In esports, competing is not always the only thing people look for when it comes to measuring success. Instead of focusing on winning trophies, some look to other avenues that can lead to prominence such as building a major brand that could generate a large following. To that end, social media has become a pivotal asset for teams to have beyond their competitive commitments.
For those that utilize their social media platforms in a proficient manner, having a successful brand could strengthen their presence in the space entirely. Although that could help make up for a team’s performance, when one does well on both fronts, they become an indistinguishable part of the community they’re based in.
One example of this designation is the Overwatch League’s San Francisco Shock, which holds, besides two league titles, the highest number of followers on social platforms like Twitter, TikTok, and YouTube. Through their clever use of engagement such as integrating memes with their content and fully displaying players’ personalities, they gradually became the standard for what an OWL team should be in creating and curating a fanbase.
But such work didn’t come out of nowhere. At the helm of the Shock’s social media team is Sen Yan, an Australian digital artist who joined the team in 2019 as its social media manager after previously running the “incorrect OWL quotes” comedic Twitter account which, after a year of operation from 2018 to 2019, held 8,000 followers. From there, she manned the San Francisco Shock socials virtually by herself, creating and devising posts for each of the team’s accounts and overseeing its development to the present day.
Even though she worked remotely for a North American team from the other side of the world, her contribution helped the Shock become an unmistakable part of the OWL community.
Taking that into account, BLIX.GG spoke to Sen for an interview on her career in esports, how she joined the Shock as its social media manager, how she creates content for the team, and more.
Starting out in esports
Pedro Romero, BLIX.GG: start off, I'd like to cover your early life. What was Sen like before entering esports?
Sen Yan: I am Chinese and I grew up in Australia, which I don't think is a very uncommon experience because there's quite a big Chinese population here. Gaming was never really on my radar. I had an old Gameboy and I played Pokemon in it but that was pretty much it. My childhood was mostly going to school, having piano lessons, and doing homework. I didn't really encounter gaming until I was well into university and Overwatch was the first game I ever played--well, not my first ever game but my first FPS game. Before I worked in esports, I was studying cultural studies and Chinese language so I wanted to work in academia. I got into Overwatch and I knew a bit about esports because I had a bunch of online friends who really liked League of Legends esports. They would talk about it all the time so I knew about teams like TSM and SKT. Out of curiosity, I watched one of TSM's documentary series called Legends and I thought it was interesting. When it came to Overwatch, I wondered if there were other players who played this game too so I Googled about it and ended up watching a game and just accidentally becoming obsessed with it.
Image: Sen Yan/Twitter
BLIX: From first playing games such as Overwatch and League of Legends, how did you first step into the esports scene?
Sen Yan: I googled Overwatch esports and the first thing that came up were matches of a really old tournament from 2016 called Overwatch APEX. I picked a random match and I was amazed because these people were playing the game in a way that I've never seen before. The first game I ever watched was a Lunatic-Hai versus Kongdoo Uncia game. From there, I just Googled how to watch it and realized there was an English cast on Twitch so I started watching it live. It just became something I did every week. I come from a fandom background. Every piece of media that I've liked in the past I've joined the fandom for it so esports was kind of the same for me. I just started tweeting about it and then finding other people who liked the same thing got me going from there.
Joining the Shock was my first complete esports job. I had never worked in esports prior to that nor social media management. It was never something that I thought I was going to do. I've always worked either in hospitality or data management like basic office admin jobs. Back in late 2018, the Shock was advertising for a social media position and they wanted somebody who could work full-time and be with the team on a really close basis and I had no prior experience. However, I had previously run a really popular gimmick account. I think it got really popular because I had a lot of knowledge of the players and their personalities. This account was called @incorrect_OWL which basically stands for incorrect OWL quotes.
BLIX: It was like a meme account, right?
Sen Yan: Yeah. It was basically fake conversations between these players but they were matched to their specific personalities, so you could really imagine this actually happening. That's the basic concept of an incorrect quote account. A lot of people within the scene, like actual pros and people who are involved in the scene, were like, "Wow, how does this person know?" I think the reason why it got big was because people in the scene thought that it actually matched up to the personalities of these people that they knew and were friends with. Nobody knew that I ran it for a long time.
When I applied for Shock, I listed that as my prior experience and that was actually the primary reason they hired me. At the time, I wasn't a social media manager. I was sort of like a contracted content creator so I would occasionally make memes and content and I was working in that capacity for almost three years until I decided to quit my office job and go full-time in esports, so I've been doing my actual current role for two years now.
Working in the Shock
BLIX: You sort of touched on how you work from Australia for the Shock when I first inquired about the interview. Have you always worked in Australia, or have you moved to America and worked the position there?
Sen Yan: I've always worked from Australia. I worked on site twice. One of those experiences was last year for like a week to cover playoffs and finals and then another time was when I went to America in 2019 and it was for a vacation. I just happened to visit and do a bit of work there for two days.
