From the moment Katie Willard arrived in Berlin, Germany in mid-November, she felt at home. The energy of like-minded people surrounded her.

“I finally felt like I was in the world where I was supposed to be in,” the Syracuse senior said.

Weeks earlier, Willard had been selected as one of seven participants in the G2 Esports’ “Making the Squad” tournament. “Making the Squad,” an esports-based reality show, awarded $10,000 to 2019’s winner.

Despite losing in the first round, Willard embraced the opportunity in Germany by reaching out to G2 to work with their social media team. She’s taken the skills she learned there back to Syracuse as the university’s esports club’s community coordinator in charge of social media.

“When I was eliminated, I felt devastated in the moment,” she said, “but after a good cry to let it out, I was able to muster up the strength to simply adapt.”

Willard has been aware of esports for much of her life. But when she turned 19, her relationship with the growing movement went from playing the occasional Pokémon game to competing in tournaments with gamers from different states, countries and continents. She began searching for ways to turn her passion into a career and saw G2 as an opportunity to fuel that process.

Once arriving, Willard wasted no time, said Tasha Romero, the tournament’s winner. Nobody knew anybody else, and Willard took it upon herself to initiate conversations and convince others to break out of their comfort zones, Romero said.

Eventually, Romero said, Willard helped her and the other contestants realize they were in an environment where they could be themselves and express a love for esports without worrying about what others might think.

After losing at G2, Willard said into the camera for watchers to follow her on Twitter and Instagram. She cheered on the other contestants, Romero — who grew close to Willard — said. The SU student said working with G2’s social media team was “equally as fulfilling” as the tournament itself, since it allowed her to gain real-world experience and build her network.

Four months before leaving for the “Making the Squad” event, Willard became the Syracuse esports club’s community coordinator. She’s in charge of running the social media accounts, organizing community outreach and fundraising for the 500-member organization.

The club’s Twitter account, run by Willard, posts graphics, GIFs and links to Twitch live streams of tournaments. The social media account also promotes campus events.

Lauren Wiener, the club’s president, said Willard “single-handedly revitalized all of our social media platforms.” When SU competes, the account often posts pictures of club members gaming.

Willard sees herself as a content creator as well as a gamer. She streams on Twitch, posts YouTube videos, makes memes, cosplays and competes in tournaments, she said.

One day, she wants to create content for an esports organization. To get there, she said finding a clear path in the young, competitive industry requires drive. People who want to make it in esports can’t allow frustration or lack of success get in the way of opportunities, just like she didn’t in Berlin.

“Even now, I feel proud that I was able to make the best of my situation to make it a learning experience,” Willard said. “Your dreams can be achieved if you persevere through your hardships, and those hardships make you into who you are today.”



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