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Athena ‘Kitty’ Jiang: A Pursuit of Passion

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The name Kitty has become a staple within the Oceanic and League of Legends community as a whole throughout the years. From minor YouTube appearances, through her climb to Challenger, to sitting on the LCO couch throughout 2022 — Athena “Kitty” Jiang has come a long way from her humble beginnings.

With so many achievements all by the age of 20, Kitty has persevered against the challenges thrown in the path of her journey, finding success while doing so — and she has no plans on stopping.

Yet, success was far from easy. She was made to fight her way through high school, young adulthood, mental health and social media — proving to everyone that her reputation was rightfully earned and not given.

Kitty often watched her family friends as they gamed, and their obsession back in 2012 was a free-to-play MOBA named League of Legends. Her first glance at the Summoner’s Rift left her far from impressed; prior to the Season 5 visual update, the Rift and its champions were a bit of an eyesore.

Still, she was intrigued. As she fell for the trap of free-to-play, she made her Oceanic League of Legends debut — then as ‘DeathKittyQQ’.

“I’ve liked cats ever since I was a kid,” she explained to Snowball Esports, “and wanted to make my league name ”kitty”, but I didn’t want it to sound too cute so I added “death” in front of it.”

“Plus, the most popular Chinese messaging app from 2012 was called QQ, so my first League name was DeathKittyQQ. Eventually I grew pass my edgy teen phase and settled on Kiitty because Kitty was unavailable at the time.”

Even after DeathKittyQQ spawned into the map, she still struggled to find the appeal of the game and the learning curve was just a bit too steep.

“When I first downloaded the game, I didn’t know what was happening and I thought the game was really boring because it was too overwhelming.”

After leaving the game for a short while, she eventually dusted it off again and decided to take another crack at the MOBA, and it was here that she fell in love.

Legend tells that she’s still trying to claw her way out of the pit that she dug for herself.

Mutual friends led her to befriend the likes of RememberTheBeat, who would be integral in her trek into content creation.

Transitioning between primary and high school, she continued to play the game recreationally. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as easy one. As she was separated from friends, she developed severe social anxiety to the point that she spent the first few months of Year 7 in ‘independent study’ (watching Naruto), or skipping school entirely, resulting in rising tensions at home.

“I had this phase of my life when I just entered high school which is the reason that I played so much League,” said Kitty “None of my primary school friends ended up going to the same high school as me. I didn’t know anyone and I developed social anxiety in my first year.”

“It was pretty bad to the point that going up to a class and doing a presentation would literally have me burst into tears because I was so stressed. I played a lot of League to try and cover it up.”

“I’ve made friends online through League where there’s a lot of guys that just play the game but they’re really funny and I owe a lot of my personality to the guys that I grew up playing League with.”

With a brother twelve years her senior that was long out of the picture by the time she’d started her schooling, she was “basically raised as a single child”.

Her parents were against her use of the computer to such an excessive extent, something which Kitty admits to being addictive at the time, and it placed a strain on her home life.

“My parents were super stressed, they thought I wasn’t going to get into university. I also had a really bad immune system. Like, the wind would blow and I would get sick the next day.”

Luckily, professional and personal support networks within her schooling enabled her to overcome this mental hurdle. “I started tutoring and my grades got better,” she explained. “[My parents] took me to therapy. Eventually, I just got over [my social anxiety].”

“Although the girls at my school didn’t share the same interests as me such as gaming, they really brought me back to reality in having girl friends to talk about boys, Kpop and anime with.”

She grew closer with RTB, and would feature in a number of his early videos, earning a fanbase of her own. Finally, an incentive was offered: if a video of his received a certain number of likes, Kitty would have to start her own channel.

In 2015, as both creators were taking off, it was smashed with ease.

Recorded and edited on an old MacBook with Camtasia’s software and taking on a casual commentary style, she cites LilyPichu as a major inspiration.

“I remember I was playing on a 200 ping, 40 FPS type of computer,” said Kitty. “For two of my Bronze 5 provisionals in Season 4, I was 0 FPS because my family computer was just not it. I remember very specifically I was playing Annie and I was just AFK in the fountain. I had the same guy on my team two games in a row, and he flamed me two games in a row!”

Unfortunately, the setup was far from ideal as the age of the hardware limited the quality of content that she was able to produce and impacted her ability to play the game. She campaigned for a new computer with her parents, arguing that she was going to use it for her schoolwork — a bit of a white lie.

