Celebrating Women in Esports: International Women’s Day 2020 Edition

This is an annual series on women in the esports industry. 

March 8 is International Women’s Day and to celebrate, The Esports Observer highlights some of the talented women working and serving in prominent leadership roles within the esports industry.

The path to a career in esports can be as varied as the industry itself, attracting wide-ranging talents, personalities, and unique challenges along the way. As some discovered, being a “gamer” isn’t always required, while others relish the opportunity to turn their passion into a career.

This year’s diverse group of movers and shakers come from the worlds of esports organizations, teams, publishers, and more—each with a unique perspective on the industry. Here are their stories, presented in no particular order:

Nicole LaPointe Jameson, CEO of Evil Geniuses, has always loved gaming and played single-player role-playing games (RPGs) for “as long as she can remember.” Her experience teaching, competing, and coaching Tae Kwon Do served as a precursor to esports, she said, where she built teams and focused on “the ultimate goal of lifting trophies.”

In college, LaPointe Jameson was a founding member of a biotech startup, then continued to work in investment and capital allocation across multiple verticals.

“My introduction to pro esports came a few years ago and started with the MMORPG and Gwent scene,” said LaPointe Jameson, “when I fell in love with the competition and adrenalin of live competition.”

In January of 2019, LaPointe Jameson was able to combine her expertise in asset management and love of gaming when Peak6 acquired esports organization Evil Geniuses. She calls the CEO position a “perfect fit” for her skills.

For Caroline Beasley, CEO of Beasley Media Group, esports was a way of thinking outside the box.

I initially became interested in esports about two years ago when our company [Beasley Broadcast Group] began exploring unique ways to reach Generation Y and Z,” said Beasley. We found that esports was a great way to do this.”

BMG purchased CheckpointXP, a syndicated weekly esports show in the U.S. and Canada, which led to CheckpointXP on Campus—a national collegiate-based esports show in partnership with the University of Nevada.

Soon after, Beasley Media Group made an investment in the Detroit esports team Renegades and in November 2019, the company acquired Overwatch League team Houston Outlaws.

“The rest is history,” said Beasley. “What we’ve found is that the business model that we use to run our radio properties complements our esports business.”

As for Johanna Faries, commissioner of the Call of Duty League at Activision Blizzard, transitioning from traditional sports to esports created a “truly special opportunity.”

Faries held a number of leadership roles at the National Football League (NFL)  over a span of 12 years and most recently served as vice president of club business development. There, she helped elevate the NFL Draft into a traveling spring festival and launched the “MyCauseMyCleats” initiative, which allows players to spotlight personally meaningful charities.

It is her experience with the NFL that helped shape the formation of the Call of Duty League structure once she joined Activision Blizzard.

“Getting the chance to create and oversee a new global sports league has been incredible,” said Faries. “I am proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish thus far, and look forward to seeing where the Call of Duty League will go in to the future.”

Tricia Sugita, CEO of FlyQuest, says that esports has been her life for over a decade.

“It’s where I found my passion, my friends, and even my fiance! My path began competing in StarCraft II while streaming, casting, interviewing, and hosting tournaments,” explained Sugita. “Through the community that I built, lovingly dubbed my Bearcubs, I knew that I could contribute my experience to a larger scale.”

In 2014, Sugita became the global director of esports for streaming platform Azubu, before taking the role of head of partnerships for Immortals and LA Valiant. She joined FlyQuest as COO, and in January 2020 she was promoted to CEO. Sugita is directly involved in the organizations’ competitive League of Legends squad.

“I’m lucky enough to bring my vision to life as CEO [and] to give back to the community,” said Sugita. “At FlyQuest, we believe greatness already exists within everyone and we’re going to do everything we can to help showcase that.”

Lori Burgess is the COO of Beasley XP, and while she didn’t always work in video games, she’s no stranger to the young demographic.

“I spent the bulk of my career in magazine publishing and had the privilege of leading several brands that catered to younger consumers—from Seventeen Magazine, Mademoiselle and OK!,” said Burgess. “I have long favored the teen and young adult market as they continually challenge the status quo, come of age, and begin to exert their influence in pop culture.”

Burgess says she joined the “esports movement” while serving as the chief digital content officer for Beasley Media Group. With the company’s acquisition of CheckpointXP in September 2018, it made perfect sense to incorporate an esports show into BMG’s digital mix.

“Let’s face it,” says Burgess, “esports and video gaming is a digital experience and this industry is paving the way for what sports marketing and tech will look like in the years ahead. I can’t wait to see how esports changes the way we all choose to be entertained!”

Celina Wang, esports operation manager at 100 Thieves, has always been an avid gamer but it wasn’t until college that she realized her favorite pastime could become a career.

