Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

How can esports leave the worst of corporate America behind? Ask these 5 women

Members of Evil Geniuses leadership gave the audience at Futures First Gaming's Girls Who Game panel a look at a side of the esports industry that strives for representation.

Esports has a boys’ club reputation, but it’s also evolved into an industry full of opportunities for women and gender marginalized people to flourish — as well as opportunities to disrupt the tech, sports and corporate spaces it inhabits.

Jihan Johnson, CEO and cofounder of BeatBotics, explored this topic with four of Evil Geniuses’ (EG) women leaders as part of Futures First Gaming’s second annual Girls Who Game event at Wilmington University in June. EG is a professional esports organization based in Seattle, and one of the oldest, founded in 1999. It has rosters in games including League of Legends, Rocket League and DOTA 2.

Since 2019, EG has been led by CEO Nicole LaPointe Jameson, one of the few Black woman CEOs in the esports space. Under her leadership, the org prides itself as a leader in the fight to make the esports space representative of all gamers. Manager of Global Partnerships Daryl Vales, Director of Global Brand Marketing Kayci Evans, Marketing Manager APAC Katrina Xian and Campus Program Manager Myki Rauer came to Evil Geniuses from industries as varied as traditional sports, hospitality and manufacturing.

During a Girls Who Game panel, here’s what they had to say about how their organization is prioritizing care of individuals in an industry not known for being equitable, and learning from the good and bad of their past professional experiences:

Changing corporate culture

Several of the speakers came to esports from corporate roles, led by the desire to impact a burgeoning industry.

Rauer literally worked in potatoes, via the corporate side of food manufacturing. Her work now involves fusing the best of both of her professional worlds to make something new.

“Coming from a corporate background, we’re working to build out processes and bring in that culture that is more than what we’ve seen [elsewhere],” Rauer said. “We’re taking the innovation of esports and that corporate-ness and bringing them together.”

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Vales and Evans both have a traditional sports background, having come from the NBA and MLB, respectively. While esports and traditional sports have similarities, the number of different games under the esports umbrella is a major difference — and a major opportunity for disrupting the way things are done.

“I come from almost 10 years at Major League Baseball, where we worked with all 30 teams,” Evans said. “There’s a really interesting dynamic that’s the same as how we’re trying to treat our five titles that we’re a part of [at EG]. If you come from a super corporate background, specifically for the social and marketing side, you are used to one brand, maybe two or three boutique accounts, but that’s about it. And here, we’re talking about five different brands, plus our culture efforts plus our tech efforts plus all these other things, and so I think the big impact that I’ve seen is that traditional sports’ specific ideology is just a new way of looking at how we communicate about our teams, specifically through content and on social.”

Vales also sees more room for creativity in the marketing of esports, compared to traditional and sports marketing.

“There are less constraints,” she said. “It’s the new frontier — you can see the exponential growth and there are a lot of people who have seen that vision and are seeing that future and that potential. I think it was the most natural next step for me to go into esports and be able to flex all this wonderful experience that I’ve had.”

For Xian, who previously work in Disney PR, she pivoted to the esports industry because she saw it as “the next big thing.”

“I actually think esports is very similar to Hollywood from like 10 years ago, five years ago,” she said. “It has so much potential and it’s very new and immature in a way.”

Valuing play as much as work

The relative new-ness allows the industry, and Evil Geniuses in particular, to try things in a new way. That includes a culture that often breaks traditional corporate rules, especially when it comes to things like glorifying contact hustle and overwork.

Unlimited time off is part of that — something that women, especially, often underuse out of fear of being seen as not working hard enough, panelists said.

“If you work with people, particularly women, you can genuinely, even through Zoom, tell when they need a break,” Evans said. “What I would challenge everyone to do is make sure you are telling that person, ‘Hey, you deserve a day off.’ Something that I appreciate so much about my bosses is that they are the first to be like, ‘Hey, you’re taking on too much. You need to go take off three days now.’ I think COVID was a big eye-opening moment for a lot of people, but we are totally in this shift of mindfulness and talking about your mental wellness that is absolutely starting to change, where you’re not congratulated for not sleeping for four nights in a row because you are finishing a project. I think that that’s huge.”

“Thank god for unlimited PTO,” Rauer said of the sometimes controversial benefits offering. “I love it. But also just having those conversations and looking at the people around you to say, ‘Hey, you’re burnt out. Turn your phone off. Don’t talk to us. We’re in esports where we work hard, play hard, so go play hard, go do something else and don’t worry about work.’ We all really strive for that. Even our playbook, it says on your PTO, you turn off Slack, you turn off all email notifications, which is absolutely fantastic.”

Creating safes spaces in an often unsafe industry

There is no glossing over the fact that, in many esports spaces — most notably game production houses Activation Blizzard and EA Sports — have not been safe places for women. Jameson prioritizes safety and open conversation, which has been a big change for some team members.

“It is ingrained within our org to make sure that diversity is absolutely at the forefront of everything that we do,” Xian said. “It’s talked about openly, which I think is one way to create a safe space, but it’s done in a way that is where you feel safe because they’re allowing you to speak transparently about your problems. I think that that’s where my past organization really failed — if you wanted to talk about these things, you just felt shut down or like you needed to go report it. It wasn’t a conversation. That’s where we’re different.”

At EG, specifically, those in leadership prioritize employees as humans first, the speakers said.

“We have all hands every month that we can have kind of difficult conversations, and usually the world that we’re living in right now there’s some difficult conversations that need to be had,” Rauer said. “And Nicole is the first one to hop on that mic and have that conversation with us and ensure that you are safe here. We have a resources for you if you need to talk to anyone. If you want to talk to me, come up to me. I feel comfortable talking to anyone in the organization and saying, ‘I’m having a tough day or I really need your help on this,’ or ‘Can you jump in because I can’t do this.’ I am ‘I am woman hear me roar’ all day long, but we have to make it safer for absolutely every individual, no matter how you identify.”

Watch the full panel:

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