Women of Esports: Head of Player Development at CLG, Summer Scott

Summer Scott is helping your players be their best.

Photo via Summer Scott | Edited by Justin Waves

For the next few weeks, Dot Esports is profiling women working behind-the-scenes in esports. Each woman is an expert in her field, whether it’s navigating an emerging sector of the law, building out branding for their organization, or putting together some of the biggest esports events of the year. We’ll post a new profile each day, covering the women’s unique experiences in the esports industry.

Summer Scott was watching the League of Legends European Championship (then called the EU LCS) in 2012 when she first saw a clip featuring a sports psychologist. It’s a job that’s relatively new in esports now, and practically unheard of back then. More than six years and countless League teams later, Scott is now the head of player development at CLG, a storied North American esports organization with teams in League, Fortnite, and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive—among others.

“You need to dare to be yourself and dare to be great in whatever profession you choose,” Summer said. “Especially in esports, the sky’s the limit. You get to decide the impact that you are going to have in this industry more so than anywhere else because you get to decide what the industry needs and you get to carve out your space. You just can’t take no for an answer.”

Photo via Summer Scott

Scott describes her work as being the team’s problem solver—helping players and staff better their personal and professional lives, using experience pulled from her own life, seen through the lens of her bachelor’s in psychology. There’s no manual or textbook specifically for player management or esports psychology, but it’s not something she’s had to figure out herself. With support from folks across multiple industries, Scott is defining what player development looks like in esports.

For Dot Esports’ Women of Esports series, Scott told us about the day-to-day challenges of the job, whether that’s helping players not tilt on ladder or navigating esports as a woman.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you start by telling me about your position at CLG?

Scott: I got into CLG after being a performance coach on a Challenger team, Gold Coin United in League of Legends, but I took a very, very circuitous route into esports. My general position at CLG is the head of player development. This is a really broad term, and it has proactive components and reactive components. In terms of the proactive work I do, I look at a player’s career in its totality. I try to say, “Okay, how am I going to position you best for your career right now? How do I make you the most competitive player possible? How do I get you the resources that you need to be a high performer?”

Then I also look at, “Hey, at the end of the season, what do I need to do in order to prep you to transition well into being a very productive human being?” I look at outside factors saying, “Hey, are you getting enough sleep? Is your nutrition right? Are you getting exercise?” If there’s anything wrong with any part of that process, I work directly with the coach or player. That’s very much true when it comes to mental skills and training. I do a lot of the psychology-type stuff with the performance aspects for the guys, but if there is something that required a clinical psychologist, or a more in-depth consultation with a sports psychologist, I would arrange that.

Likewise, if they need a nutritionist, I’ll get them the nutritionist. I’ll get them the fitness trainer. The big thing that I’m working on right now is getting the players financial planning advice because that’s really how I care for people long-term where I’m like, they have all this success right now—but some who are 18 years old and just have this massive influx of money but don’t know necessarily how to make that money work for them and how to set themselves up for success beyond esports. That’s a lot of what I do. I just try to position the guys as best I can and help them leverage what they have going for them right now so that they can best be set up for the future.

It’s a fascinating position. I don’t think this is something many people realize is going on behind-the-scenes.

This is something that’s relatively new and unique to CLG. A lot of teams want to do it, but the majority of the time, they end up doing just the other half of my job, which is that reactive component where it’s like, “This person’s really struggling in season right now. This team is not gelling. What do we do? We need somebody to talk to this guy so that he doesn’t tilt so much.” There’s definitely that component of things, being able to work with players when they’re having a really bad moment and coach them through it and say, “Hey, even if we can’t come up with a solution for you right now, how can we be thinking about this that makes it a little bit less distressing for you?”

That is another really big part of my job, and it’s actually historically what I’ve done the most, just getting on teams and just being a problem solver. It’s nice because it’s very diverse. It pulls you in a lot of different directions so the days don’t look the same, but at the same time, it’s really complex. I’d say it’s really not for everyone just in how intense it can be to have to jump around and be able to handle lots of different kinds of situations.

I know your background is in psychology, but I’m wondering about your journey from there into esports.

When I first started school, I thought I was going to be a classics major Greek and Roman antiquity, which is—it’s a nice little blend because I read a lot of philosophers trying to figure out what the world is about, what people are about. I quickly learned studying the antiquities wasn’t very lucrative.

