Content Warning: This interview with Emma contains mentions of mental health issues.
Emma, also known as Emzii, is a professional esports player from Northern Ireland. In the last year Emma has gone on to win a gold medal at the Commonwealth esports Games and brought home a silver medal at the European esports competition. Alongside this, Emma also collected top prize at the ESI Film Festival for a short film about her journey through gender and gaming. She talked to us about her experience working as a professional esports player, in particular football, and her journey with her gender identity.
Interviewing Emma: a groundbreaking e-sports player
For those of you who may not be familiar with esports, Emma describes it as ‘competitive video games’.
Emma: Basically, esports is the highest level of competition. Instead of playing casually with your friend on the sofa, it is a lot more stressful. We play in a live crowd, a massive stage, lots of lights, cameras, hair and make-up – it is great, I love it. I have been lucky enough to represent Northern Ireland, winning a gold medal at the Commonwealth ESports Championships, which was the first time esports was ever included. I also represented Great Britain not long ago, at the first-ever Olympic-sanctioned esports event, where I came second and brought home a silver trophy.
What is your favourite part of competing?
Emma: I am an extremely competitive person. I want to win and be the best at everything I do. Competing and the rush of winning is the best thing. But then also meeting everyone else. You are surrounded by like-minded people. We have grown to be like a family and a little community. Everyone is so accepting of each other, and it doesn’t matter where you’re from and what your background is, you’re there to play the game.
The sense of community truly thrives in Emzii’s world. She gets to connect with people from around the globe who often feel like they do not fit in. Having similar experiences and interests, you can make life-long friendships. As she describes it, ‘it is one massive community’.
Emma: The fact that they let a trans person represent Northern Ireland … and getting to compete with some of the best in the world was just so amazing. The feeling of even being there and getting to share that experience with so many other people was insane. I am eternally grateful to everyone who took a chance on me. The fact that me being me, being very loudly and proudly transgender was one of the things they really wanted to celebrate. They weren’t trying to hide it. ‘Be you and make as much noise as you want about the LGBTQ+ community and we will support you all the way’.
‘I want to be a visible face, a visible presence’
Representing her own community as well as Northern Ireland and the UK came with a lot of pressure. However, Emma proudly told me that she ‘thrives in pressure’. For her, being that kind of representation for someone else and a spokesperson for the wider LGBTQ+ community is at the forefront of her work.
Emma: I have been to the lowest of the lows. Nothing anyone can ever say or do to me is ever going to hurt me as much as I ever hurt myself. So I am owning who I am and being unapologetically Emzii. This is who I am. I pride myself on being approachable and relatable, and if I don’t share my story, why would anyone else share their story with me you know?
I am more than happy to share my story. I want to be a visible face, a visible presence, especially in esports and gaming. If I had someone like me when I was a kid, my life would have been so different. My idea is to be the person I never had and to inspire other people.
In an article with BBC Sport you stated that gaming saved your life, would you like to expand on that sentiment?
Emma: I suffered from depression since I was 13/14. Never fitting in, I was bullied in school, and I was trying to live a life that wasn’t me. I was trying to live up to the pressure of what was expected from me. Gaming was my escape and solace where I could go to school, be bullied, come home after a miserable day and escape for two hours in that video game and not have to worry about what others thought of me. I was just that character in the game.
Gaming gave me that mental break to help me keep going. I made so many friends through gaming who talked me off so many ledges, and without gaming, I definitely wouldn’t be here today. That’s why I feel like I owe so much to it as well.
What aspect of gaming and creating content do you enjoy the most?
Emma: Definitely the community. I try to make content in a predominantly male field. I am a professional e-football player. So, I get so many hate messages … however, for me it’s the other messages that make it all worthwhile. You get one message in like a thousand saying ‘thank you so much Emzii, you have made my day’, ‘you’ve inspired me’, ‘you’ve shown me that I’m welcomed here too’. If I get one message, it completely erases all the hate and toxicity that comes from just being a woman online, and a trans person. For me, that’s why I keep doing this.
Emma’s journey with her gender identity and being part of the GenderGP community
During the interview, Emzii opened up about her journey with her gender identity. Up until she came out as trans, Emma was very depressed and suicidal, she felt like she did not fit in. Thankfully, after coming out, her life became less difficult.
Emma: When I came out, I flourished from one strength to the next. With the help of GenderGP, I’ve undergone quite the transformation in my opinion. From very depressed, pretend boy to this beautiful butterfly you see in front of you. I got to experience a lot of different things, … almost reinventing myself to the point where I get to be the authentic me, rather than this fake shell of whatever I was trying to be before.
What struck me in particular was Emzii’s use of the word ‘butterfly’ as a way to describe herself. It presents a beautiful image of transformation. She came out in her 30s and part of the reason why she was not able to come out sooner was due to her family’s lack of acceptance. Emma was not allowed to be queer, and being trans was ‘not even an option’. While deep down she knew who she was, being denied her identity led to her being scared to acknowledge a big part of herself. Now, her family has become ‘super accepting’ and loving. However, living in Northern Ireland, she still gets ‘looks’ and is ‘judged’ when walking down the street.
How has your experience with GenderGP been?
Emma: It’s been life-affirming. I would have been lost without you. I have been on the waiting list for the NHS for years and the last time I checked; I would still have to wait four years to just get a first appointment. Without GenderGP, I probably wouldn’t be here. Everyone I have spoken to at GenderGP is friendly and supportive and really just wants to help me. You changed my life for the good and I am eternally grateful.
Emma gives advice to future trans content creators and esports gamers
Emma: Do it, don’t wait. If you’re passionate about something, go do it. It’s not going to fall in your lap, you have to go out and get it and really work for it. Take any ‘no’s as learning lessons. It’s okay to make mistakes because you’ll learn along the way. I think it’s important that people be themselves and don’t try to change themselves to suit anyone else’s narrative.
My whole message is that esports is for everyone. We are all welcomed here in this community. However, this is not something that I can change on my own, we all need to come together to strive for a better world. I don’t care if you have one follower or a million, let’s talk and work together.
Bringing home the top prize at the ESI Film Festival
While she is a professional esports player, Emma’s most recent project is a film which she entered into the Esports Insider Film Festival. We’re pleased to say that Emma took home the top prize at the festival with her incredible film “It's for Everyone”. Emma said she hoped the film could amplify the message that ‘esports is for everyone’. Have a watch of the film below.
This interview is part of a monthly series titled Showcasing Our Community: Trans Creators Making a Difference, where we spotlight trans content creators and share their experiences with the wider community. The intention is to share and celebrate the work of trans individuals with GenderGP’s community and to spread some positivity and light through the world.
We thank Emma for her vulnerability and for sharing her story with all of us. If you are a trans content creator of any sort, such as activist, artist or TikToker, and this interview inspired you to share your own journey, then make sure to contact us via: Community@gendergp.com. We look forward to all sharing who you are with our community.