Casey Thomas is not who you would imagine as a typical digital games developer.
But the chief executive of Ballarat based technology startup Dark Shadow Studios is kicking goals in the gaming world and breaking stereotypes while she is at it.
Ms Thomas was named in Develop Pacific's 2018 30 under Thirty list of Australia and New Zealand’s best rising stars in the gaming industry.
Her studios' virtual reality drone racing game Drone Legion was nominated for the 2018 Esports Title of the Year in the Australian Games Awards.
Her team's next major goal is to launch it to the gaming market.
Meanwhile, she is helping to drive digital games development in Ballarat and is playing a part in setting up the city's first eSports team.
To have our own local eSports team that is going to get their own fans and their own following is an extremely huge step for Ballarat.Casey Thomas, Dark Shadow Studios CEO
Her presentation at StartUp Ballarat's digital games development meet up on Thursday night created an excitement at the possibilities for the future in the gaming sphere for both Dark Shadow Studios and the broader Ballarat community.
Ms Thomas is relatively new to the games development world.
It is certainly not the first career pathway she has tried and is not what would she ever in her wildest dreams imagined herself doing.
Watch Casey Thomas interviewed in America.
"If you told me four years ago one day I would be standing in front of a room of like minded people helping grow games development in Ballarat, I would have said you were crazy," she said to a packed room of gamers at the StartUp Ballarat meet up on Thursday.
"I did massage therapy, tattooing, was a dental assistant, barista and I worked at Hungry Jacks for ages. I have done so many things because I couldn’t find a career path that I really stuck to.
"I was paying Darksiders in my spare time and was having so much fun and started thinking about how you go from being the player to the maker. That is what led me down the track of game design, studying and going to Melbourne. I never thought I would be here where I am right now though."
Dark Shadow Studios' game Drone Legion began as a 2016 university project at the Academy of Interactive Entertainment from a love of drones, virtual reality and eSports.
Ms Thomas said her every spare moment has been dedicated to creating the game since, while working two or sometimes three other jobs.
"My team and I went in with a cool game idea which was drone racing in virtual reality. They were two new industries emerging at the time," she said.
"I saw an opportunity in the market and thought we could merge the two together. Now we have built Marvel Stadium into the game which I am still blown away by."
Drone Legion is not yet released to the public, but has been showcased at major Australian gaming events including the Melbourne eSports Open at Rod Laver Arena and the AFL League of Origins grand final in 2018.
"I figured if we are making a competitive game what is stopping it from going into eSports?," she said.
"Why can't we create our own indie eSports with new local talent and fresh ideas?"
The Dark Shadow Studios team is planning to put the game online and make it global this year.
The hope is it will start making them money.
For now, the next showcase of Drone Legion is on Saturday with the Ballarat City Football Club at Moreshead Park.
It will be the first eSports tournament in Ballarat.
While Ms Thomas is excited to introduce Drone Legion to the Ballarat sporting and gaming community, she said the creation of Ballarat's first eSports team will be a huge step in the development of gaming in the city.
The Ballarat City Football Club eSports Tournament will run from 10am to 7pm at Morsehead Park Stadium on Saturday, while Ballarat City soccer teams will be playing at the ground from 9am.
Keen gamers or those interested in having a go can play Drone Legion and a racing game from a new developer in Melbourne called 22RS.
Participants can register to compete in time trials for a popular soccer game.
Prizes will be awarded for the fastest races and the best players could be selected to represent Ballarat in a new eSports team.
Eleven more eSports tournaments are planned to take place in Ballarat before September.
Ballarat City Football Club director of football James Robinson said was as excited as Ms Thomas about developing eSports in Ballarat.
It is fitting the football club is behind the establishment of Ballarat's eSports team, following Football Federation Australia's creation of an eSports league in 2018 and the UK Premier League's first eSports league launching this month.
Essendon Football Club and Adelaide Football Club also launched an eSports team last year.
Mr Robinson said eSports had become a part of the club process at the professional level of sport.
"Football is a vehicle. We talk about community engagement and bringing people together with the world game," Mr Robinson said.
