LONG BEACH — Dawnya Davis, a veterinary technician mostly known locally as a dog groomer, is a world-class celebrity in the mobile gaming world. CRBJ spoke with her about her amazingly different careers.
What came first, the grooming or the gaming?
“I’m a lifetime veterinary technician. I worked in Key West (Florida) for a dermatologist and I worked for the mounted division of the police department as vet tech. I can do dental work and anesthesia surgeries — all that kind of stuff. I went and learned how to groom dogs and took my dermatology and vet tech skills with me. I’ve been here for three years now.”
Moving from Florida… That had to have been a big change?
“It was a big change but I was actually born and raised here, fifth generation.”
Do you consider yourself a groomer or a gamer first?
How much time do you devote weekly to grooming and gaming?
“Lately I’ve been working 12-hour days grooming. Gaming I devote about an hour per day. You can over stimulate your brain which will hinder your gaming.”
How did you first get introduced to the mobile game Clash of Clans?
“Six years ago I lost the vision in my left eye. I went to the University of Miami to figure out why because it was sudden and without cause. They couldn’t figure out why but they noticed one of the veins had collapsed and shut down the optic nerve. They told me to play mobile games that would make my eyes track (the movement) to keep the muscles fresh and that’s when I started playing Clash of Clans because my daughter was playing it.”
So six years ago you started playing Clash of Clans to rehabilitate your eye essentially, when did you realize you were really good?
“Almost immediately. I just took to it right away. It’s like a puzzle but it’s a team sport too.”
What’s the objective of the game?
“It’s a war and a puzzle. You have 50 teammates to play along with and you basically support each other, but you have to try to best the other team by building the best base puzzle and then attacking it with a wide arrange of troops. It looks simple but it’s super competitive. People get on headsets, talk to each other and break the bases down.”
How long do the matches last?
“There’s a 24-hour prep time to get your bases built and then 24 hours of war. It’s 48 hours total.”
I understand there are individual rankings, where are you ranked and how did you ascend?
“I was on the Super Cell forums and they were doing test wars. They chose me to do a test war because I had been around for so long. It eventually led to them inviting me out because I had the most knowledge of those 50 people they had chosen at random. I became a war general responsible for putting the bases together. They decided they were going to put the next war on competitive television and they flew me out to Finland because their headquarters is in Helsinki. I went out and played live in front of six million people and we won. It’s the biggest gaming league in the world with 12 million users. They invited me out again for the 6th anniversary of Clash of Clans. I test all their updates now and give them feedback as a gaming professional.”
When were you invited out to Finland the first time?
“April 2017. Then the latest time was just a couple weeks ago.”
I think of the stereotypical gamer as an unkempt teenager slugging energy drinks in front of a wall of computer monitors, is that changing?
“Absolutely. On my team I have a stockbroker from Hong Kong, a world-champion ballroom dancer, a guy who runs a Major league Baseball stadium, a plumber — they’re from all over the world. They’re all over age 30. It’s professional adults who often play these games. Money is involved now but I don’t play for money, some do.”
I noticed in the promotional video that you were the only female competitor; is that typical?
“Yes, females are rare. I think there are more in this game (Clash of Clans) because it’s more puzzle based and not first-person shooter type of game. It takes a fair amount of strategic smarts and poise and I think women are better at the game because we’re a little more calm. When you hear a male and female gamer talk there’s a huge difference. Women just seem to handle chaos a bit better.”
What’s been your experience in a male-dominated gaming world?
“My first experience was interesting because my gamer tag is ‘Pickles’ and it isn’t gender specific, so everybody would call me ‘bro’ or ‘dude’. When it first started people didn’t want females in their competitive wars or on their team but now it’s changed to where it’s more socially acceptable. I think it’s changing. I think women are gaming more often now that they realize they don’t have to shoot things.”
Have you ever experienced any harassment while gaming?
“Oh yeah. I was going to make a coffee table book out of the inappropriate pictures I would get from online gamers (ha-ha). A lot of the Indian and Eastern Asia continents don’t recognize women as being allowed to play and sometimes they’ll be rude or inappropriate.”
What do you feel is the biggest misconception about gaming?
“One of the biggest misconceptions is that the gaming companies are money grabbers but this gaming company (Supercell) absolutely cares about what people think and how people experience it. They really care. They have a department called Community Managers who speak Japanese, Russian or English. You can reach out to them any time with an issue and they will address it immediately.”
With your lofty world ranking, do gamers react to you like a celebrity when you log in?
“Yes! They’re like ‘Oh my gosh, ‘Pickles’ is here!’ They ask me what troops and what base I would use, that kind of stuff. I just try to be a good ambassador because I know it’s mostly kids that act like that. I do a lot of interviews with people on YouTube — they always want top gamers. It’s a weird feeling because I don’t feel like a celebrity, I’m just a dog groomer.”
When did your celebrity status start?
“The first time I went on a live steam in 2017. My gaming messages and my friend requests started blowing up by the thousands and it’s just been going on ever since.”
Has anyone recognized you in the outside world?
“Yes. I went to Portland to get a hotel and the clerk said “Pickles?” (ha-ha). My kids think it’s great because they play it and their friends all play, and when they see someone playing Clash of Clans they will ask if they know me. They never believe that I’m ‘Pickles.’
Has anyone asked for an autograph?
Aside from practicing an hour each day, is there anything special you do to prepare for the competitions?
“I don’t drink coffee. Sometimes I take a walk to relieve some nerves. We play for month to reach the finals. When it comes your turn in that final match you’re nervous and feeling terrified like you’re about to go on the stage with Green Day. Often hundreds of thousands are watching live as it’s happening.”
What’s the most people you recall tuning in for a competition?
“Our live stream in April had more than 12 million viewers. We had big microphone booms and camera drones flying overhead.”
What skills or attributes make a good gamer?
“Definitely hand and eye coordination for the game I play. Being able to visually see it and then execute is a key element. Quickness and adaptability, you have to be able to improvise and stay calm, you can’t just quit.”
Is there common ground between gaming and dog grooming?
“Yes, you always have a moving target in front of you. You’re trying to conquer the dog essentially, and it’s the same with gaming.”
Did you ever envision any of this?
“No. But I’ve always played games with my brothers. I got it from them, the ability to get in there and game. I always thought I would be the vet tech mom that lives an average life.”