Careers in Esports: Amy Jantzer, Web Development for Blizzard Entertainment
For this edition of Careers in Esports, we’re taking a look at some of the more technical aspects of esports, Web Development. It’s not as flashy as a coach or a shoutcaster, but it’s certainly just as important. Without a doubt, fans will interact with a Web Developer’s work every day.
We talked to Amy Janzter, a Lead Product Manager for Web Development at Blizzard Entertainment. She oversees the Hearthstone esports webpages for Blizzard and walks us through what it takes to build up the entire ecosystem that you see today.
What was your first job in esports?
So back in 2015-ish, I used to run Fireside Gatherings in the Orlando, Florida area. So casual meetups for players to play Hearthstone. The first couple that I hosted we were just kind of casually getting together, but then players that were attending started asking if I would host tournaments for them to play in. I think some of them were very competitive. We had a lot of Legend players, so they were looking to kind of flex some of those kills.
So in 2016, I started to run more tournaments for people to come to, which eventually led to us participating in a program that Blizzard used to do, the Tavern Hero Qualifiers.
The Tavern Hero Qualifiers were the grassroots seated qualifiers to get players into the Hearthstone Championship Tour, which was the flagship program at that point for Hearthstone. So that was kind of my first. As that progressed into the Tavern Hero Qualifiers, it progressed into me hosting actual HTC preliminaries and playoffs at my location. That’s when it turned into a paid contract gig for the time that we would run those events.
Basically, I guess, a professional event organizer for Hearthstone in the 2016 timeframe.
So how did that turn into Web Development for Hearthstone?
So my degree is in computer science and IT that I got at the University of Central Florida. Several paths of different jobs: I worked retail to put myself through college, I ended up getting into sales, and then I ended up having a marketing consultancy job for several years that was eventually acquired by a digital tech agency. That eventually became a mobile app development company.
When I was at the mobile app development company, which was called Echo, we would host a lot of tech meetups for the community in Orlando. So I had kind of the infrastructure and the ability to host events, and I decided, just for fun, to host the Fireside Gatherings ones. Eventually, over the years of doing the Fireside Gatherings and working with Blizzard, I got to know some of the people working in the esports industry. So Anthony Vitale, who is still there, I just work with him in a different capacity now, so someone reached out to me when the Fireside Gatherings website program manager position became available. It was something that sounded very interesting to me.
I did apply for it and eventually got the job. Since then, I have become the lead of the Hearthstone portfolio, which oversees the game site, the Fireside Gatherings site, and the esports site as well.
Can you walk us through getting a website, like the Hearthstone Masters page, up and running?
A lot of it is tons of conversations to understand goals, division, and then requirements: getting a list of how things are going to run.
I think of the biggest things that we worked with the esports team on was looking at what their year-long schedule looked like and what the broadcasts looked like. What were some of the goals they wanted to achieve were, and the, as we start to narrow down those plans, we then start to dig into technical requirements.
So working with some of our other counterparts within the Blizzard organization, like our esports platform folks. Some of the other teams are the game team, for example, the web team is technically an extension of the game teams, so we’re very close to them, but we are different teams.
So a lot of coordination, a lot of discussions involving a lot of different people. So engineers, designers, we have QA, as well as editorial on our team. A lot of people and a lot of talking.
We did a lot of user testing, as well. We stood us some prototypes and wireframes early on to get a sense of what players found valuable and what they were looking for, what kind of information they were seeking when they would come to the website, with regards to esports.
A lot of being, “Hey, I want to know what the schedule is.” And to this day the schedule is one of our most frequented pages for our players.
So how long does it take to get a single page like that up and running from the beginning?
So we have single pages, right, for a kind of overview of the program. But there’s an entire ecosystem of the site that is hundreds of pages at this point.
So we actually started small, and the first we actually stood up for the esports teams was what we considered a tournament page. It’s kind of a single page location that has everything you could potentially want to know about that tournament: the players, the schedule, if you could see it in person what is the location, sponsors, anything that has to do with that single event.
Brackets, standings, player information, all that stuff. From there, it kind of grew out as, “Hey, you know it’d be really nice if we had a schedule for the whole ecosystem and not just for this one tournament.” Or, “It’d be nice if we had more details about each bracket that was played,” which then evolved into the match pages that we have now.
That evolved into more information on the players, so we have the player profile pages for the Grandmaster players. So we started small and iterated and got that good and then built upon that as a foundation and eventually built out the whole ecosystem.
So when you land on the esports site, there’s kind of a homepage feeling and then from there, you can go on and dig into anything else that you want for esports.
And then you’re a project manager if I’m not mistaken?
I am a product manager, which is different.
My role involves a lot more strategy, where I’m actually determining the direction of the product and the product in our case being the website. Everybody comes to us saying what they want—the game team, esports team, data protection team—and it’s my job to design a strategy around that that aligns with their business goals and also the different department goals and requirements that are coming in.