Despite finding success on YouTube, she struggled to achieve that work-life-play balance. Her motivation to attend school and her passion for content creation were both overshadowed by the hours she was racking up in Ranked Queue.

Even still, her love for the game continued to grow as she launched into the world of ranked League. It got to the point that she would call in sick in order to stay home and grind.

Once she made the decision to climb the ladder, there was nothing that would be able to stop her. Balancing schooling with her love for the game was difficult, and in the end, the ranked grind reigned victorious.

Kitty fondly recalls the first time she hit Platinum back in 2015; she’d called in sick, posted about it on Facebook, and her dad saw it. “I’d ditched school to play ranked that day for my promos and I got it. Thirty minutes after I hit Plat, my dad stomped back home and started yelling at me and he drove me to school.”

“But I hit Plat. If I didn’t hit Plat that day, maybe I wouldn’t be Challenger, y’know?” she quipped.

Befriending the likes of Katsurii, Kitty continued to climb and eventually hit Diamond, then Master, and eventually, Challenger.

But people were quick to dismiss her achievement, with words such as ‘boosted’ thrown in her direction. Publicly presenting as a female on social media, these words were coupled with loaded phrases like ‘egirl’.

Being so prevalent within the digital space, these comments found their way to her and they hit — hard.

But even that wasn’t enough to dishearten her. She was determined to prove them all wrong, and in 2021, she did.

Professional play was never on the cards for Kitty, citing her enjoyment of the game limiting her champion pool — something she refuses to compromise. 

“I was good enough to become a pro player. I was consistently hitting Challenger every single year but the thing that always stopped me was that I only play enchanters, I don’t play melee supports,” she explained.

“I always defaulted to the mindset that I’m playing for fun, and I want to play the champions that I found fun. Because, if I’m not playing pro, why would I want to play something that wasn’t fun?”

Other dissuasions from competitive play was the stress on top of her existing anxiety disorder as well as the unfortunately reality regarding the instability of the career path.

“OCE has its limits and I didn’t want to be that person that joined an average tier team, lost every single game, ruined my reputation and never had a redeeming quality.”

Following her graduation from high school, a professional career within the scene outside of competing presented itself as she started streaming on Twitch in 2020. “I started streaming three or four days a week,” she said.

The balancing act continued as her streaming career coincided with online university, where she studies Media & Communication, minoring in Psychology.

With a decent pre-existing following from social media, her viewer count grew with every stream. Despite her growth, there was still some resistance from her family.

“I remember telling my dad that he’d either watch me get 10,000 followers by the end of the year or I’d quit streaming and focus on university.” This became a promise. “That’s exactly what happened. I got 10,000 and continued streaming and he respected it.”

“My dad wanted me to continue university so I’m still doing part-time uni. Knowing me from years ago, I never balanced my work and school correctly,” she admitted. “I didn’t pass one of my subjects.”

She was brought on as a content creator for LCO team Peace in 2021, moving away from family for the first time as she joined their house during the off-split.

As she grew her following during her partnership with the org, they were looking to expand into a Chinese platform named DouYu, utilising Kitty’s second language to break through into a new audience.

Unfortunately, it came with its own plethora of issues.

“I was speaking in Chinese and I didn’t have a filter on my face. In the Chinese industry, everyone uses a filter on their face because you need to,” Kitty explained. “People would come in and say ‘you’re so chubby but you’re cute’. Over there, if a girl is more than fifty kilos, they’re considered fat. I was just over fifty at the time.”

“I also couldn’t be myself. I like making jokes but in Chinese I can’t even translate normal League terms. I cared about numbers so much that I lost three to five kilos of weight from the stress. Before that, I never viewed streaming as work, it was always a hobby.”

Kitty hit up the Mwave booth at PAX Australia in early October.

The experience took a toll on her, and she found herself absent from broadcasting for the next six months after moving back home, being “so burnt out from streaming every day.”

That same year, she was introduced to the newly furbished Oceanic League as they were taking applications for LCO co-streamers. Little did she know that it would dictate the next step of her career.

Finding familiarity and respect among players in the higher ranks, she was asked to be on the LCO Split 1 2022 talent team, where she’d be able to use this familiarity to make players more comfortable on cast.

“[The producers] thought I would have an extra level of friendship with the players so it wasn’t as artificial [on screen], which is the main reason I was considered over candidates even though I have no previous experience.”

