
All this was quite interesting for me: you put on a kamiza [kamiza (underwear) - a plain-cut undershirt made of linen, silk or cotton — Wikipedia], a kirtle [(fr. kirtle) - part of a women's suit in Burgundy at the end 15th century], a hairband, belts... By the way, you should sew it all according to all historical canons. For example, a hair bend is a ribbon that women wore on the head in Kievan Rus: you cut out seven small tablets from wood, then weave it from woolen threads. It required a lot of time.
And here you sit for a month, weave and sew accessories on these tablets. Also, look for a workshop where they will make shoes of that time for you. At the festivals, there was an opportunity to meet blacksmiths, sewists, but basically, you do everything yourself. You go through a bunch of historical documents or books and make patterns. Fortunately, it was all easy to sew, there were no complicated models, but it was very cool.
Almost all of my student years were spent on such festivals, plus role-playing games. Because if you were able to sew yourself a suit of the X century, then you can quite master some elven dress.
You’ve mentioned sword fighting: did you use fake swords or real ones?
Training swords are usually made of special foam or wood. And when you want to battle, it is clear that no one will let you in against men in direct standings. The force of the blow is different. I've seen when a girl could fight a guy, but it ended quite traumatically. I like performance battles: it's more of a show. But even for them, you take a real sword, let's say some "Gothic" or one and a half — to which you are more accustomed.
Are they heavy?
Does it mean that you need to have a particular strength in your hands to fight in battles, even in demonstrative ones?
Physical training is needed. But it's interesting: to come up with performances, coups, learn to fall correctly. It is more of a theatrical setting of the battle.
Were there any funny incidents during the festivals?
Everything that happens at the festivals remains at the festivals :)
There was a case in one fantasy role-playing game. We played as elves and were in the minority. We go through the forest: four elves, all in costumes, with ears, everything is as it should be. We needed to find the base of the orcs and steal something from them according to the plot. An older man comes towards us, leads a bicycle. He had no idea where he was.
And we had fun and said: "Good day, mortal! Have you seen a band of orcs running nearby?"
The man didn't understand:
- Who, excuse me?
- Yeah, and who are you?
- Elves in front of you.
- And how do they look?
- They are in shirts, with clubs, and disgusting.
- And you're kinda the same...
- We are elves! How could you? You should apologize immediately.
Well, we talked with the man for about ten minutes. At first, he didn't understand what was happening. Then he thought that we're crazy. And then he gave up: "I think I saw people like you, inadequate, right there. Good luck to you. If anything, I'm on your side."
We thanked him and ran on.
There were many such moments when you dive into the role, and there are ordinary people near you. And they usually look at you strangely.
The last time I went to such events was around 2011 or 2012. Then the work started, there was not enough time. Yes, and probably I grew up a little. The guys with whom we played together already have families and children.
All this exists now. A festival of medieval battle was in X-Park [Kyiv, Ukraine - ed.] in fall 2020. I went there to watch, felt nostalgic, and shot a bow.
Can you shoot a real bow?
Yes, I'm good at archery. I even have a phrase to that: "I was Sylvanas's fan before it became mainstream." I have associated myself with this character for a very long time. I liked her story, ideology, even the fact that she "went crazy a bit" and rebelled against the Horde — I don't blame her.
Can you briefly tell her story?
There were three sisters: Sylvanas, Alleria, and Vereesa. In Warcraft III, Arthas turns Sylvanas into a banshee to break her spirit. And she was supposed to lose her mind and soul, but no. Her desire for revenge gave that incredible power that helped to revive. Whatever difficulties happened, this inner core enabled her to stand her ground and follow her dreams. She is generally unshakable. Sylvanas always had a plan in her head (even though the community thinks differently :D), why she was doing it, and what she would do. She could walk over the people, destroy settlements, and burn Teldrassil in the end. She destroyed the shrine, went as far as breaking the Lich's crown, and opened the ShadowLands. Despite the events and centuries, she continued holding her line. And even if she took power out of hatred, her attitude is very close to mine: when no one can lead you astray. I was very impressed with her.
I wanted to be like her. I learned how to shoot a bow. I went out of town to shoot at targets whenever I had free time. The mates who are doing cosplay made Sylvanas' bow for me. It's gorgeous, but shooting it is quite inconvenient.
