TORONTO — Standing in front of a bank of screens, Jen (LemonKiwi) Pichette's arms are in constant motion as she documents the carnage in front of her.
"Toronto runs London over like a truck," she says, her voice rising.
Down below at the other end of the Mattamy Athletic Centre, the London Spitfire and Toronto Defiant are on stage hunched over their keyboards as they look to wreak havoc on each other before an enthusiastic crowd in Overwatch League esports play.
While each member of the five-person teams is hidden behind their monitor on stage, the players' faces are shown larger-than-life on screens adorning the front of the podium behind which they are seated. And the game action is displayed on a large screen above them.
The players go by gamertags, with Heesu, Although, Hotba, Chorong and Twilight leading the Defiant against London's Backbone, Sparkr, Hadi. Admiral and Landon.
The Montreal-born Pichette and British analyst Harry (Legday) Pollitt provided the soundtrack to the game — one of three sets of casters, as esports commentators are called — working the Toronto Defiant Summer Showdown which wrapped up Sunday with total attendance of some 4,000 expected over the four days.
The other woman among the six casters at the tournament was American Rosemary (Nekkra) Kelley.
The Dallas Fuel defeated the San Francisco Shock to win the US$225,000 event. Toronto finished third.
The 29-year-old Pichette brings a stacked resume to the table, with a bachelor's degree in biological and biomedical sciences and a master's in cellular and molecular biology, both from Laurentian University. Now living just outside Las Vegas, she has a biology teaching gig at College of Southern Nevada when she's not wearing her esports hat.
"Casting has a lot of travelling and is very spontaneous," she explained. "I don't have a schedule ahead of time. So I thought teaching would be a good way to use my degree but also have a flexible schedule of signing up for semesters and maybe taking a day off here and there to travel."
The move to the U.S. from school in Sudbury, Ont., was prompted in part because more esports opportunities are available south of the border.
Pichette signed on with the high-profile Overwatch League a year ago, but also works other games like Rocket League and Teamfight Tactics, often at the college level.
"I've tried to diversify a little bit because the industry can be insecure," she said.
Her first big casting assignment was for "Call of Duty," which also has a pro league. She then set her sights on the Overwatch League, "grinding" away until she got the job.
"I think it took me about four years to make the Overwatch League, just hovering in the ecosystem," she said.
Pichette grew up gaming and initially had dreams of playing professionally. But the investment in time was daunting and when a fledgling women's Call of Duty League circuit started looking for female casters, she switched gears a decade ago.
"I was like 'Yeah, I'll try it.' Because why I liked games so much was I really liked the strategy of it."
She started as an analytical caster then, after moving to Overwatch, switched to play by play. While she still mixes in analysis and tees up her partner for such comment, it gives her a chance to match the action with her enthusiastic call.
"My vocal cords have been tested a few times," she said with a laugh.
Because of the pandemic, the Toronto tournament was her first live event since BlizzCon 2019, the annual gaming convention staged by Blizzard Entertainment to promote Overwatch and its other major franchises.
Pichette has worked from home, surrounded by camera equipment, lights and green screens. She has made the best of it — "pyjamas on, business at the top and (I) go get a snack if I want to."
Back working in a live setting, she says she has had to watch not getting "fuelled too much" by the crowd. But there's more to casting than just pointing out someone has just been annihilated.
"I do a lot of hours of research on the teams. I love to be able to quote them on stuff," she said.
Past results, strengths, weaknesses and best heroes all figure into her commentary, with a stats team feeding her relevant numbers.
American Victoria (VikkiKitty) Perez was the first female Overwatch League caster, with Pichette the second. Pichette started calling league play this year after working Overwatch Contenders events and the Overwatch World Cup 2019.
"I feel like the women have been better at reaching out to the players and kind of tapping into the emotional side of players, how they feel after a loss or a win. And what's important to them … Not saying because we (women) care more about those things. But I find that we find different things important," Pichette said. "We have different perspectives."
She is especially sensitive to the trials of tribulations of players trying to make it in esports.
"I've always been that underdog myself in my career, trying to prove myself and trying to climb the ladder in (my) career and life. Trying to prove to people that I'm worth something," she said.
Pichette believes the Overwatch community is more open than that of some other games because it has a healthy roster of female heroes.
Language can be a barrier, with many South Korean players in the Overwatch League. But coaches and interpreters help make for a steady stream of intel.
As for choosing LemonKiwi as her gamertag, the reason is simple. She wanted StrawberryKiwi back in the day but "turns out it's a very popular fruit combination and it was not available."
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 14, 2022
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press