“I first picked up League of Legends [in college] and got really into it,” remembers Wang. “I was immediately drawn to its competitive scene, which ultimately led me to discover the world of livestreaming and streamers.”

Wang landed an internship at PlayStation’s third-party relations team, then worked at brand partnership agency Press X, specializing in influencer marketing in the gaming and esports space. Wang continued her work at a larger scale once Press X was acquired by United Talent Agency in June 2018.

As time went on, Wang felt the desire to work closer to the esports scene and was approached by a good friend working at 100 Thieves. Within a few months, she joined the partnerships team, calling it “one of the quickest and best decisions” of her life.

“I’m incredibly grateful to the scene and the people that have allowed me to discover my passions, said Wang. “I cannot wait to see what lies ahead, not only for myself, my co-workers, and my team, but for esports as a whole.”

Kristina Müller, head of strategic partnerships at ESL, found her way into esports through her work in television.

Prior to ESL, Müller was the senior manager in the strategy & operations department of ProSiebenSat.1 Media SE, one of Germany’s biggest TV and media companies. She didn’t know a lot about esports at that point, she admitted, only that the industry was growing and that the Modern Times Group had invested in some esports companies.

One day, a former ProSiebenSat.1 colleague, Arnd Benninghoff (CEO of MTGx) told Müller about potential job opportunities at ESL. She was sceptical, Müller recalled, and couldn’t imagine working in esports without prior gaming industry experience. A trip to ESL One Cologne 2016 changed her mind.

“I realized how big and professional esports had already become and what kind of opportunities the enormous growth of the industry could bring in the next few years,” she said.

Since joining ESL, Müller has not only helped shape brand partnerships and activations, but the esports industry as a whole through the first esports music label and first international mobile esports tournament played on 5G technology.

“I’m happy that I decided to become part of this amazing industry and that I have had the opportunity to be part of these new developments within the esports market,” says Müller.

Stephaniemissharvey” Harvey is the director of esports franchise development and outreach for Counter Logic Gaming (CLG). Her esports journey has come full circle from professional player and game designer to helping other gamers reach their potential.

“It is always weird to think back about how I started my esports journey because 17 years ago esports wasn’t a thing,” Harvey says. “I’ve always been a gamer, but in 2003 I fell in love with Counter-Strike and the community. There was this desire in me to compete and be the best I could be in that game.”

Harvey has competed for SK Gaming and Ubisoft’s UBINITED teams in the past, and also worked as a game designer for Ubisoft Montreal. She later joined Counter Logic Gaming and helped launch the CLG Red women’s CS:GO team, for which she played from 2015-17 and 2018-19 before departing in early 2019.

“As I step into pro-gaming retirement, trying to make a difference in our industry and in our scene is pretty much my main drive now,” Harvey says. “I believe it is necessary to make a difference and give back to the community that I grew alongside with and an industry that allowed me to find my passion.”

That, she says, is why she recently partnered with CLG again to launch a “much-needed range of education, mentorship, and philanthropic initiatives.”

For Zen Huan, senior manager of China marketing for the Overwatch League, gaming has always been a part of her social life.

“For me, esports is the ultimate expression of gaming as a social activity so it’s only natural that I would gravitate towards it as my career,” says Huan. “I remember huddling around the TV with my cousins, fighting over the controller so we could each get our turn when I was a child. Over a decade in the industry, and that memory still drives me.”

Huan has held a number of video game product marketing and management roles for Electronic Arts (EA), DICE, and CCP Games before joining Blizzard Entertainment in 2015.

“Two years ago I chose to move from the Overwatch game publishing team to Overwatch League Esports marketing,” says Huan. “Over the years I’ve met so many passionate fans and competitors—people who, like me, forged lifelong bonds and memories through video games. It’s that passion and sense of community that motivates me.

“The products we create are more than entertainment,” she added. “They are the catalysts for friendships and rivalries, they challenge us to be better and provide comfort when we need it most.”

On the contrary, Lianne Virginio, associate director of partner marketing for Activision Blizzard Esports, says she got her job because she wasn’t a gamer.

“I’m a recovering advertising account director,” Virginio jokes. “My prior clients crossed industries including CPG, retail, entertainment, non-profit, tech, and even pharma.”

When she joined Activision Blizzard, the company was starting to engage top-tier global brands, many of whom lacked experience with gaming or esports partnerships.

“My experience outside of gaming gave me an unbiased perspective and the ability to help both parties find creative and strategic middle ground,” she says. “Not to mention, I had no problem managing multi-million dollar relationships with the level of account service top-tier brands expect from their partners.”

There are a multitude of talented women working both in front of and behind the scenes in esports, and this is by no means an all-inclusive list. You can read our 2019 edition highlighting even more prominent women in the industry by clicking here.

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