"Seeing Casey’s passion was something that was driving me because I am like that with football. I know that sometimes we need to work together to be able to achieve something bigger than all of us.
"It has given us the opportunity to have full event days rather than just the regular football match. It is a component of being a football community, but now we have seen an opportunity in the market for eSports. It is an area where we have looked as a place we could put ourselves in not just at a regional but a state and national level."
Watch Casey Thomas interviewed for Indie Developer Diaries below.
The Ballarat eSports Tournament will be live streamed on Twitch - you can search for Ballarat City FC to watch the games live.
Ms Thomas said the event will be the start of exciting possibilities for eSports in Ballarat.
"I am a huge fan of the Essendon Bombers eSports team. There are established gamers already who have fans like myself who follow their schedule, see their events and go to their tournaments," she said.
"To have our own local eSports team that is going to get their own fans and their own following is an extremely huge step for Ballarat."
Technology consulting firm Activate suggests 70 million people will watch a single eSports final by 2020, a number higher than the viewership for U.S. professional baseball finals.
Ballarat's growing creative industries
City of Ballarat economic development sector specialist Kelli Moran says she is convinced digital games development will be a growing industry in Ballarat.
A digital games development event at Runway on Thursday evening was the biggest event since the beginning of the StartUp Ballarat program, highlighting a strong interest in the industry in Ballarat.
"City of Ballarat is looking at identifying what will be the growing industries in Ballarat. I'm pretty convinced digital games development is one of those future sectors," Ms Moran told The Courier on Thursday.
Around 50 people attended the digital games development event - many were young budding games programmers, artists, coders and designers and some were already working in the industry.
Ms Moran said she hoped the event was the start of creating Ballarat to be a games development hub.
"Dark Shadow Studios demonstrates what can be achieved locally," she said.
"There is a whole team of supporters around Casey and the studio locally.
"Tonight (Thursday night workshop) is about determining what our dreams are for a digital games development city. My personal dream is to see Ballarat as the regional games development alternative to Melbourne."
City of Ballarat's draft Creative City Strategy identifies digital games development as a key growth industry in Ballarat.
The strategy says council could provide support to the industry by providing venues and in-kind support for the running of creative skills development programs.
Ms Thomas and other games developers at the Thursday night meet up said they would love to see a hub for games developers created in Ballarat with programs and equipment and a collaborative space to work.
She provided the example of the Arcade in Melbourne and a monthly meet up of Melbourne game developers.
"We already have a Facebook page from Thursday night and another meet up coming up. We are just going to keep growing and keep connecting," Ms Thomas said.
"We need to build that community. There are gamers here, as we saw on Thursday night. It is just about getting them out of their - I don’t want to stereotype - but getting them out of their bedrooms from playing games to attending things in the community that is for them."
The Courier's new innovation series
Today The Courier launches its new series Ballarat Innovation; a feature of stories each week that showcase and celebrate industry, business, innovation and entrepreneurship in Ballarat.
The new series comes as part two of the More than Gold series that told the stories of Ballarat's diverse community members last year.
This new branch continues the aim of More than Gold to create a sense of pride in Ballarat's achievements and celebrate the fantastic people that make this city great.
In partnership with Committee for Ballarat, we hope these stories help create a sense of aspiration, a sense of excitement at the possibilities of what can be achieved in Ballarat, and a sense of confidence to take a risk.
We want to move past the buzz word idea of innovation and instead celebrate the diversity the word offers by telling the stories of new startups, long established businesses that are innovatively responding to change and challenges, and experimentation with technology.
As we tell the stories of Ballarat's innovators, we will also be asking the harder questions: what is needed to support and promote growth in industry in Ballarat?; how does Ballarat address the skills shortages that are holding so many business back?; how do we create the estimated 15,000 new jobs that are needed in the region by 2030 to support the projected population increase?; how do we ensure our education offerings are prepared for the changing nature of jobs; and how do we create more high level career pathways for Ballarat's youth?.
We hope you enjoy the journey, as we explore and celebrate innovation in Ballarat each Saturday.