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In this episode of The Power Up, Jennifer “Narz” Vargas spoke with Judith Barbosa and Cristina Amaya. Barbosa and Amaya are esports trailblazers who have been using their positions to make the industry a more inclusive place.
Barbosa, who is a Gaming Specialist at Red Bull and one of the co-founders of Latinx in Gaming, has had a lifelong passion for video games. It started with her mother bringing back a Nintendo Entertainment System from a garage sale.
She cut her teeth with early titles such as Super Mario Bros. and other platformers, but League of Legends was when Barbosa saw how far the game industry could go.
“NYC League of Legends is what really opened my eyes to the fact that we could be gamers and social at the same time,” Barbosa told In The Know.
Amaya, who is Head of Events for Team Liquid as well as co-founder and President of Latinx in Gaming, had a similar origin story. For her, it started with the Nintendo 64 and quickly snowballed from there.
“My dad bought me a Nintendo 64 back in ‘96 and I started gaming then,” Amaya said. “Then they got me a Game Boy. And they had to keep getting me all the new Nintendos, GameCube, etc.”
The game industry in those days was significantly more homogeneous. Today, Amaya can cite Gracie Arenas Strittmatter at Electronic Arts and Gabriela Ponce at Turn 10 Studios as peers but she struggled to recall any Latinx industry figures from when she was a child.
Barbosa clung to Eddy Gordo, the Brazilian capoeirista who has been a mainstay of the Tekken series since 1997.
“Eddy Gordo in Tekken was my hero and the reason why I ended up studying capoeira in college,” Barbosa said. “So even being Brazilian, I had to hold on to those particular moments because they were few and far between.”
While things have certainly changed, pushing for diversity in video games both behind the scenes and in content has been an uphill battle. Most of the industry leaders and protagonists are white men. Even in Japan, some of the most recognizable characters from Japanese game studios are white or code as white such as Mario and Solid Snake.
Barbosa and Amaya want to change that.
“I feel like this is a lot of the conversation that came around when he founded Latinx in Gaming,” Barbosa explained. “We didn’t see the community that we wanted to participate in, something that was just for us, just about us and inclusive. Open and welcome and celebrating. So we started it ourselves.”
Barbosa shared that representation isn’t just about seeing someone who looks like you. It’s also seeing someone who shares your experiences: The languages you grew up speaking, something set in the country your family came from.
Latinx in Gaming started as a tiny group (including Narz) on a Facebook page and a Discord server. Now, it’s grown to a full-blown machine that regularly hosts panels and social events. It serves to promote more Latinx people to join the game industry and also as a watchdog.
Barbosa can spot when a company is reaching out to Latinx in Gaming just so it can look outwardly committed, but in reality, it’s just for the optics. Latinx in Gaming can also recognize when a company is genuinely committed to making the industry a more equitable place.
And one way to achieve that equity is quite practical: Better pay.
“We ask people to put a lot on the line and we don’t pay them competitively,” Amaya said, “and that needs to change. I think we need to do better to pay people better.”
In closing, Narz had some heartfelt words for anyone interested in joining the esports industry.
“I think we can all agree that the world of esports is expanding by the minute,” Narz said. “And there’s room for anyone if you wish to make an impact in the community. A big shoutout to all the stream queens out there.”
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If you liked this piece, check out The Power Up’s season one finale on Call of Duty and the best games of 2020.
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