This is the fourth in a five-part series on women in the esports industry. Read the first part here. Today, our panel shares how they transitioned into the esports industry and how their experiences have been different from their male counterparts (or not).
As our panel has shown, there are many paths leading to the esports industry and we all know that transitioning to a new job can be a challenge, regardless of gender. As with any position, however, previous skills carry over that give them the means to thrive.
Being a competitive gamer, for example, allows Heather “sapphiRe” Garozzo, vice president of marketing for Dignitas , to better connect with the organization’s players and fans.
“I understand what it takes to compete and that insight can lead to a strengthened relationship with our players,” says Garozzo. “As a knowledgeable esports fan, I can help guide our marketing content to build authentic experiences for our audience.”
Likewise, Director of Initiatives for AnyKey, Morgan Romine, Ph.D. advocates for diversity and inclusion in gaming and esports based on her experience as an organizer and player.
“My background founding and leading the Frag Dolls gave me a wealth of personal experience and valuable perspective on the challenges faced by women and minority groups in the broader esports community,” says Romine. “My Ph.D. in cultural anthropology gave me the analytical tools to better understand these challenges and constructive ways to think through possible solutions.”
Elaine Chase, vice president of esports at Wizards of the Coast, applied what she experienced in the competitive circuit into creating an enjoyable experience for players.
“The breadth of experience I’ve had across the spectrum of being a competitive player, event organizer, game designer, and business leader gives me an incredible vantage point to be able to look at our programs as a holistic ecosystem,” said Chase. “Everything stems first from the player perspective. Is it fun to play? Is it exciting to watch? And then finding those win-win scenarios where we can take that player-first approach and drive business value for Wizards and for our partners.”
Working for the NFL gave Lindsey Eckhouse, commercial director at G2 Esports , a close look at what a mature sports ecosystem looks like, which she now applies to video games.
“The NFL is arguably one of the biggest sports brands in the world,” stated Eckhouse, “from rights delineation and innovative data partnerships, to deal architecture. I am hopeful that I can bring some of this expertise to the team and simply grow our already thriving partnership businesses while identifying new revenue streams.”
ESL North America CEO Yvette Martinez-Rea brought over 15 years of broad-based operational management experience to the role…and a little help from her kids.
“Much of that time was spent leading major change initiatives and driving teams to adapt to major shifts in consumer behavior and stay ahead of new tech innovations,” Martinez-Rea recalled. “All of that has been terrific experience that allows me to bring new operational structure, build strong cross-functional teams and help the business build the muscle we needed to scale, monetize and serve our partners. At the end of the day, esports is a media and content creation business and the fundamentals of how you do that remain largely the same across companies.
Credit: Intel Gaming
“I am not a gamer, but my kids are—and they keep me close to how our fans and players think. I have become a fan, however, thanks to the enthusiasm and generosity of my team who have taught me how to watch and enjoy following Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Hearthstone, and other titles.”
Wendy Lecot, head of strategic alliances and digital marketing innovation at HyperX has worked in technology marketing throughout her entire career but raising children gave her another perspective.
“As a kid, I grew up playing arcade games at the mall, but it wasn’t until we became a World of Warcraft family that I learned about gaming as global community,” said Lecot. “Each game has its community and understanding those profiles is extremely helpful when I am speaking to non-gaming brands about how to align with the right gamer audience. Being a woman in gaming, I experience how few of us there are every day and this motivates me to advocate for equal accessibility and inclusion in gaming or the gaming industry.”
Story Mob Co-Founder Nicola Piggott says that the craft of communications had become second-nature for her, but getting immersed with the esports world, itself, was the demanding part.
“I’d watched competitive gaming as a casual fan, but hadn’t followed leagues or players in a dedicated and focused way,” recalls Piggott. “I thought it would be hard for me to get up to speed, but actually the passion for it came easily. I identified quickly with the pros’ stories and cheering them through triumphs and consoling them through losses felt very natural. At the same time, I worked hard to try to improve my analytical knowledge of the games I worked on at a high level so that my knowledge of the sport wasn’t just surface. Now I work across multiple ecosystems—it’s almost a full-time job.”
Ann Hand, CEO of Super League Gaming, found that going from large companies to heading up a small one comes with its own unique challenges.
“On one hand, you go, ‘well, it’s a small team’—it’s a fraction of the size of some of the teams I’ve had at large public companies,” says Hand. “But you’re trying to do something that’s never been done before. So it definitely tests your skill level and you have to develop some new skills. You have to be a lot more resilient because you don’t have the infrastructure around you. You have to be a lot more nimble. It’s just a different muscle that you have to develop and flex.”
The Esports Observer’s Head of Events, Prinita Naidoo found the transition to the esports world easy because she is still doing what she does best.