We do have Project Managers on our teams, but they deal a lot more with scheduling, resourcing, unblocking the team, more day-to-day activities. I’m diving more into the data and looking at user research. Doing a bit more of the product side of it.
Mobile is huge – you know that of course – what are some of the challenges the dominance of mobile consumption has brought to your plate?
I think some of the things for web specifically, is making sure that the players who come to our pages, and in this context, we call our customers players and esports competitors as competitors—when we have our players come to the website on a mobile device, we want to be cognizant of using up too much of their cellphone bandwidth.
So it’s things like making sure that images and videos on the site are sized properly so both aren’t consuming too much of the players’ bandwidth. We also want the page to load nicely for them, right? Then there’s also this idea around responsive or adaptive mobile designs. So making sure that if the player comes to the page that they’re able to view that information in the best way possible on a mobile device.
I think one of our biggest challenges was around brackets. It’s really hard to look at a huge bracket with 24 players on it and make it easy for the person looking at that page on mobile to navigate and jump to different sections of it, so we had some big challenges to overcome there.
We had to make sure the information was presented nicely. I also think that harnessing some of the natural things that mobile does well—video players are some of the native things you can tap into. That probably covers most of it.
Any other aspects of your job that you’d like to talk about?
A lot of what my job, in particular, comes down to is synthesizing a lot of varied information. So sometimes I’m looking at spreadsheets and analytics and trying to decipher information out of the data. Other times, I’m sitting in a room full of executives pitching an idea or just debugging what we would call an ops issue—so a live issue that is broken and is affecting our players’ ability to do something on the website.
I wear a lot of hats in the product management role and you have to be a subject matter expert. So if anybody comes to me I need to know how to fix it or know who can fix it. A lot of context switching. So having the experience I have in my background, like retail being customer service, networking, and relationship building is a huge piece of success in just about any industry. So being able to build relationships and make it easy to get things accomplished with those relationships that you build.
Those are some of the soft skills that you don’t necessarily see on a resume, but I think networking and being able to synthesize a lot of different types of context and information and make sense of it and turn it into a strategy that actually pushes the product forward.
Well, you covered a lot of my next question about critical skills there, so is there anything else a high school student should look into doing right now if they want to get into Web Development?
Depending on what their interest level is, there’s basically a triad that exists in almost any web development company. Some type of PM, either product or project, design, and then engineering. In some cases, some of those disciplines are split up even more like back-end engineering versus front-end engineering. Design could be UX versus UI.
Understanding what that person feels passionate about and knowing that for anything to be a success they’re going to have to work with those other disciplines. So understanding what they can about those other disciplines.
It really helps me as a product manager to actually have an engineering background because I can have intelligent conversations with my engineers and actually understand when they’re trying to explain something to me or we’re trying to solve a difficult problem.
And then, as a hobby, I’m actually an artist and so being able to also sit next to a designer and have an appreciation for the work that they do. Whatever it is they want to do—if someone is passionate about design, maybe take an elective in computer science or business or project management and get well-rounded.
People that are well-rounded have the best opportunity to make the biggest impact.
So say a student wants to do what you do, like creating the website for Hearthstone Masters or StarCraft esports, what should they do now? Should they build websites for their favorite games?
That’s an excellent way to get your hands dirty. So much of what I learned I did not learn in school. So much of what I learned was hands-on experience.
Finding nonprofits are an excellent way to get your hands dirty on a real project. I know sometimes when students are trying to perfect or hone a skill—there’s just this imaginary group project that’s hard to get motivated to do.
I did a lot of work with charities and nonprofits my whole life and I think that taught me a couple of things. One, it taught me how to work in the professional world. You just get exposed to things like board room meetings or task notes or meeting notes. The kind of day-to-day stuff that you just don’t see in school.
Getting exposed to those things is good, so volunteer work is great. The output of that is usually something tangible that you can put on a resume too, which is nice.
Last question, what do you love most about esports?
I really think it’s the people. For me, it’s less about the game. I love Hearthstone, I’ve actually played it since beta, but I think seeing the people I’m working with, the people have been great. I love seeing the enthusiasm, especially as the new players come into the system. I love seeing how they manipulate the system.
I actually think one of my favorite things about being a product manager is seeing how people misuse your product and learning from that. Sometimes it’s your fault, sometimes it’s not. You just don’t expect players to do certain things and when they do you’re like, “Oh, okay,” and there’s a lot to learn from that.
The people I work with and the players that play the game are the most interesting thing about it. I’m kind of a nerd so I do live the numbers and stats. I tend to dig into those and pull all kinds of fun reports to see; in one case it was the most copied deck during a tournament or what was the most viewed page during X weekend. I tend to noodle on that kind of stuff too.