Girls Got Game: Интервью с Яной b2ru Химченко
«Иногда я ловлю себя на мысли, что не хватает простой житейской пятидневки, а потом у тебя отдых и ты не думаешь о работе. В киберспорте нет выходных»
Yana “b2ru” Khymchenko is known by all people in the CIS territory who are at least a little familiar with esports. She is a bright, sociable, and strong girl that creates entertaining and useful content for the HellRaisers organization's fans (and until recently, for NaVi).
Yana has enough energy not only to work seven days a week but also for her family (Yana is married, and they have a wonderful Doberman named Arya) and personal content on YouTube and Instagram.
In many interviews, you said that from childhood, it was more familiar and more convenient for you to be in the company of guys, not girls. Why didn't communication with girls work out?
I developed relationships with both boys and girls, and it was probably more interesting with boys because of the computer mainly. With girls, there were toys, jump ropes, Barbie dolls. And with the boys, we climbed trees, and this is who I am. I'm not really into extreme sports, but I was always happy to climb trees, do some parkour — I love that. And we played a lot of computer games; I have had a PC since I was three.
With all this, I somehow found a common language with the guys. Basically, the boys were older than me: I was ten, they were twelve, I was fifteen, they were seventeen. I was known as "Yanka Malaya" [Yana the Smaller?].
What was your first PC game?
I was three years old — it was 1993, my grandmother and I played Bomberman, in 96-97 we started Worms, some other fighting games, I don't really remember.
What about online games?
Online for me started with CS 1.6 in 2005, and in 2006 I switched to Dota.
You played professionally for RoX KIS and Virtus.pro. Then the players didn't have any special conditions. And there was talk about "playing for a box of beer." Did the organizations provide any help then?
When we played for RoX KIS, it was still the first Dota. The only support for us was the media section on the site, where they even wrote something about us. But in general, there was no more help, and we didn't play for that long.
In VP, it was better: we had no salary, but they organized a trip to the LAN two or three times. Sneg helped me buy a computer (gave me $500), and I started streaming. There was no salary, but we had support.
Were there any training sessions or bootcamps?
We didn't have a bootcamp, but once we came to the LAN in St. Petersburg, as to a bootcamp. We trained for several days in a computer club and lived with a friend. Slept on two beds, five of us. It was very cheap, but at least something. Then it was nonsense that they invest in female Dota-players. It was an unprecedented case in the CIS.
And what did they say at the Dota party?
I think that the Dota-players, namely professional ones, were very condescending towards us, but they supported us. We all just communicated more closely with each other, now all are divided into professional teams; for people, this is work. And then everything was for fun, we often crossed paths, played in pubs with each other, talked. The male teams already had bootcamps and salaries back then. The guys had profits, and they won something at tournaments.
We didn't have that, so it all fell apart. We spent too much effort on it. We trained a lot. Online female tournaments were regularly held, we won a lot. But the prize money for them was minimal, and you could not feed yourself in any way. And many were no longer even students. Some of us had jobs. I studied at university and worked. After work, I came home and trained until 11 pm. There was no time for my personal life, and after a year of this pace, I was exhausted.
What kind of work was it?
My friend and I ran a clothing store in my native Kharkiv [Ukraine - ed.]. I earned good money, and I was 21 or 22. In 2014, I quit this business.
Kharkiv borders Belgorod, and many people came to us from Russia. Many bought wholesale clothes. And when the borders were closed, sales fell sharply. Well, then I already completely switched to esports, to the media.
Have there been any cool or memorable experiences during training or playing with this female squad? What is the first thing that comes to mind when you start thinking about it?
Sometimes I remember what vivid skirmishes we had in games. Of course, we did not offend each other, but it often happened that we got emotional. We had a captain, Olya KozaDereza. Good captain in the best possible way. She took responsibility a lot and was in full control of the gameplay. Sometimes we pissed Olya off with our "frivolity." For example, before the game, we agree on some tactics, and during the game, we hammer on them, we get distracted. And at such moments, Olya could not stand it and smashed us to smithereens. It was only based on the game and never grew into personal dislike. No matter how much we quarreled with Olya in the game, we are still good friends in life.
I also remember that atmosphere well. We took the game quite seriously: we practiced, we invested. We had an idea, a synergy, a captain who set the tone. Everyone on the team had a common goal. This brought us victories.
