FACEIT’s Giulia Zecchini, Maria Laura Scuri discuss making esports more inclusive for women

by Sage Datuin

FACEIT has become one of the esports industry’s most well-known tournament brands. Since its formation in 2012, FACEIT has become a popular platform for online multiplayer games. One thing FACEIT is looking to push is their continued approach to creating an inclusive place for underrepresented communities in gaming.

In this Q&A, we spoke to Giulia Zecchini, director of commercial strategy at FACEIT, and Maria Laura Scuri, director of data at FACEIT, to talk about their rise up in the gaming industry, their own personal struggles and how they continue to push for more inclusion of women interested in pursuing esports as a career.

This interview has been edited for length, style and clarity.

Nerd Street: I would like to start by asking how you got into esports and how you eventually found leadership roles within FACEIT?

Maria Laura “Lulu” Scuri: My name is Laura but most people call me Lulu. I have been at FACEIT for about eight years. I met Niccolo Maisto and Michele Attisani, FACEIT co-founders back when we were still in university. Back then, FACEIT was just a startup of five people and I had met them during university playing video games with them. … I had talked about introducing League of Legends to FACEIT and that is how it all began.

When I joined, I had to cover different roles within the company because that is what you needed to do with a team of five people to make actual progress. During university, I studied mathematics and economics which was centered around data science. Now, I am the data director in FACEIT, and I love what I do.

Giulia Zecchini: I’m the commercial strategy lead for FACEIT and joined just over a year ago because of my background in traditional sports. I used to be part of Formula 1, and before that, at Nielsen Sports, working in Premier League football.

There, I was involved with a lot of business intelligence, so my primary focuses were around commercial data analytics to figure out what is the best route to making sports organizations the most money possible. Now at FACEIT, I am in a role where I look at different potential avenues to monetize the platform.

Nerd Street: Lulu, you were responsible for leading the development of Minerva, an anti-cheat and toxicity platform. Where did this initial idea come from and what made it such an impactful project for you?

Scuri: Before being a data person, I am always a gamer. I have been playing video games ever since I was a teenager back on my first Nintendo console. Once I transitioned over into the world of League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and any online game, things started to get more toxic.

That initial love I had for games was being tainted because of the constant toxicity around me. I began to question if games were even fun anymore and started to ponder just watching a movie instead because playing one game of League made me madder because of constant sexist and racist comments.

There were a lot of sexual and passive-aggressive comments that would constantly take a toll on my mental health. So when I finally had an opportunity to be a part of that change, I wanted to do something about it. At FACEIT, we found out that 30 percent of our premium subscribers were canceling subscriptions because of toxicity. We saw this as a major problem, and remembering the comments I used to receive playing, I understood where they were coming from.

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We began to sketch out ideas to make this better and we eventually came up with an idea to do our best to have a referee in every match. In esports, you cannot have a human moderator in every game like you can in traditional sports. We created Minerva to act as something that is sort of human and has been trained by humans to label toxic behavior and terrible language on our platform.

Then, we would sift through clips of problematic issues to decide whether a comment is toxic or not so we can make FACEIT a more welcoming community for all different types of people. But for Minerva, it was really about taking this model from traditional sports and doing our best to apply that to games.

The traditional sports analogy is interesting and a cool concept that applies to Minerva. Giulia, as someone who worked in traditional sports before, did you ever have experiences where you noticed these certain biases and inequalities as a woman in that field? Did you ever have similar toxic remarks made to you just based off of stereotypes?

Zecchini: Yes, many times. Traditional sports is just as complicated and complex as esports, and the typical demographics for higher-up positions in traditional sports tend to be older white males so there were moments in the early stages of my career where I felt uncomfortable being the only female in our room.

I remember I was always asked to make somebody’s coffee or take notes even if I was higher up than somebody. I remember at times, my work would not be taken seriously. Luckily, I have not had those same experiences in gaming, and I hope I do not have to experience what Lulu experienced before.

I think some of the learnings that we could take from traditional sports is that esports is so young compared to traditional sports. There are a lot of mistakes made in traditional sports that I feel esports can learn and absorb a lot quicker.

I think gaming can push further ahead because it is in its infancy which makes me really hopeful. It is our job as the gaming community to be more educated about passive-aggressive and sexist remarks so that we can foster a community that welcomes people into the community instead of making them want to leave. That is also on us as women in esports to help foster a better community too.

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Nerd Street: Is there a specific moment in your career early on that really made you realize that you would need to work a lot harder in order to climb up in your career? What drives you to be that role model for other women?

