Britanni Johnson is best known for her work as “Angel” in the Borderlands series, but at one point, the cybernetic face we all know and love was a single audition away from never making it to our screens.
“If I did not audition for Borderlands and get that job, I probably would be working in Houston or Washington D.C. as a lawyer with a completely different life,” Johnson said.
Now a staple figure in the esports industry, Johnson’s surge of esports success can all be attributed to its unorthodox beginnings. We at Syft were lucky enough to sit down with Johnson to learn more about her life, her career and what it means to be a woman breaking barriers as part of one of the most popular esports organizations in the world, G2 Esports.
Johnson was born in Texas but lived in Japan for a few years, cementing her childhood as anything but ordinary. As a child model, she would often be recognized on the streets of Japan while walking with her parents, with passersby offering her candy, flowers and toys. After her brief stay in Japan, the six-year-old Johnson returned to Texas.
By the time she was in college, Johnson – in her own words – accepted a life as a lobbyist. She went to Texas Christian University, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Political Science with a focus in Energy Technology and Management to prepare for what she thought would be a career in oil and gas.
Johnson underwent bold initiatives in college such as interning for the NFL’s Super Bowl Host Committee for Super Bowl 45, which took place in Dallas. She pitched the idea of interning for the host committee herself, as it was not one of the internship opportunities available to Political Science majors. Nevertheless, she made it happen, in the process delivering opportunities for local businesses and governments in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
While it seemed like the “natural steps” for someone who lived in Texas to go into a career in oil and gas, it was not what Johnson wanted to do. Growing up, Johnson had always been around video games because her father and grandfather were both engineers and were constantly into “the new thing” coming out. As such, they would let her play whatever games they were playing.
“I remember when games were on floppy disks … and sitting on my grandfather’s lap while he played Doom,” Johnson recalls. Other memories include watching her grandfather playing The Hunt for Red October and playing Duck Hunt for herself, when she’d take the Zapper to the screen to get all the ducks.
Johnson is also very appreciative of the fact her parents supported her video game playing, which – during the 1990s – was unheard of. This was when the Entertainment Software Rating Board began implementing restrictions on the types of games the public could play.
“Even when I was grounded, the one thing I was always allowed to do was play games,” she said. “They were like ‘yeah, you’re still learning, you’re still enriching your mind.’”
Looking back at it now, Johnson thinks her parents’ attitude towards gaming was “pretty cool.” She considers herself very lucky and grateful in that regard.
That being said, she does not think her parents ever expected her to get into the video game industry which – by all accounts – happened by chance.
One day during her sophomore year, Johnson auditioned for a video game which she thought was just a student project. After five auditions, she finally got the job and remembers how they filmed the game during her spring break and often drove to the studio to work on the script after her classes.
The game she got hired to work on was the original Borderlands, by Gearbox Studios. She acted as “Angel,” the fan-favorite deuteragonist of the first two games. Little did she know then how this role would shape the course of her professional career.
Johnson said that working with Gearbox helped her learn and understand some of the processes which go into video game development, which she considers herself “very lucky” to have seen. One of Johnson’s most memorable moments while working on the game came when she walked into a room with an artist.
Once inside, it took her a moment to realize that he had been drawing her – or what would eventually become Angel – just from the photos she sent from social media.
“It was a really cool opportunity,” she said. “I’ve always been a lifelong gamer and never knew that a career in gaming was an option.”
This is why when work began on Borderlands 2 after she graduated, Johnson sat down with Gearbox to discuss her future.
Though she initially planned to go to law school, Johnson went to Los Angeles to promote Borderlands and never looked back. Knowing she could make inroads in the video game industry in Los Angeles helped propel her into the entertainment capital of the world. In her mind, careers in the video game industry were rare while law school would always be there. But then, all of a sudden, Borderlands was there, too.
Since the release of Borderlands, not only has Johnson displayed her talents in other games by voicing characters such as “Nona” in Oxenfree, she has also been a host and award presenter for various events such as the SXSW Gaming Awards, the Esports Awards and so on.
What’s more, she has consulted and done strategy work for many organizations and is currently the Head of Creators at G2 Esports. Despite her accolades, though, Johnson says the journey has not always been smooth.
“A couple years ago, people were like ‘You can’t do both, you have to pick talent or business,’ and I’m like ‘Why?’” she recalls. “I am perfectly capable and able to do both. When one starts to lag because of the other, that’s when I’ll make that decision. Until then, I will always do the things that make me happy.”
Though Johnson enjoys being a part of the industry, there were some particularly egregious moments which stood out to her. For example, during one of the meetings she attended, a man looked over and asked her “Whose girlfriend she was,” as she was the only woman in the meeting.
As incredibly offensive as that sounds, Johnson does not look back in anger. Rather, she laughs about it now as those same people are now colleagues and good friends.
After being the only woman in a meeting, Johnson is now noticing more women taking up leadership roles in the industry, which makes sense considering how 41% of all gamers in the United States are women.
As women continue to make inroads in gaming, Johnson says that it’s important to celebrate and spotlight the women who are currently in the industry. That way, women with interesting stories can be celebrated and brought to the forefront.
“It’s just about putting those women in positions where they are very visible and we show that this is not going away,” Johnson said. “It’s ok that it’s [the video game industry] is not a male-dominated industry anymore.”
Johnson adds that though she has not experienced a lot of toxicity personally, she does understand the space can be incredibly toxic, even with all the moves which have been made to lessen that harshness. Primarily, she says once toxic masculinity is removed from the equation, the video game space will become more welcoming and positive for all people – not just women.
As the Head of Creators at G2 – wherein she manages and builds out the strategy and recruitment for everything creator-related – Johnson understands the importance of having a multinational staff and roster as well as the importance of having women in various executive positions. Moreover, Johnson says the experience she’s accumulated from her different positions and roles helps her look at contracts, business and communications in a more empathetic-yet-informed manner.
Furthermore, by overseeing such a varied group, G2 can observe and apply strategies which work in some regions and apply it to others. G2 was originally founded in Spain but is now headquartered in Berlin, with offices in various countries as it has grown.
G2’s growth is synonymous with esports’ growth as a whole, as Johnson sees professional gaming eventually becoming on-par with traditional sports. Specifically, she feels the next steps would be to turn athletes into personalities akin to LeBron James and to build content which is “digestible” to casual viewers.
“The more that stuff is in people’s faces, the more that it becomes respected as a sport and an entertainment vertical,” she said.
Because of how busy she is, Johnson does not have time to invest in some of her favorite games like Final Fantasy VII or its remake. She has been able to play certain games like Destiny and Ghosts of Tsushima, along with other games.
Lastly, she makes it a habit to make sure her mental health is in a good place and mindful of not burning herself out.
“One of the things I’ve learned, especially the last year, was you have to disconnect,” Johnson said. “When I sit down at the end of the night, I completely put my phone away, become unavailable to everyone.”
Doing so allows her to enjoy other things such as playing the aforementioned games or cooking. Considering the numerous jobs and projects she works on, taking time for herself seems crucial.
Sometimes, taking a chance is all that’s needed to completely change the direction of your life. It’s a lesson Johnson can attest to: if her more than decade-long career as an esports personality, innovator and leader is any indication, taking chances can work wonders. With all the opportunities available, it never hurts to reach out.
“You can’t sit around and just wait for it to pop up, or wait for it to come to you. You’ve got to make it for yourself,” she concluded.
We at Syft wish Johnson nothing but the best in her future endeavors, be it as an actor and as an executive for G2 Esports. Johnson’s Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn can be found here, here and here, respectively.