Due to COVID restrictions, her professional broadcast debut took place online. Although she was keen to get stuck into it, her first cast unfortunately didn’t quite go according to plan.

“First day of LCO was so terrible — it’s still engrained in my mind,” she looked back on the experience with a laugh.

I started as a girl that knew nothing about casting to being at my first live event as an analyst.

Athena “Kitty” Jiang

“I turned on my camera and my lights. I sat there and didn’t know how I was supposed to look at the monitor or my notes. I have two monitors; one ahead of me, and one to the side of me. Everything’s mirrored, so when I was interviewing someone, I’d be looking at my notes and it seemed like I was looking away from them.”

“There was also a two second delay. There’s this clip on Twitch with Kyose where I was interviewing him and it was just the most awkward thing ever. People were calling us NPCs which made me upset. I was so anxious on the first day that I cried after the show because I knew I didn’t do a good job.”

But, as with everything in her career, Kitty remained committed to improvement. 

By the off-split, she made her international debut on the Mid-Season Invitational broadcast — an event she deems to be a highlight within her career.

“I tried to make the most of my moment where I roasted NA and EU. I remember that when my segment was over, I couldn’t type. I was literally shaking because I was so scared,” she recalled.

“I had no experience being on such a big broadcast but if I were to look back at myself, I’m so proud of what I did.”

Then, with the second LCO Split filmed live at ESL studios, her role was extended into an analyst. Things have only been uphill for her career as lots of exciting opportunities presented themselves. 

In June, she flew over to New Zealand for her very first LAN at the Redbull SoloQ Finals, which offered her a taste of what was to come.

Although she was a long time fan of the Oceanic League, she hadn’t attended the live finals before. Then, at DreamHack Melbourne she made her debut on the analyst couch alongside Ovilee, Emelg and Maximize for the very first live LCO Finals.

“The live crowd was really sick. I walked out and it was literally packed. When Balkhan stole the Baron in the finals, the whole crowd lit up and it was so surreal. Moments like that make me want to cast a live event again because it’s something you don’t forget.”

The relationship between Kitty’s parents and the game she loves so dearly also found resolution; they sat amongst fans in Margaret Court Arena throughout the duration of the finals.

“When I told them that I got offered this job at the LCO, they were super happy for me,” Kitty said. “I convinced my dad to come to the LCO Finals even though he doesn’t like traveling. He really liked it! He went from this grumpy old man yelling at me in my bedroom to slowly, slowly supporting me.”

“My mum was explaining the game to my dad; he didn’t know what was happening but he could feel the hype.”

Throughout the pandemic, it was also her first opportunity to meet her fans in person, an experience she detailed with a smile. “I had two meet and greets. I was standing there expecting no one to come and there was a huge line. It was really cool and everyone was super cute.”

Having a successful career that only continues to be on the rise, Kitty reflects on her journey so far with hindsight by her side. “The only thing I would change is the amount of stress I put on my parents throughout high school. I would tell my younger self to be more kind to my parents because I never treated them well when I was a kid; all I cared about was League.”

“You don’t see where they’re coming from. My parents came from a village. My mum was telling me about how she didn’t eat eggs throughout her entire childhood but I wake up to a table of food and I get to eat eggs every single day. I’m really thankful for my parents immigrating to Australia; they took such a big leap leaving everything behind in China.”

As a younger girl that grew up on social media, she had some other wise words for herself and anyone else in a similar position: “Do not get so worked up about other people’s comments. At the end of the day, they’re just people online. As long as you can prove to the haters that you’re better than what they describe you to be and shove it up their faces.”

Being “stubborn and a Leo”, she “really cares about pride”. Time and time again, this has only fuelled her determination to prove the non-believers wrong. “Every time I fail, I recognise those mistakes and turn it into something that benefits me in the end.”

From here, all she knows is that the sky’s the limit, but she’s unsure of what exactly the future entails. With hopes of moving into a more analyst focused role and with her bilingual specialty, she dreams to someday make her debut in a major region.

For now, she’s kicking back and taking the offseason to enjoy herself at events such as PAX AUS, streaming her solo queue adventures on Twitch, and spending some quality time with her cat Chobee.

“I’m very open to the idea of [working overseas]. Esports is so big now; I can go anywhere and I’m a 20 year old, so why not?”

Ten years into her journey and this is just the beginning.

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