Yvette Martinez-Rea, ESL North America
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