Have you talked about this with the owners of the organizations? With the same Sneg?
The point was not in him, but in the fact that the tournament operators were not interested in it. We "held" some tournaments ourselves, small sponsors came in, but it was not so spectacular.
Starladder, in 2013, held a female-only tournament once, and after that, there was a story with an afterparty. Girls from the other team made a riot in the commentator's cabin. V1lat [famous commentator in CIS, Maincast owner - ed.] looked at all this and said: "No more female tournaments." To be honest, I don't know what exactly happened, because I wasn't there. But this case was discussed by everyone.
Sneg helped as much as he could, although it was not entirely profitable.
I found Icefrog's real Skype contact shared by one player, and I wrote to him: "Hello, Icefrog. I am Yana from Virtus.pro, and we have a female team here. So you are planning The International (I don't remember, the second or the third), let's develop female Dota."
At first, he replied that he didn't understand anything. I tried to explain it a second time, and then he ignored my messages. Plus, my English level then was: copy-paste into Google translator, and that's it.
Now, do you think that with your current level of English and solid experience, you could turn the world of female esports with that initiative?
It was a naive idea. People go for the show, for the cool gameplay. We played at a fairly average level then. I would say somewhere around 5k. Maybe a little more. What The International would allow this? :)
What are your three favorite Dota 2 heroes?
Then, there was Witch Doctor, Jakiro, ... I really loved to play Venomancer, but they didn't pick it for me because it was not in the meta.
Now it is Ancient Apparition, Disruptor, and Silencer. Of course, I also like to play Barathrum or Rikimaru.
Have you ever had a case in your career when outcomes were determined positively or negatively based on your gender?
In my case, there was only a positive moment. For example, when NaVi was looking for a reporter, they wanted to see a girl in that place.
There was no negative experience. If we talk about sexism in esports, it exists. But it concerns me to a lesser extent. Maybe I'm not so sensitive, and I don't pay attention to some things.
But I know that other girls, for example, team managers, find it harder. Because you have to "rule" the boys, and then it starts: "you are a girl, we will listen to you somewhere, and somewhere we will ignore."
I don't remember anything bad, perhaps because I have a short-term memory, like a fish [laughs].
Esports should be attractive to everyone, regardless of gender — do you agree with this thesis? How do you see esports in 10-15 years?
Good question. I don't see now how esports can be NOT attractive to female players. If we talk about the game, then I see no point in purely female leagues. Why should we divide the players by gender?
In my picture of the world: we have to create mixed teams. Why do you need to give any privileges only to female teams, if they show a bad result, let's say? If a girl plays well, then they should take her to mixed teams. That's cool. But I am not sure to make female esports into a separate sport. There is a similar division in traditional sports, for example, due to physical shape. Let's take chess: there are women and men. Why is that? After all, here, the conditions are equal. The game is mental, not physical.
By the way, the series "Queen's Gambit" (Netflix) is quite popular now. If you haven't seen it, I recommend it. It was there that the girl was playing chess against men.
In your opinion, are gender-mixed lineups the future?
Again, it shouldn't be that "every team has to have a girl" — this is oppression. This is a sport, and here they take the best. If the girl manages to become the best and get into the pro-squad, all the audience's interest will be riveted to the team. But so far, there is no such thing. And while I observe that girls in general play 2-4k. What is the reason for this? Perhaps due to less focus on the game; training. As a rule, girls are more superficial about the game, about its analytics. I'm not talking about everyone, but more often, guys are more focused on the little things in the game, the analysis of mistakes.
Can you comment on the summer wave of scandals with girls' confessions that famous commentators harassed them? You made a post that she was "to blame" for the scandal between Ashnichrist and Zyori:
Translation: I probably do not know a single girl with whom a guy was flirting similarly at any time. It is bad that in the modern world, this is still considered normal behavior for men.
However, putting your dignity below the ability to hang out with "names" is the girl's own choice.
If we talk about this #metoo wave in general, it's good that girls openly talk about such situations. We need to talk about this. But some girls cling to this wave of hype, turning the situation in their direction. Take the same situation between Ashnichrist and Zyori — the girl herself wrote later that somewhere she went too far in the wording. In fact, she said things that did not quite correspond to the truth. I didn't really follow the situation, but she "moved out" to clarify all this hype as I understood it. At the same time, the dude almost ruined his career with such a showdown.