“I can take the skills that I have and put them in any industry and that’s exactly what I did,” commented Naidoo. “To run an event you have to be good at project management and the details and getting things done. It helps me to learn more about who the key role players are in esports so that when I’m programming a conference or something like that, you know the right people to talk to and you understand what the different companies do and why that’s important and how that fits together. The more you learn, the easier it is to make connections. I couldn’t say I’ve learned specific skills in another job that was esports specific because I didn’t.”
When G2 Esports head of communications Karina Ziminaite joined the industry, it was clear to her that it was still in its infancy.
“As a journalist who worked in [the] media industry for eight years, I felt that I could contribute massively bringing in the professionalism and the storytelling from traditional media and creative PR,” Ziminaite said. “My experience has not only put the process and structures in place to ensure my team and I are working as efficiently as possible, but it’s also helped me work better with players and talent within our industry and better tell their story.”
The Story Mob Co-Founder Kalie Moore had been in PR for over eight years when she joined BITKRAFT . Despite not having worked in esports before, she went to work learning everything she could.
“I did have global experience under my belt having worked with media in Europe, US, Asia, and South America, and having lived and worked in California, Washington D.C., Istanbul, and Berlin,” said Moore. “I approached esports like I would any new industry by getting up to speed on the leading teams, events, thought leaders, and by mapping out and building relationships with key media in each region.”
Nielsen Esports Managing Director Nicole Pike facilitated the company’s move to esports measurement, and says that transitioning was like bringing her career “full circle.”
“Before moving into gaming, I worked for Nielsen for a handful of years on our brand side of the business,” said Pike. “I have always been a huge sports fan and athlete, so moving closer to the sports business side of gaming via esports really connected with my personal passion points.”
Story Mob Co-Founder Anna Rozwandowicz always knew she loved two things—building things and bringing people together, and communications have a healthy dose of both.
“I already knew I had a thing for words and getting things done, so (marketing) communications was a great choice for my studies,” said Rozwandowicz. “I refused to settle until I found something that made my heart sing. It took me over 10 years to get to a leadership position in communications in an industry I truly wanted to be a part of.”
Christie St. Martin, senior director of social strategy for Sparks said the most exciting part of transitioning to esports was working with an incredible creative team, many of whom are gamers.
“…like our incredible Jr. designer Iris Kwon, who if she’s not working is playing Call of Duty religiously,” St. Martin gushed. “Or finding out that our Senior Creative Director Chuck Conner had considerable esports experience and used to work for Lucas Films. Our newest senior producer Alex Querna worked on various Blizzard esports events before joining our team.
“We have rockstar production assistants like Albert Villena, formally with Activision (who has the cleanest sneakers I have ever seen at all times…) to Alejandro Arias-Camison, a motion graphics artist who once worked on Call of Duty work to Brandon Ewer, maybe the most hardcore League of Legends fan we have in our Philly office who just joined our Interactive design team this year. I also found out that Lisette Sheehan who runs our measurement team actually did the measurement for IEM in Katowice which was a huge deal. Total rockstar data diva.”
Sabrina Ratih, G2 Esports partnership executive, attributes a strength in storytelling to her time at Red Bull.
“For me, creating partnerships is about telling authentic and engaging stories that resonate with our audience and the audience of our brand partner,” said Ratih. “I love to find the strategic sweet spot that makes both brands click. I hope that my expertise in a brand turned publisher environment, combined with my knowledge of forming strategic global agreements and orchestrating cross-functional teams will help G2 grow their partnerships and cement themselves as the leading esports entertainment asset.”
Now that they have arrived in the industry, so to speak, we asked our panelists if their experiences have been noticeably different than their male counterparts.
“In my current role as building Alliances? No, it’s not different,” said Lecot. “However as a woman, I do find that it’s even easier to get speaking engagements as the voice of women in gaming is highly sought after.”
Ratih and Eckhouse both agree that at G2 Esports, their experiences are no different from the men.
“I certainly do not game as much, but I do consume a lot of content. My goal is to start actually playing,” said Ratih.
“The passion for this fast-paced industry is the same,” added Eckhouse. “The only difference comparing me with some of my colleagues is that I’m not an active gamer…yet. Watch me get better.”
“Watch out for us!” Ratih added.
Ziminaite says she used to play more when she had fewer responsibilities at work, but actively watches tournaments in all main esports.
“As you can imagine, that’s a lot! When I was doing esports interviews on camera a few years ago, maybe there was slightly less trust from the community in the beginning, but it’s all about proving your worth and showing that you’re competent,” said Ziminaite.
After 25 years in the Magic community, Moore says she rarely gets treated overtly different anymore.
“Now I spend my energy advocating for other women in Wizards and in the community,” commented Moore. “That said, I’ve put my time in and have dealt with my fair share of sexist comments. Even today I’ll go to game stores and people will assume I’m there for someone else…”
Romine knows the feeling well.
“One of the clearest examples of how women have been historically treated differently in gaming and esports came from my early days with the Frag Dolls when I went to pick up my preordered copy of Halo 2 (November 2004) and the cashier asked me if I’d gotten it for my boyfriend,” remembered Romine. “He was so taken aback when I replied that it was for me.”