BLIX: With that said, I want to know what's your daily schedule like? Can you give me a timetable on how your day goes about in Australia time?
Sen Yan: I normally wake up at around 5:30 a.m., which is a bit ahead of my first meeting. Typically, if I have anything that needs to be posted super early in the morning, I'll have it scheduled ahead of time so I don't have to wake up and do it myself. At six o'clock is my first meeting. It's just a social team call where I get on a call with other NRG social media managers and the nature of the call is we just sit there and work. It's sort of simulating an office environment because none of the social media managers really work in an office. They're all around America and I'm in Australia.
We just sit in the call and pretend we're working together in a physical space which I find really helpful because you can bounce ideas off each other much more easily in a call as opposed to messaging back and forth in Slack. My day-to-day changes with what calls I have on what days, but I typically have my breakfast at around 9 a.m. Around 12 is where I start winding down my day but I don't finish work until around 1 p.m. so the rest of my day is free. It doesn't feel so bad because when you get an early start, it feels you have more the rest of the day to do stuff.
BLIX: When it comes to doing social media, each manager has their own set of plans on how they will go about producing content. For you specifically, what is the process like in producing content for your social media? What's that process like from brainstorming, to then executing said plans in your many platforms?
Sen Yan: I'm someone who wears a lot of hats, I guess. NRG and the Shock have a very small team. It's just me, an intern, and my manager. We use NRG's in-house video editors to edit stuff on YouTube, but anything that goes on Tik Tok, Instagram, and Twitter is all just me and mostly my intern. I am someone who's a bit of a control freak and a perfectionist. Most of the time, I will come up with a concept and, if I can, I will just do it all myself, start to finish.
I guess the process is I come up with something, I make it, and then I post it. This is gonna sound a little strange but I always felt like I was bothering people when I asked them to help me edit something, so I learned how to edit videos like short-form content. I don't edit long-form content but anything short-form I can do and I will do.
Growing up, my mom always told me that when I get a job I have to be diligent. She was always telling me when you're working a job, do things without being asked to do them…That is something that I did a lot of when I first started with the Shock. — Sen Yan
BLIX: Why do you opt to work by yourself when it comes to managing your social media accounts?
Sen Yan: There's stuff I don't do by myself. Any of the graphics and stuff we need to do, our graphic designer helps me with that. Before I was a social media manager, I was interested in art and design so I had a base knowledge of Photoshop, maybe more than your average social manager. In my brain, even though something might not technically be my job, it's so much faster for me sometimes to just do it myself especially if it's something like a graphic template that I can set up by myself.
I definitely get a lot of help from my intern when it comes to gathering footage and helping with Tik Toks and stuff. For Twitter, in my brain, it's always been about me not wanting to bother this person so I just take it on and do it myself. I think it might have something to do with my upbringing. I'm the first daughter of a Chinese family so I have to take on a lot of stuff for my parents so it's just translated into how I work as well.
BLIX: Can you talk about what your family was like back then?
Sen Yan: My parents were both pretty skilled in their respective fields. My mother was an editor for a newspaper and my dad was an electrician. They were both skilled, but then you come to Australia, and then there's that language barrier so my dad couldn't get accredited to do electrician work and my mom couldn’t really work as an editor so they had to take on menial labor jobs and worked hard for not very much money. They weren't very good at English so I did all the administration stuff like filling government forms since I was a kid, basically.
BLIX: What were some of the values that your parents instilled in you that then helped you to do so well in your current job?
Sen Yan: Growing up, my mom always told me that when I get a job I have to be diligent. She was always telling me when you're working a job, do things without being asked to do them. You just look for an opportunity to show your boss that you are willing to go above and beyond what you normally do. That is something that I did a lot of when I first started with the Shock. My position at the time was to make content and memes, but then I saw that another team started doing these matchday posters which were hand drawn.
I was like, "Wait a second, I know how to draw, and I have a graphics tablet so I'm going to start doing this as well." For a while, I was drawing matchday posters even though it was completely outside of the scope of what I'm supposed to do. Even now, if I get an idea of where you can redraw a meme or draw spreads of our players, I'll still do that even though it's not my job at all. At the moment, with the way we use anime artwork and stuff, it's something that not many of the other teams do. I guess that's an example of my diligence.
The necessity of adaptation
BLIX: Since you have been in charge of being a social media manager by yourself, have you felt any sense of being overwhelmed in trying to make sure you not only build an audience but also make interesting content that can rake in more people?
Sen Yan: I wouldn't say overwhelmed. I do feel, like, the stress of it. I guess it's kind of my burden or whatever. In terms of building Shock's audience, I would credit a lot of that not just to my work but also the team's success in 2019 and 2020. At that time, I wasn't a full-time social media manager so I really have to credit that to my manager who was doing most of the social media at the time. With the people who came before me, I sort of just took over what they had left and tried to maintain and grow that at the same time.