That’s when I switched over to psychology and I had just taken a one-on-one course and it was just really interesting. Every single topic that came up, I was just like, “Wow,” and I got actually enriched and excited when I went to class, which is not always the case when you’re in university. It was around then that I realized that not only was I interested in psychology, but I was ridiculously passionate about it. I loved taking in that information and I loved even more sharing it.

After I finished my bachelor’s, I was at this crossroads where it’s just like, “Oh my god.” I had to hype myself back up to try to go into grad school. I always knew that I wanted to have a higher degree so that I could help more. I didn’t feel like people would want my advice or believe in me if I didn’t have a master’s, so that’s where my head was at the time.

Around that time I was watching League of Legends. It was season three and I was watching EU LCS. The name’s different now. I was watching that and they had a little featurette of a graduate student in sports psychology that was working with a team and about how he was helping them. I was just like, “Wait a minute. Now, this is really piquing my interest. Is there a way that I could do gaming and psychology?” I’m also a huge gaming nerd.

I actually met my now husband playing World of Warcraft. I think just the idea of being able to combine the two was really, really exciting to me. Then beyond that, I just started trying to figure out how it could be done. I started googling esports psychology and that’s when I found Weldon Green. I found that he was doing a blog on sports psychology in esports, and I was like, “This is what I want to do.” I chickened out a thousand times just trying to reach out to him.

Then, finally, I was watching a panel, and oddly enough, Stephanie Harvey was one of the panelists and who’s now one of my players. But she just had a call-to-action in this panel. She was just like, “You know, the reason why there’s not more room for us right now is because there’s not many examples to lead and for people to be inspired by.” Now, it’s just like, “Yes, this is what I have to do. I have to push harder. I have to get this done.” So I did.

I started blogging for Weldon’s site. I said, “I have some ideas, I’m going to throw them down on a piece of paper.” He was like, “Yes, I want to hear about it.” He really opened a lot of doors for me and he started doing boot camps. At the time, with the LCS team, is just like a one-week crash course in sports psychology to see if he can get their performance up. There was this one time where he needed an assistant to work with Team Liquid because Team Liquid was, at the time, filled in that first 10-man roster with the TLA squad, so he needed somebody to come in with the B-squad and work as a correlate with him.

I was just like, “Sure,” so I just randomly flew out to Los Angeles and started doing this boot camp, and by the end of it, he was like, “Hey, I have to fly back to Finland. Can you take the next one?” I was like, “Okay.” I did my very first on my own one-week boot camp with NRG, who was, at the time, an LCS team, and the rest was history. After that, I had experience to start marketing myself as an independent consultant, and I continued to do work with teams.

I went back and worked with Team Liquid again after that, I worked with Phoenix1, which was also an LCS team at that time. Just in that one year, I probably did like three or four different boot camps, and in that one year doing boot camps, I actually made more consulting than I had for my entire paycheck for the year at the nonprofit I happen to have been working at to float myself. I was just like, “This might be it.”

Then from there, I was asked to come on full-time onto Gold Coin United, which was that Challenger team, and, yes, I did. They asked me to come with them to boot camp for five weeks in Korea. I did. After that, I just worked full-time, and from there, I made it into CLG, and the rest is history. It’s a long piece of history, but that’s it.

What are the challenges in this position, being a new job in esports in a lot of ways?

It’s not something that’s really existed before. There’s a lot of pioneering. You have to be extremely creative, and you have to be prepared to problem solve things that just don’t have precedent. When I was first starting in esports, I had just graduated with a bachelor’s in psychology and I was like, “Well, what do I do? Do I go and get my master’s in clinical? How do I handle this?” Even when I was trying to get into esports, I had seen that there were sports psychologists coming in, but even sports psychology didn’t have all the answers because esports is just kind of this crazy, unique blend of several different things.

That really was a massive challenge to overcome being like, “Hey, there’s no textbook that tells me how to handle these esports-specific situations.” I had to do a lot of soul searching and a lot of searching for resources in general. At this point, I just made friends with as many different kinds of experts as I possibly could. I made friends with this financial advisor. I got into esports by making friends with Weldon Green, who I was really lucky enough to be able to pay it forward and bring him to CLG after I had established myself in the industry behind him. That was fun.

I made friends with sports psychologists, organizational psychologists, management specialists, leadership trainers—any kind of information I can get my hands on, I really had to find it because there weren’t predetermined answers. There still aren’t for a lot of the problems.