It turns out that there are real cases of violence, harassment, and horrible, unethical behavior. And some girls just screwed up themselves.
If you want to get into the esports party, do something worthy. You'd better get there not because a guy just invited you, but because you are worth something.
Each case is different. In general, I support this situation because in my circle of acquaintances, especially the older generation, who were raped — almost every second woman. This is a very painful topic for all women. And for a long time, for example, it was impossible to talk about it. It was a shame. It was hushed up.
Therefore, it is necessary to talk about this so that next time some bad person thinks first and does not act against the woman's will.
How do you feel about Onlyfans service? Please tell us your opinion on it.
In fact, I googled information about this service since I had not met with it before. As I understand it, this is for creative people who create some content?
Yes, the original idea was that people support those who create content. But now, a larger percentage of users are people who create 18+ content that they sell.
I perceive this as prostitution in a mild form.
Is this good or bad? Or you do not care?
I honestly don't know. I usually don't think about such topics at all. For some, this is good: there is demand, there is supply. People connect and get what they need.
This is unacceptable to me. But, if, conditionally, any friend of mine will be on such a platform — this is their choice.
You are quite an open person, and many people know about what is happening in your life from videos on YouTube and Instagram. Isn't it difficult for you to deal with the waves of love and hate from different people? How do you generally cope with haters — ignore/answer with humor/another way?
It depends on the situation. Firstly, I have already learned how to react adequately to hate or criticism. At first, it caught my eye. When you just come to esports and study, and criticism or some nasty things are pouring on you — of course, this is all unpleasant. Over time, you grow into a protective shell.
Nowadays, it is often humor. As Yuri Dud [famous Russian interviewer - ed.] said: "If you have self-irony, you are invulnerable." And I agree with him 100%.
If criticized, I can either take note or ignore it. I very rarely ban someone, only if all the boundaries are crossed.
Are these negative comments affecting your productivity or not?
No, they don't. Even if I did something mega cool and they write me nice comments, I don't "fly" to create something equally cool on a wave of praise. I have more of this inner need to create.
In NAVI, you had the image of a cute girl who is a friend of all the players. But with the transition to HellRaisers, the image, even in the teaser, is radically different. More daring, perhaps with some sharp corners. Is this your vision, or the organization decided to present it like that?
First, yes, the organization itself is more audacious. HellRaisers positions itself as a "flock" (pack, troop?). I like this.
The question with the image is rather complicated. In life, I think many will say about me — honey. In the camera, I am basically what I am in life. I don't think I should change the image drastically, but I need to become even more confident in front of the camera. And this requires skills. I recently completed a course in public speaking — thirty hours of lectures and practice. I need to implement the acquired skills and grow.
You have an esports family: do you manage to maintain a work/personal life balance?
So far, everything is pretty bad with the work schedule. My husband and I have work that's inseparable from our personal life. I can send work messages at 3 am, and he can record some videos simultaneously. But we understand each other. We are on the same wave.
Sometimes I catch myself thinking that a simple, everyday five-day job is missing when you work until six in the evening, and then you have a rest, and you don't think about work. There are no days off in esports. To escape for two days, put down the phone, and not think about work — I can't even imagine that. I think that, over time, we will be able to somehow come to this. In the meantime, like this, seven days a week in touch is necessary.
Is there a record for how much you didn't sleep because of work, is there a story?
The last time it was at The International in 2019. It's China, and I had an awful internet connection. We are filming the material and cannot send it. Therefore, you have to shoot from 10 am to 10 pm and then sit to edit a 15-20 minute vlog. And I usually edit very thoughtfully. There (in China), we did it together with Kostya (operator). We insured each other. But, basically, I did the final editing. And so, for example, I sit down at 10 pm, edit until 3 am. Then I upload it to YouTube for about an hour. While the guys from Kyiv look at this, they will make possible changes. In general, I went to bed at 5 am. And at 10 am, it's already time for shooting.
What is your most memorable experience at The International?
To be honest, I wouldn't say I like Shanghai that much. The internet is bad, it's inconvenient to work, and the food is terrible. If you want to go somewhere to eat, you need to look carefully, where is the right food for your tummy.
In general, the last TI was kind of blurry. But we had a good team, and it's a pity that they failed.