Zecchini: Throughout my career in both traditional sports and esports, I rarely had a reference of a senior female that I could look up to and say that I want to be like you in my career.

It sounds cliché, but having those models of success is really important to see because it gives you hope that things do get better. I have always strived to become that person that younger girls can look up to and see that it is possible to have a career in gaming, traditional sports and so on.

I want to make sure that people can see that there's a diverse range of people that can make it in these companies. And that can hopefully inspire them just to see that there are various opportunities. You don't have to go down traditional routes, but you can still work in an industry that you're passionate about and excites you.

Scuri: That same mentality applies to me as well. After experiencing the toxicity and feeling different, I want other women to feel empowered to take on leadership positions and strive for those. I want to act as that reference women can use to find a career in a male-dominant industry.

Eventually, I would want to reach a point where we do not need to do women-only competitions and that women could just compete alongside men. It is all about inclusion, and I want to reach a point where a group of girls is picked up for a team not because they are women, but because they are just really good at the game.

That all starts with creating an acceptance that girls can find careers in esports and gaming. That mission drives me every day to make FACEIT as inclusive as possible because I want that goal for girls aspiring to enter esports.

Nerd Street: When you think about the very next step that esports and gaming can take to be more inclusive, where does that mindset shift all begin? Or for better words, where do we go next to become better as a community to make our industry more inclusive?

Zecchini: Personally, for me, if we are talking about the actual esports side of things instead of the behind-the-scenes things we do, it all starts from the grassroots.

That's where the focus needs to be. We need to make sure that girls out there know that gaming is a viable option. Whether they want to be pro or just want to take it on as a hobby, it just needs to be known to them that it is not a career path they should shy away from because of inequality.

If you don't have that mass participation of females, it's harder to see more professional female players once we get to the higher levels in most esports scenes. As much as I would love to see males and females compete side by side, it needs to start by creating a larger player base and acceptance of women in gaming.

Riot Games' Game Changers series has led to many women competing in high-level VALORANT tournaments. Photo credit: Nerd Street

Scuri: I agree with Giulia in that it needs to start from the grassroots. I think the mentality needs to shift first to get more women interested in gaming. And if there is a girl in the game, we need to eventually phase out these inappropriate comments that prompt women to do something else because gaming no longer becomes fun to them. Our part in this whole system is to make the community as safe as it possibly can be so there is less fear about playing games.

Nerd Street: It is really awesome to hear your perspective on everything and your viewpoints on how this mindset shift starts from the grassroots to give women that space to catch up and grow. For men as allies, what are things that can be done to help that shift happen at a quicker pace?

Zecchini: I'm a big supporter of listening, and sometimes just being a passive listener in terms of just taking it all in without having to give your opinion or what you think one woman might have gone through. … I think, obviously, if men aren't listening and supporting us, it's hard for us to move forward.

I personally feel super lucky because I have never worked with such a supportive leadership team as I have seen with FACEIT. It is very exciting to see how open-minded they are, and also how willing they are to make a change and take everybody's opinions on board. So it's definitely the perfect example of allyship internally at FACEIT.

Scuri: It is important to have your voices and opinions feel like they matter instead of being told how we should feel. I think one of the worst things that can happen is that the men are connecting in a very defensive way.

Most of the time, it is not that we are critiquing your personality, but how women react to certain things can be different, so understanding that we are different but equal is something that is so important for the future of esports. I think accepting those differences and understanding how to take in these emotions by validating these opinions and frustrations goes a very long way. Listening to concerns and using that information to create a great culture is something that will make any business and industry perform better.

Nerd Street: To close things out, are there any projects that you are excited to lead at FACEIT, and what are things that we should keep an eye out for in the future?

Zecchini: For myself, I want to look more inward at FACEIT as a company and find things that we can work on to promote an even better community to have more benefits and women in senior leadership. Companies sometimes forget what women require may be different from men. In particular, having these opportunities to let women leave on maternity or parental leave and other benefits.

These internal things would attract more of that female talent. I am also just looking forward to working with our HR team to make sure our recruitment pools are more diverse too. If we can get more young females working at FACEIT, then we can develop a good talent pool within our company to create that mindset shift we all want.

Scuri: On my side, with FACEIT and ESL merging, there are a lot of new opportunities that are opening up. And at FACEIT, I really like the culture we have and have never felt any of those triggers that I felt before in my early years in gaming. This culture is something I want to output to more women looking to either enter esports or are thinking about it as a career. I want women to know that at FACEIT, we are taking those initiatives and are always finding ways to look inward and improve the company culture about underrepresented people.

Lead image created by Sage Datuin via assets from FACEIT

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