There was also a lot of challenges with me being a woman. This is a very male-dominated industry, and on top of it being male-dominated, people are very new and have not necessarily had experience in a professional workspace.

With that comes a lot of prejudice that I had to work through. During my time at Gold Coin United, I literally, on my lunch break, anytime that there were issues where guys were like, “What do girls think about this? Summer, what do girls think?” I’m just like, “I am, first of all, I’m not a girl. Second of all, how am I a spokesperson for every woman alive?” This is my everyday, and then I’m answering these questions simultaneously while there’s half naked women on a screen while they’re watching hip hop videos, eating lunch, and I’m just like, “Okay, this is insanely uncomfortable.”

I definitely think that was a challenge and it’s still something that makes it really difficult. It’s really painful to walk into a room where a conversation stops and you know it was just something that was desperately inappropriate and people that you’re here to help and the way that you help them is that they are comfortable with you, you realize that they can’t be comfortable in every way because the environment is just built against you, where there’s just conversations that you can’t be a part of because they’re deemed inappropriate. It’s kind of isolating. It can be really, really lonely at times.

I hear you on that. You couldn’t hear me nodding along, but I was.

I forgot the biggest challenge, though. The biggest one is job security and the lack thereof. This kind of position is also one of those intangibles where you can’t see it working all the time. There’s not a direct correlate to what your success looks like. You either made the situation better or you didn’t, but no one would really know the difference. I’ve actually had situations where I was on a team working my absolute hardest pulling every crazy hour I possibly could.

I was sitting in 90 minutes of traffic trying to get there in the morning and getting home at like 10, 11 o’clock at night and still making it on time and early to all of my meetings at nine o’clock. Beating people who are just walking from upstairs to downstairs to a morning meeting. That was a really big shocker. I had my boss come in not having brushed his teeth yet. I’m just like, “Come on, man, I don’t want to talk to you.”

It was really gnarly, but after all of that, it came to the end of the split, and because they wanted to pick up a cook, I was the one that was let go, and it was like, “Okay, that feels really bad.” I gave this everything I possibly had and solved so many problems for so many people, which is just really, really unappreciated. Then that same team got two weeks into their season and they called me and they were like, “We need you back.” I’m just like, “Thank you, thank you for finally realizing, after you fired me, that you really need me.”

I think that it just requires a lot of inner strength to make it through situations like that and to trust that people see your value when it’s happening because it’s very easy to be overlooked. It’s easy to be overlooked as a woman in the first place, but then to have a job where people can’t really see direct results, it can be really scary and you have to be able to fight through that. Those are the top three challenges.

My next question sort of plays into that. It seems so obvious why your job is important in esports, but I’m curious to hear it from you. Why is your job important in esports?

It comes down to my deep-down motivation. Personally, I’ve always been a high performer. I was the super nerd in high school where I did not leave the gym on school picture day because that’s how many pictures of organizations I was a part of. I got into a highly selective college and then got here. I had no idea how to handle myself, how to fight hard for me. I knew how to fight hard to make my parents proud and I knew how to fight hard to make societies accept me, but I didn’t know how to make it real for myself. It was just such a miserable time and I had met people there who were supposed to be able to help me and they didn’t.

I just got through all of that tough hardship in my life and then looked back and I was just like, “I can’t even imagine how much more success I would have had just what I had somebody to help me through, to guide me, to help me think about the problems that I was facing on a regular basis.” I do not want anyone ever to feel the same distress and sadness that I had in my early adulthood.

If I can make any meaningful difference for somebody who is trying to achieve just insanely greater things than anybody else their age is actually trying to attain—if I can just help them succeed somehow, I feel like I am patching up that personal wound, that hurt that I sustained early on in life and just making myself feel better in a little bit of a way. Yes, a lot of my work is to try to repair that hurt part of me. Yes, it’s a pretty big piece of motivation. That’s why I think it’s so important.

What does that look like day-to-day?

A lot of the proactive work is pretty standard and you can start predicting that. On a typical day or a typical psychology developmental period—a developmental period can be over the course of a single split, over a whole season, or it can be an ongoing thing where you just set up quarterly reviews for players—I set forth a particular period of development where I’m just like, “These are the main problems that we’re looking at with you right now, and we’re going to set a time limit, we’re going to say over the next three months we’re going to get you from point A to point B.”

