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June 9, 2022
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 min read

Meet Valhallan Esports Community Specialist Jaemi Kaewwanna

A Q&A with the self-described ‘late gamer’ who's most excited about helping kids thrive in esports.

Meet Valhallan Esports Community Specialist Jaemi Kaewwanna

A Q&A with the self-described ‘late gamer’ who is most excited about helping kids thrive in esports by supporting their mental health and fostering peer-to-peer connections.

Jaemi Kaewwanna is about a year out of college and has already established an esports career for herself. She has all the warmth, earnestness, and energy that makes both esports and young professionals exciting to be around. She co-founded the esports league at her college, worked as a community coordinator for League of Legends, a content creator of all types, and a league commissioner and coach. And she’s just getting started.

Q: How did you get into esports?

I got into gaming really late actually. I didn’t start until high school. I went to elementary school in America, but then moved to Thailand for middle school. I moved back to America for high school, and I didn’t have any friends here. One day, a group of people invited me to hang out with them. And they played League of Legends.  

It’s funny looking back because I only had a laptop, and I didn't have a mouse—I had to play with the trackpad. I tried to go back and play with a trackpad recently and it’s impossible. I don’t know how I did it.  

But I had a lot of fun playing with them. And since then, playing video games has always been a way for me to make friends and build a community for myself wherever I am. Because you're just playing a game, you don't need to know that language or like specific cultural stuff to interact with people.  

Q: You’ve been a player, a content creator, you like to attend live esports events—it’s more than just playing for you.  

I got really into the League of Legends scene—watching pro competitions, etc. That became like my version of watching football on Sundays.

Q: So, you would drive to an arena to watch the games?

Oh yea. I’d go to the arena with my friends—cheering and screaming together. I felt like I belonged there.  

So, when I went off to college, I missed my community of gamers. All the gamers at school were in their dorm rooms by themselves. So, I decided to start an esports club with my friends, and I’ve been working in esports in one role or another ever since.

Q: So now, your day-to-day is developing the Valhallan curriculum, but before you worked as an esports coach, right?

I fell in love with working with the kids and the families. I know it’s a big statement, but I really felt like I was changing lives.  

I’ve coached so many kids who started out like I did—not having many friends. And their parents don’t really get the video game thing. Eventually, you see them open up, socializing, being more talkative.  They’re hungry, and they’re asking their coaches and teammates, “How can I get better?” And the impact that you can have, that transformation you get to be a part of is really amazing.  

Q: How do you think Valhallan is going to change the game?

Valhallan is the missing piece that esports needs. These days, colleges are giving scholarships to esports players. There are more and more professional teams, and careers in esports like coaching, marketing, esports journalism, etc. But there's no organized training or coaching before that like there is for other collegiate and professional athletes.  

For kids playing basketball, they start in middle school, high school, usually even before that if they expect to play in college or even go pro. Why isn't there something like that for esports? That’s what we’re building at Valhallan. And our curriculum addresses all the different aspects of the game. It's not just about being good at the game. But it's also being a team player. It's about the mental, physical, and emotional training needed to play competitively.

Playing video games can be isolating. (Which of course has its own stigma to it.) But imagine playing for hours by yourself and then losing the game and you don’t know why. And there’s no one there to help you understand. But when you’re playing with your team and your coach, players learn early on, “Hey, it's okay to lose, nobody wins all the time. But it's okay. And here’s how we’ll get better.”

Mental health is a big part of success in gaming. There are pro Players, like PawN, a professional League of Legends player, who retired at age 22 because of mental health issues. A lot of esports teams bring in mental health coaches and psychologists. We’re working that into our training from the start. Learning to take care of yourself emotionally is a skill players can apply to every aspect of their lives no matter what the future holds for them.  

Q: You brought up stigmas. There’s a big elephant in the room here: sexism. Sexism and misogyny are rampant both amongst players and the industry itself. Has that made an impact on your experience in esports?

Sadly, it’s so common that I don’t even register it anymore. When I’m playing, I often don't even use voice chat because I know it’s going to be bad. And it changes the whole game. Eventually you learn to ignore it. But it has impacted my career and my opportunities in the esports industry as well. I’ve been told, “nobody wants to watch a girl gamer unless they’re really pretty or really good,” it’s wild.  

But that’s another reason mentorship is so important. When I was a coach, I was working with a girl who didn't know to ignore it. She was only 9 years old and was being harassed without realizing it. And I had to sit down with her parents and come up with a plan to keep her safe online. But make sure she still gets to play because that’s what she loves.  

And that's another thing I really appreciate about this program. We're going to be able to open up those doors for girls and help understand how to protect themselves, especially online. We also have a closed Discord, so Valhallan players will only be communicating with other Valhallan players, their peers — which is important for people of all genders and identities. And everyone will be taught how to treat each other respectfully and be held accountable. It just keeps the game more fun for everyone.

Q: So you said you got into gaming to make friends. Did that work? What’s your relationship with esports now?

Oh, my gosh yes. Gaming is definitely a huge part of my social life. It keeps me connected with my friends back in California and friends from college, we get on a game together after work and catch up. It’s also how I’ve made a lot of new friends in Houston. And sometimes when you meet up in real life and talk about the game, that kind of thing.

Connect with Jaemi on LinkedIn to see what's next for her and for Valhallan.

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