I feel like it's been interesting during my time as full-time social media manager because I had actually spoken to a bunch of other SMMs and around the time that I had taken over was when a lot of the esports orgs were falling especially in the OWL and it was sort of a struggle just to maintain viewership so I did feel a lot of pressure to try to maintain if not further grow our audience. In an esport like the OWL, it's been difficult but my manager has put me pretty much at ease by saying I'm doing a job well done.
BLIX: How have you been able to adapt that sort of production of content to each of your respective platforms that could grow an audience altogether?
Sen Yan: This is like a vibe space, right? YouTube is long-form content where we want to showcase personalities. This is where we want to kind of showcase the relationship between the players. When it comes to Twitter, that becomes the brand building exercise. Twitter is where we are one of the fans. We act like the way a fan girl will act and that's kind of the voice we have for the Shock at the moment.
When it comes to TikTok, the voice is much more unhinged, if that makes sense. TikTok is where we can get really experimental because that's where the majority of our Zoomer audience is. On Twitter, I try to keep it a bit more professional. At the end of the day, we are still a professional esports org, but then on TikTok, it goes off the rails a bit. We make silly little edits like “editing Winston Overwatch like how a teenage boy would edit his car." Stuff that feels organic to a Zoomer audience and I think TikTok was really difficult for me for at the start because I didn't use it and I still don't love it but I use it for the sake of my job.
BLIX: How does Overwatch and OWL social media compare to other esports scenes like League of Legends and Valorant and what makes it different from the rest?
Sen Yan: Because of the different fan bases that Overwatch has, it was one of the more earlier FPS games that hit the formula of having interesting shorts and actually having lore. It feels a bit more diverse. The fan base has a different vibe as well. With Overwatch and the OWL, you can have fun with it. The players don't take themselves that seriously compared to League and I feel the fan base itself isn't as toxic as that of League or Valorant. Valorant obviously feels like more like the “now” esports fandom where it feels that's where the cool kids are. But with Overwatch and the OWL, I think people know it's not the cool Tier-1 esport anymore, but people still love it for what it is so anyone who's still left really loves it.
BLIX: What do you think is your favorite piece of content that you've ever produced in your time as social media manager and what was the plan behind it?
Sen Yan: I didn't work on the majority of this one but I was kind of the driving force behind it. Back in Season 2, we filmed and edited a parody of one of the Haikyuu! openings. That was a really fun piece of content. I storyboarded it and set up the shots. I wasn't even there to physically direct it but I told everyone what to do and they made it happen. I don't think it looks the most professional--it looks okay but it's not like Netflix wouldn't have it as the opening for the Haikyuu live action adaptation. For me, that was really fun. In 2019, Shock was like the underdog team and I thought it really mirrored how the Karasuno volleyball team was also the underdog team.
BLIX: What would you say has been your proudest moment as social media manager?
Sen Yan: This isn't ever really a moment, or anything per se, but every time one of our players says stuff like "Sen works really hard," that makes me feel really accomplished. My job is to make these players marketable and give these players a good image as well as promoting the org itself. Sometimes, in cases where some of our players might not have had the best public images, and then in the case where I'm able to help them reform and build their image into something else, that, to me, is what makes me feel the most accomplished.
BLIX: There have been conversations about what type of content should be produced in this era of social media, considering the state of Twitter and the prominence of short form content in Instagram and TikTok. How do you view the state of social media right now in esports?
Sen Yan: I don't love it. I don't love how social media is nowadays but you have to adapt. I don't enjoy the migration to TikTok. If I had my way, the content that I would be producing would be more player focused. I mean, people do want to watch that but that's not what most people want to watch. It feels like the way to survive in this current social media landscape is to pivot to more content creator-y and clickbait-y things. I just think people don't have the attention span anymore so you really have to get to the point within the first three seconds of whatever you're posting because otherwise people are just going to scroll unless it's your most diehard fan base.
And yes, I would love to be able to cater to that fanbase, but the goal, at the end of the day, is to reach more people so we have to adapt. My social media management philosophy has always been one to create fan-making moments. What I want to do is highlight the moments in live gameplay or match coverage that is going to convert a random person into a fan. I think building characters around players has been working and that it's easy to digest for people. If you look at a pro player and try to distill what their personality is into two or three concepts and play around that, it becomes much more easy for people to understand who this person is.
BLIX: How would you want people to think of you by looking at what you've done, and what you're looking to do in the future in social media?
Sen Yan: Well, I hope they think of me kindly. I hope they enjoy my work. I'm not somebody who really bases my identity around social media and the work I've done. Something I wish I didn't do was to be public about who I am as a social media manager. I wish I could have kept my personal Twitter account and my work separate, but the fact of the matter is a lot of people follow me because I am Shock's SMM and I want people to be able to see me as more than that. I'd like to connect with people as Sen, somebody who likes mushrooms and cooking and stuff like that.
I do think that working in social media has afforded me a lot of relationships with people who I would have otherwise not met or gotten to know. To answer your question. I hope people will think of me kindly and enjoy the work that I do and think, "Hey, that's Sen. They're really good at what they do!"