There was a case when I met one of my current best friends, and the next day he sent me a screenshot with a message: "I named you Sylvanas in my contacts. I don't know why, but I have such an association in my head." I answered him, "Damn, this is so cute!" And he still calls me that. These are little things that are close to my soul. Therefore, archery for me is like a tribute to this character, and also it drives away stress, distracts from real life, allows me to feel a part of the game world in reality.
Speaking of Sylvanas and World of Warcraft, what brought you to this game?
I hardly remember now. There was Warcraft III, where Sylvanas's story began, Lich's development... I started playing WoW when Lich King came out. In my opinion, it was 2009.
Some of the guys from the Polytechnic University offered to play together. And I was so into it. At some point, I almost failed my exams because we took Icecrown Citadel, and I just lost track of time. You sit, boost your character for weeks, play 8-9-10 hours a day and everything else becomes so indifferent. World of Warcraft: Burning Crusade or Lich King — they were very comfy. It was a whole community: we talked a lot, met in real life. We even had our own website! We wrote some news on it, spoke there with other guilds members, did interviews, wrote some fanfiction on Warcraft, created art. In general, we developed ourselves within the game.
It was a whole different and comfortable universe that you wanted to live in. Not only because you could be an elf, orc, or Draenei, but simply because you liked people there.
I played for the Horde. I'm still a believer of the idea that the Horde — it's where people play as monsters, and the Alliance — monsters play as people. I have made many friends since Warcraft, many of whom I've never seen in my life, but for some reason, I trusted them more than people in real life.
For example, two guys from the guild lived at that time in Budapest, where I was planning to go. They invited me to hang out and even live together. If you are so fearless going to another country to live with the strangers you met online, someone can say that you're crazy. It was ok for me back then. We did raids together, you know.
Games connect people :)
For sure. Games help you socialize and show who you really are. It's common when gamers have trouble socializing in reality.
It was difficult for me to communicate with people during my student years. If these people weren't nerds in the right way. I studied among many girls on my course — there were only three guys in the 105-number group. It was a female group, ready to eat you and continuously criticize you. I'm not too fond of female groups because I always feel very uncomfortable there.
I attended lectures and waited for when I finally came home, sat at the computer, and became comfy. Nobody will blame me for anything there. Friends in the game were more valuable to me at that time than mates in real life. There is a certain balance now.
I started playing games from the first grade, but not that often. My dad brought home our first PC and said, "You can use it." It was 1997 — not many people had personal computers. I remember that the PC memory was almost the same as a CD-R disc has, but, on the other hand, games didn't take 80 Gb of memory.
First, I played games for children, i.e., "Hugo." Then, I found games like Age of Empires II, Sid Meier's Civilization III…
So all those games were about history?
Yes. Strategy games were exciting for me.
When I was 13 or 14, I broke my leg and spent two months lying at home. My classmates visited me sometimes with balloons and snacks.
And during that time, games hooked me even more because I needed to do something to entertain myself. And there was no way to come back for biathlon in my life after the accident. I used to play strategies. Plus, game discs like "200 Best Games" were very popular at that time. Cool games among them were about one or two. I also played different arcade games, e.g., Disney's Aladdin or Earthworm Jim.
What about the last historical games, which were released not a long time ago? For example, Kingdom Come?
I didn't play Kingdom Come. But I really like the Assassin's Creed series. The historical events with a little portion of scriptwriters' fantasy — it excites me. I think Origins made the game series fresher. I had a lot of fun playing Odyssey and Valhalla. Their graphics quality gives you aesthetic pleasure. I wouldn't say I liked Unity — I even haven't finished it, because it was boring.
Also, I still play Civilization (now 6th part), bought all game passes and DLCs.
When World of Warcraft: Legion was released, I bought Collector's Edition and took three days off to play it. I needed to get all the legendary items and go through lots of content.
And I pre-ordered Cyberpunk 2077 right after E3. I waited for the game, even after all those release dates rescheduled.
Speaking of Cyberpunk 2077, I guess you finished The Witcher 3, right?
Sure I did. But when I was playing it for the first time, there were no DLCs. The game took 130 hours of my life. I have no regrets. My Ciri died, though. I didn't make things right, cried a lot, not understanding what exactly I did wrong.
I don't watch game walkthroughs because I like playing by myself. If I make a mistake, then it's my mistake.
