In May of that year, Nicole LaPointe Jameson ’16 became the first African-American woman to lead a major esports organization, taking over as CEO of Evil Geniuses. She had her work cut out for her: Founded in 1999, the company — essentially a group of players and teams who compete in different video games under the Evil Geniuses moniker — was considered “storied, but fading” according to Forbes, which named LaPointe Jameson to its “30 Under 30 - Games 2020” list. LaPointe Jameson, whose background was in management of distressed assets, knew she had to make a major move, fast. She set her sights on fielding a team for the massively popular League of Legends game — a multi-player fictional arena in which “champions” with unique abilities battle other players — both to diversify Evil Geniuses’s fan base and expand revenue potential.
She gave herself two years to accomplish the goal; she only needed four months. Last fall, Evil Geniuses landed a spot in the League of Legends lineup from developer Riot Games, outbidding traditional sports owners and media conglomerates, and reportedly paying more than $30 million for the privilege.
LaPointe Jameson counts the successful bid among her proudest accomplishments at Evil Geniuses. About eight million people log in daily to League of Legends; Evil Geniuses finished third out of 10 teams in the spring 2020 playoffs.
LaPointe Jameson has never waited long to make her mark. She received a job offer from the investment firm PEAK6 during the summer of her junior year at the College. Once on board, she helped turn around companies in fields ranging from online dating to insurance before setting her sights on Evil Geniuses as a “diamond in the rough.” She was hoping for a seat on the organization’s board. Instead, after months of due diligence preceding PEAK6’s purchase, she was named CEO. She was 25.
“A lot of my first two months was listening,” she says.
She also worked such long hours that she kept a sleeping bag at the office.
“There was a solid six to seven months where I did nothing but work,” she says, laughing. “It was the furthest thing from being easy and enjoyable. If I didn’t love where I thought we could be, I wouldn’t have done it.”
At the College, LaPointe Jameson was drawn to numbers, studying statistics, quantitative research and applied data mining. She chose Columbia in part because of the Core Curriculum; one of her favorite classes was a Core course in the ethnography of Caribbean and Afro-Latin music with Professor Chris Washburne GSAS’99. For her final project, she gathered empirical data on the impact of prison music programs.
“It was so memorable,” she says. “I appreciated that I was given the freedom to take the course in my own direction.”
She’s taken Evil Geniuses in her own direction, too.
Since she arrived, LaPointe Jameson has rebuilt the Seattle-based organization from a group of less than 20 men into a team of nearly 80 people, including a new office in Los Angeles that opened in late 2019 (two other Columbians have leadership roles: Brian Millman BUS’14 is director of corporate partnerships and Saira Mueller JRN’15 is director of marketing).
The esports industry has recently had to confront accusations of sexism and discrimination; LaPointe Jameson has increased efforts to recruit more diverse players and staff. Evil Geniuses already had Ricki “HelloKittyRicki” Ortiz, a transgender Street Fighter player; in March, LaPointe Jameson signed Dominique “SonicFox” McLean, the highest-earning fighting game community player of all time, who identifies as non-binary. She also instituted a culture of support that includes parental leave and a player wellness program, and in June, Evil Geniuses launched the podcast LiveProud to discuss social issues (the first episode was devoted to Black Lives Matter).
“We make the market we want to exist in,” LaPointe Jameson says. “People know that if you are the best of the best, you will have a home at Evil Geniuses, regardless of your race, creed or religion.”
As a young Black woman in a male-dominated field, LaPointe Jameson knows what it’s like to be overlooked.
“I’ve continually put myself in spaces where I’m not the expected individual,” she says. “At the end of the day, I try to surround myself with people who know it’s about the work output: Do you win?”
Rebecca Beyer is a freelance writer and editor in Boston.