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Volume 22 No. 27
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Yvette Martinez-Rea, ESL North America

Photo: Dakota Fine

Yvette Martinez-Rea

Chief Executive Officer, ESL North America
Born: San Diego
Education: Dual undergraduate degrees, English literature and gender studies, University of Southern California

Yvette Martinez-Rea didn’t know she wanted to work in esports. And esports tournament organizer ESL North America didn’t know it needed a chief operating officer.

But like so much in the frenetic world of competitive gaming, gumption and good luck led to success for both. Martinez-Rea left her position at a beauty content and commerce company (she’d worked for Yahoo and other tech companies for most of her career) for ESL in 2016, to become COO of an operation that had no human resources, no legal and no contracting process. In fact, the job was originally posted as director of operations when another candidate told them they needed to aim higher.

“It was really the growth and the numbers that attracted me,” she said. “Frankly, it feels a lot like the early days of tech.”

She earned respect early on by promising to change nothing until she’d been listening for six months. In February, she was appointed CEO after former Americas CEO Craig Levine took on a global strategy role.

Martinez-Rea has done the hard work, so often discussed, of blending the esoteric gaming culture with mainstream business. She’s driven distribution deals designed to broaden the appeal of esports, with Facebook, Caffeine TV, Hulu and Disney XP, and has brought in new sponsors such as AT&T. She’s also fired people. But as both an esports neophyte and a woman in the boardroom, she’s learned to expertly modulate her intensity with tact.

“I’ve been tough and strong and outspoken when I needed to be, but I’ve been careful not to do it until I’ve learned enough, or earned enough credibility in other spaces,” she said.

— Ben Fischer

Getting to know...

Attributes I look for when hiring: Curiosity and sincerity are two of the most important traits that indicate that someone will be an asset to a team. 
Networking works best when: I remember the two things my dad told me at age 13. 1) Most people are just as nervous as I am about introducing themselves to strangers; 2) you can learn something from every other person on this planet — just ask them something about themselves.
Woman in sports business I’d like to meet: I’m an L.A. girl, so meeting Jeanie Buss would be fantastic. 
I wish I’d known at my career’s start: To take everyone’s advice with a grain of salt and to know that any advice is colored by the unique experiences of the giver.