In the summer of 2020, I installed the game again, wishing to replay the game in Polish with all DLCs. We all get that "kurwa" in Polish sounds funnier. And maybe, Ciri won't die this time.
You are also into League of Legends, right?
Before WePlay, I didn't play the esports disciplines that much. I understood that there is a big esports community, which continuously grows, but I preferred single-player games or WoW (I've spent a lot of time there).
Since WePlay's direction is esports, I realized that I would have to figure out what kind of games they were because I need to work with them sooner or later.
I tried every game, spending 50–100 hours in each game we worked with, including similar games. For example, when we started to work with Dota 2, I also tried Heroes of The Storm, Smite, League of Legends, and Heroes of Newerth. If a game was interesting to me, I played it longer.
Choosing from all of them, mostly I liked LoL — I love games with lore. Speaking of League of Legends, I got an official book with lore descriptions, arts, and locations. There are words on the book's first page: "League of Legends is the place where everyone will find something interesting." The game is very versatile because many races and styles mix.
What do you think about game haters?
I don't care. All projects have people who don't like them. Haters gonna hate. We should separate hating and constructive criticism, and only the last one should get attention.
I would be so happy to work with LoL, but, now, Riot Games covers all tournaments by itself. If there is an opportunity to work with the game, I guess it would be the same format as we did during The International.
It’s because you think there would be no way to work "freely?"
Not really. I think there would be some restrictions, standards from the company side. And we used to work without any limits. From the moment I met Oleg Krot [WePlay Esports Managing Partner — ed.], he used to tell me: “There are no frames for us. You can do whatever you believe in. If you come to me and say that we should do something, we will find people, resources, etc. All restrictions are only in your mind.”
You have a lot of hobbies. Where do you find the energy for them?
Honestly, I have no clue. I ask myself the same question very often. Sometimes, I come home so tired, but my mind still generates ideas. It's in some creative flow all the time. All I need to do is catch ideas and write them down so as not to forget them.
My colleagues and friends support me. I have an incredible team that catches any idea, helps to develop it and shapes it all into a beautiful picture. Also, our founders, Oleg and Yura, have faith in me. They literally grew me into a professional. I joined WePlay in 2016 and continue working here.
WePlay became my life. I couldn't get the skills I got here anywhere else.
Since we started talking about your job, what's your current position and how did you start working here?
I'm a Creative Manager: together with Directors and Scriptwriters, I develop tournament concepts. Also, I make all brand-integrations from our sponsors. According to a concept, they must be included as natively as possible during the tournaments, and viewers should like it.
How did I become a part of WePlay? I was making a marketing plan for Lenovo. Then they only brought the Lenovo Legion line to the Ukrainian market. We became good friends with their Marketing Director, Victoria. Now she's like my fairy godmother: I see her rarely, but when I do, it's time I need her. Every time she gives me "a nice kick in the right way."
Once, we sat together on a coffee-break after lectures in a business school and talked about a job. And I am like: "I want to work in the game industry so much. I have so many ideas!"
She said: "Hm, I worked for Sony PlayStation Ukraine once."
"You know, I envy you a bit. I want to, as well."
"If you want, then you will!"
I got a call from WePlay in two days. I came to them for an interview, they asked me a bunch of marketing questions, what can be improved at that time in the old version of the WePlay website. I answered all the questions, and then they started: "Let's talk about what we do here. There are PC games…"
I said: "Guys, I have Paladin lvl 100 in Horde. I get what you're talking about."
"We like you. Are you able to start tomorrow?"
After that, I went to my current boss and said: "I got the job of my dreams. It's not about you or the company, but I'm quitting." The boss understood me and let me leave. This is how I got to WePlay.
A fateful meeting in a cafe. Does networking work?
It does. You never know how you can be helpful to people and what you can learn from them.
I learned a lot from Viktoria. When I was exhausted and lost faith in myself, there was Vika, saying to me: ”Ira, companies need your brains. There are so few people like you. I am ready to “buy” you, but you don’t want to work for me. You want to work with games.” She gave me advice on how to manage a team, how to structure my life because there was a LOT of work in any company. I didn’t work for eight hours as usual. Work-life-balance is a myth. You either work because you love it and your brain is in the workflow every minute, or you waste your time, not educating yourself.
Do you have some record of hours that you didn’t sleep because of your job?