We try to identify the deepest and darkest problem in a player at any given time. We say, “Hey, this is our time, we’re going to start solving this.” On a typical day, I’ll go in and I usually have a couple of appointments set up where I work one-on-one with players and they usually start, “Hey, how are we going to get the most out of today? How is talking going to help us achieve something for you today?” We usually just work through problems by asking a lot of questions, trying to get to the heart of why the problem exists and help them think through how they can accomplish something that’s going to make it better. If they can spend 45 minutes with me working through a problem or they can solo queue, if we can’t actually come up with actual goals to walk away and do, then I’d rather that be in solo queue.

That’s my ultimate goal. I have to provide more value to them. I have to provide tenfold more value to them in 45 minutes in the solo queue. That’s a pretty typical day where I just walk in, have these one-on-one interviews with players, figure out a problem to solve and then actually solve it. Then, hopefully, we figure out so many problems in one direction of things over a course of three months, then we say, “Hey, this is a problem that you started out with that you just no longer have,” which is an awesome feeling when you can just close that.

What are the typical problems that players face?

A lot of times, it really comes down to communication skills where they’re trying to communicate with teammates and trying to give them really good feedback that actually produces behavior change in others and they don’t know how to do it. They just don’t know how to bring a situation or modify their own expectations of others so that they can yield positive results when they give each other feedback. That is a really big thing.

This is the biggest help that I can do in order to make teams gel, is just creating those nice clean lines of communication and really help them set boundaries with each other that yield success consistently over time. This is also very much true of the way that coaches communicate with their players as well. When I first started out, the majority of my time was actually spent directly with coaches, trying to help them problem solve how to motivate their players over a long period of time. Then, beyond that, we’re thinking that there’s the typical things that you’d expect, which is helping players deal with tilting in-game, helping them recover and build that momentum of resilience.

You spoke a bit about being a woman in esports. Do you think it’s important for women to be involved in all aspects of esports?

I don’t even think that way. I don’t classify and I think that is the essential skill that I hope that I can actually teach players. I think that having diversity and having many different kinds of thoughts, whether it be from your region that you’re from—your hometown or whatever—whether it be your gender, we have to have different points of view.

We just simply will not arrive at the optimal solution if we do not have everybody’s point of view, if we haven’t seen the problem from every angle. This is like the quintessential part of my job as the problem solver type, where it’s like, “How can you possibly arrive at an adequate solution for everyone if you haven’t seen everything?” You need lots of different eyes to be able to see from all angles. I hope that makes sense.

It does. Your perspective sounds like it ties into your job.

I think it’s essential to be open-minded and if you walk into any situation with an expectation of what you will see, then you’ll only see that. If you walk into a room with an expectation about what a woman will bring, then you’ll only see that, or if you walk into a room with an expectation of what a young man can bring… I think that age is very much an issue in esports as well. It’s alarming to see the amount of prejudice that exists over age.

I consider myself an elder in esports right now. Only until recently have I actually felt like I had a perspective that really felt included in the overall framework of teams, but there is just a degree of, “You can’t possibly know. You can’t possibly relate to me. You can’t possibly be of use because you don’t look the package that I expect you to be because I’m younger. I am a younger millennial, or I’m Gen-X and therefore, I have a perspective that cannot take yours in.” I think that’s a really awful mindset. I think it’s a scary mindset too, because look how much information and experience you lose out on when you make it an exclusive case. I really hate gatekeeping. It bugs me.

It’s a great point about age. I just turned 30, so I’m an elder too.

Yes! Esports elders.

It’s cool to hear how it all came together, from watching the League of Legends broadcast to now working with CLG.

If I have any positive message for anybody, it’s that I saw that broadcast in 2012 and it wasn’t until 2015 that I got the guts to message Weldon to work on assignment. There is a lot of, “You can’t do this. This is for other people. You need your master’s. No one’s going to believe you. You have no authority. Your voice doesn’t matter.” I think the biggest growing point I’ve had over this entire journey of going and trying esports psychology or performance coach, it just did not exist as a thing. You have to be so courageous. You just have to dare to do these kinds of things.

I think if there’s any message that could be brought forth from this interview, I’m hoping, it’s that, that you need to dare to try. You need to dare to be yourself and dare to be great in whatever profession you choose. Especially in esports, the sky’s the limit. You get to decide the impact that you are going to have in this industry more so than anywhere else because you get to decide what the industry needs and you get to carve out your space. You just can’t take no for an answer. If you have something in you that you know you can give, then by golly, figure out a way to give it because you deserve to, and the world deserves to hear your perspective.