While this kind of surprise is less common, Romine added, the online harassment is a much bigger problem.
“For many of the women I know who play competitive games, they experience some form of gender-based harassment several times per week if they are playing with randoms online, especially if they use voice chat. Women streamers who stream themselves playing competitive games get gender-based harassment even more often. When talking about training for competition, women have to deal with this kind of draining, frustrating, and exclusive behavior much more often than their male counterparts, which adds up to a noteworthy disadvantage when training for esports competition is already so demanding.”
As a pro player, Garozzo can identify with online negativity but tries not to take it personally.
“For the most part, I don’t think my experience differs,” Garozza said. “Sure, I’ve received many negative comments in-game and out-of-game simply because of my gender but many of my male peers have been harassed by other gamers as well. I’ve worked hard for many of my accomplishments and have similarly failed many times. The one differentiator is that I feel I’ve been more often looked to as a role model for other women, especially in the late 2000s when there were very few other women competing or working in the industry.”
Martinez-Rea came into esports without being a gamer or working in the gaming industry while colleagues were lifelong players or founders.
“They’ve built this industry and company out of a passion to see their chosen sport gain the credibility and scale of any traditional sport,” said Martinez-Rea. “I’ve been lucky to benefit from their generosity and openness to sharing their expertise as well as respecting the unique experiences I brought from outside of the industry working in Fortune 500 companies.
“While esports remains a very small world with many of the same core people who’ve been here from the start, it’s been a truly welcoming experience and one in which I believe any person with respect for gaming and esports, curiosity to learn and skills to share can thrive.”
Working in PR, Moore doesn’t think her experience has been different than her male counterparts.
“But,” she added, “I am aware that my experience is the exception not the rule in most cases. I made the switch to esports right when I turned 30 and already held a more senior level position based on my professional experience. I am very grateful to Jens Hilgers and the entire BITKRAFT team who gave me a seat at every table, from deal flow meetings to esports executive dinners (where I was often the only woman in the room).”
Although Rozwandowicz’s experience has been different than her male counterparts she doesn’t think it’s unique to esports.
“My experience would have been different from theirs whether I was in esports, or in automotive, gas or fashion industry,” she explained. “We just do things in different ways—come up with ideas, lead meetings, solve conflicts, etc. I was lucky enough to have worked with people who recognized and respected those differences, but I also had great mentors since the beginning of my career who have shown me how differences like that—even if critical—can be presented and handled to everyone’s advantage.”
Piggott doubts men in the industry spend a ton of time thinking and talking about what it’s like to be a man in the industry.
“As a woman who has set up an esports business with two female co-founders, I’m asked about it pretty constantly—which is both encouraging and limiting,” said Piggott. “I love that we’re talking openly about ways to bring more women into the ecosystem and encourage diverse perspectives, but I don’t want to be judged preemptively on something that’s just one part of me.
“On the bright side, as a group, I believe we have the ability to be clear-headed and forthright about what needs to change—because we see the industry from a different perspective. We’re called upon to prove ourselves and our abilities over and above what men in the industry are, so we’re dedicated and passionate.”
Pike’s experience might be different at times but has felt very accepted as both a woman and a researcher at Nielsen.
“There are definitely times where I’ve had to speak up louder (or should have spoken up louder!) to have my voice heard, but I’ve also been in a room with 95% males and have led discussions and strategic conversations without any regard for my gender,” added Pike. “I have also looked at my gender as an opportunity to get a seat at the table that otherwise I may not have, and from there to prove my value and allow myself to keep that seat in the future.”
Naidoo has noticed a significant difference between how she is treated versus men while organizing events.
“When you’re a woman, people just assume that you don’t know very much about the industry. When they talk to you, they almost talk past you,” said Naidoo. This was true for me. I really had to learn very quickly on my feet.
“I also find that women are quite apologetic,” Naidoo added. “Little girls are always told, ‘Don’t be bossy.’ So when you go into this male-dominated area, you’re almost expected to be as pushy as they are but it doesn’t come naturally to us, at least not to me. When I have to be really pushy, it makes me feel awkward and I tend to doubt myself.”
On the contrary, Hand observed that as a woman, she’s able to bring her “whole self” and her brand to work.
Credit: lolesports/Riot Games
“In some ways, there’s something kind of freeing. It’s not to say that males can’t have that too, but I certainly think there are pluses and minuses to everything. As a woman who’s been working now for many years, it’s been really wonderful that my gender has not been a big piece of my narrative about how I feel and how I do my job.”
St. Martin offered a light-hearted approach to the subject.
“I probably use blister packs more than they do,” she said. “In other news, I would like to see them wear heels at some of these events, to be honest. #DayInMyHeels could be a good event hashtag. DON’T STEAL MY IDEA, people!”