I have. In 2019, we worked during Minor qualifiers. We had four streams simultaneously (9 Twitch channels: four Russian, four English, and one Ukrainian). Max Bilonogov and I didn’t sleep for 58 hours. He drank energy drinks and coffee. And I got an hour or so to sleep in the office during a break between regions.
How did you recover after that?
I didn’t. I just slept for 8 hours and was ready for battle again :)
Is it thanks to a young body?
I guess, when I’m 50, my body would be like, “F*ck this sh*t; I’m out.” Of course, I try to stay healthy: I almost don’t eat fast food, do sports, and go for a walk with my dog named Asteroid. She needs at least 1.5 hours of walking in the morning and the same in the evening. But I guess this is not going to save me.
I want to discuss your work processes: could you describe a typical brainstorm? How can a fantasy, unlimited by nothing, not fly away to a full art house? How to not let your ideas become an art-house? What or who does keep you on the ground?
We balance between cringe and delight all the time. Understanding our audience stops us because we watch other tournaments very often and read comments in chats. Of course, we monitor our tournaments viewers’ feedback. And we get direct messages all the time.
We have about 100-150 viewers, which nicknames I know personally. Moreover, I know their real names, how old they are, where they live, and so on. They have my contacts. We are continually communicating: they tell what was right, what was bad, and how it can be improved, proposing their ideas. These people are “pure gold” for us. This is our loyal audience.
Max Bilonogov keeps ideas away from becoming the art house. He is the main director of our studio and responsible for what will be on streams. When we offer crazy ideas, he pays attention to them and tries to improve. But it infrequently happens because the WePlay production team is the best one in CIS. Their job is their life. They search for community feedback, trends, and memes.
Have you ever had an idea limited by current technologies, but you’d like to make it real when there’s an opportunity for it?
There are several concepts that we haven’t made real yet, but we will for sure. I wouldn’t say there’s a technology level, which is not high enough, however, to let us make anything real. We monitor trends, search for new software and go to different events.
Our AR-department and Motion Designers are the best of the best. When we come to them with our tournament concepts, they offer additional things. And when ideas meet technology, then the effect happens that viewers can see at WePlay tournaments: when you think that it cannot be better, but it can. You shouldn’t try to make the next tournament better than the previous one. Just make it different.
You also said that you write brand integrations. Which brand would you like to work with on our tournaments?
Not kidding: I would be so happy to collaborate with Pornhub. First, we have a shared community. If the researches are correct, it's about 78%. I have several ideas of how we could stick these two universes together.
Could you tell me what esports is? Explain it how you would for your friend's grandmother, for example?
It's a computer games tournament. Roughly speaking, the word "esports" includes two parts: "e" means "electronic," "sports" means "competitive element." Not every computer game can be an esports discipline because not many of them have competitive elements.
What do you think about female sports and teams?
I don't believe in them.
Is it because you have experience of "surviving" in a female group?
Maybe; it played its role. Let me be clear: five women can not stand being together without arguing, aggression, envy, and following one big goal for a long time.
Before breaking my leg, I was in biathlon, which is always a competition. You're training near ten girls or so, but when it's time for a tournament, you want to destroy each other. You are not friends, but people who watch for each other's mistakes to use them for your benefit.
Girls compete with each other from puberty.
Are girls more competitive than boys?
Yes, they are competing against the whole world. Boys usually are more calm and phlegmatic. They have patience, and that's why they play games better. It's my own opinion. In this case, I am a bit sexist because I think men play better.
I don't believe in mixed teams. Boys can spend way more time on games than girls just because of the life flow. It's evident that girls want, for example, a manicure or to visit a hairdresser, gym, or some other hobbies besides games. Plus, many women work full time. The average girl will always have more stuff to do than a guy. Let's not forget about bad moods during certain days of the cycle.
I don't believe in female teams. In solo disciplines — maybe. I would be happy if female esports were on the right level, but not compared to male esports, because we have no chance against them. Patience, character, sports enthusiasm, and reaction speed are better among men. Because of this, we will never play on equal terms. I know that there's a trend that women are equal in anything. I'm not saying girls are bad at it — they are different.
Thank you for your opinion and for your time. Do you want to add something?
Play games as much as you want and can. Look for beautiful worlds. Interesting games allow you to find yourself, become a better person, and get useful skills. Become better.
Choosing your character, one way or another, you associate yourself with it. Getting its features and force, you become more powerful in real life.