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For Call Of Duty GM Johanna Faries, It’s Not About Being the First

Refinery29 3/24/2023 Patricia Karounos
© Provided by Refinery29

When longtime NFL exec Johanna Faries joined Activision Blizzard and switched industries to esports, she didn’t realize she would be making history. In fact, it was well after she became commissioner of Call Of Duty Esports in 2018 that Faries discovered she was the first-ever woman commissioner of any esports league.

“At no point was that something that was done for optics or some overt way of trying to force a woman into that role — they just really believed as a company that I was the best person for that job, and I believed that I could do the job really well,” Faries said during Thursday’s R29 Twitch stream. “[When I learned this], it did force me to pause and appreciate the magnitude of that. It was really incredible to feel like, ‘Wow.’ It’s important to be visible to other women who are looking to say, ‘Yeah, I want to be a commissioner for esports one day, and if she can do it, I can do it.’ That is not lost on me.” 

Speaking with R29 Entertainment Director and Twitch host Melissah Yang, Faries explained it’s that visibility that she cares most about. She’s since been promoted to head of leagues and now holds the title of COD general manager, which essentially tasks her with making sure the iconic first-person shooter franchise is as commercially successful as possible. She works alongside the development team to create a content calendar, organize the series’ highly-anticipated annual blockbuster launches, and think about how fans are interacting with the COD world and the platforms they’re accessing it on. But as an esports exec, Faries also wants to make sure the industry is bringing in diverse talent with wide swaths of experience and raising awareness about the range of work available in gaming

“I’m a perfect example [of the fact that] you can come from quite literally anywhere and have a big role to play in gaming,” she says. “It’s been perceived — and often still is — as niche, but this is an entertainment medium. If you are good at a certain craft, you have a role to play in gaming. I never thought that I’d be a gaming executive full-time, but it turns out that the skills I was developing along the way enabled me to have a really big role to play.” The industry, Faries goes on to explain, is broad and needs writers, designers, creative thinkers, lawyers, those who are more business-minded and everything in between. She’s also seeing growth in opportunities for user-interface and user-experience design, as well as AI — though how its recent boom will shape gaming remains to be seen. 

Watch the full interview above. Refinery29 Twitch streams Thursdays at 2 p.m. PT/5 p.m. ET.

So how are you supposed to make a career change and jump to esports? First, you “have to get your heads in the books,” Faries said. This doesn’t necessarily you have to spend hours upon hours in the library as if you’re back at college, but you do need to be reading more about the industry and finding and engaging with the community — whether that’s online messaging boards, Twitter accounts, or popular streamers — in order to situate yourself in the scene and glean knowledge and insight. 

Faries also suggests broadening your social circle by reaching out to people — politely and without an agenda — who already work in the industry. Ask them questions about their jobs and their journeys, of course, but also ask for their personal recommendations for other professionals you should reach out to. “You’ll be surprised by how those relationships over time open doors, open new connections,” she says. “It may not happen overnight, but it’s certainly a way in.” 

Ultimately, Faries wants to make sure the industry is making more effort to attract talented people who are both at the beginning and in the middle of their careers — especially women and people of color. She loved her time at the NFL, but had no idea about what was waiting in gaming. “You can’t be what you can’t see,” she says. “If I had known, well before I stepped into the gaming space, the opportunities to develop a career, the opportunities to be a learner in the younger parts of my career, who knows what else I could have done? That’s the big one for me — not just on the representation [side]. It’s about opening the conversation around what is possible in developing a really strong, ambitious career in gaming.”

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