I like the climate, though: the humidity is high, and it's hot outside. Many will not understand, but I like it.
The hotel was of a high standard, also good. But in general, when compared with the States, this is generally heaven and earth. It didn't work for me.
You just mentioned the guys from the team. You obviously sympathize with them. But when they lost and came out of the venue, were you with them, helped mentally somehow?
When there was this moment, we were in our suite and watched the match, supported, and shouted. Everyone's eyes were tearing. The guys, as they lost, immediately left for the hotel. Later I came to them. Of course, everyone was upset. Probably, we got away from defeat by morning. It always happens that way.
Have you had an emotional burnout?
I can't say that burnout is direct, but sometimes I need a rest, especially after big tournaments or bootcamps. The hardest moments are when the team is not doing well. At such moments, players don't want to participate in media activities, which is an absolutely understandable story. But as a person from the media department, I need to find some neutral territory, and even at such moments to release content. This is not an easy moment because you understand that the players are tilting. For them, this media activity is forced. But you also understand that this must be done. Sometimes I had to balance. Otherwise, just a few days off was enough, and you got back in shape.
Can you summarize your work at NAVI?
I came there as a person who couldn't do anything, and during this time, I learned almost everything that is needed. I became more self-confident, gained a lot of experience. I know how to create content: from idea to implementation. I met a huge number of awesome people, and I am grateful for this period. That was cool!
Now that you are in HellRaisers, what are your goals and plans? For the organization, for the players, for yourself?
First of all, I want to make regular interesting content. Build a system, put formats on stream. In NAVI, for the most part, I was just a host. At HellRaisers, I'm more involved in strategic and operational activities, plus work with the personnel. Here I have more responsibility. I want the community to know and get used to the fact that HR has great content. I caught myself thinking that I like to organize processes and see the result. Maybe in the future, I'll try myself as a producer and leave the frame.
Isn't it because you're tired of being on camera?
No. I want to try myself in something else. Anyway, I don't think this will happen soon ;)
Speaking of your last interview, you asked Lil a question about summing up the year. Can you talk about your 2020? It was difficult and pivotal for everyone, including you.
Sometimes I think: "Imagine that 2020 is not the worst year, and 2021 will be even worse?"
In general, the year is difficult for everyone, and there is no need to explain anything here. But if you find some positive moments: it taught you to appreciate what you didn't value before. For example, you can fly on an airplane or take a train to visit your friends and relatives. Or that you can go to the store without a mask. You didn't feel the freedom that you had. And as soon as you have been deprived of this, you realize that there is something to value.
For a long time, it was necessary to instill in people the culture of wearing a mask if you got sick. This has long been practiced in Asian countries. And for us [CIS region - ed.], it was nonsense.
Result of the year: Appreciate simple things.
What advice can you give to girls who want to get into esports? What do they need to learn, what to be ready for?
When I realized in 2014 that I wanted to go to esports, I realized that I needed to do something for this. Then, by some miracle, I agreed to make the movie Let's Play with ArtStyle:
I didn't know how to shoot or write scripts then. But people liked it.
It would be best if you took the initiative into your own hands. As in any other job: when a person wants to be an artist, they go and study.
What should a person who wants to be on camera, like you, know?
You should know the pro-scene, players, and people. Have an interest in the field as a whole, understand it. It would be best if you behaved correctly in front of the camera — you can complete courses for hosts, for example. But most importantly, it's desire and knowledge.
It is still not as professional in our country [Ukraine, CIS region too - ed.] as on television. There is also an opportunity to practice in the frame. The main thing is desire and enthusiasm because many do not have this.
I just met girls who wrote to me: "I want to be like you, a journalist, but go with the players to tournaments and hang out." You see, there was no such thing as "I want to do something cool in terms of content."
Just imagine, a girl will write to you, say, on Instagram DMs: "I want to work," what would you advise her? Are you ready to help those who wish?
I will ask: "What can you do?"
The guys also write to me: "Take me to your team." I ask: "Well, what can you do?" They say that they can do anything. In the end: everything and nothing. I say it doesn't work that way.
Esports is no different from other areas in terms of hiring: you need to do something well.
It would help if you searched for vacancies. But if you want a position, for example, as a manager of a tier-1 team to work with the best players, then the connections are the main thing here. People should know you, and they won't take a person off the street.
Yana b2ru Khymchenko on social media: