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Inside Riot

Lane Swap Stories: Mel Capperino-Garcia

  • Oct 23, 2020

If you attended Worlds in 2016 and thought “I’d really like to learn more about working at Riot,” a helpful Rioter might say, “Yeah? Go talk to that Teemo over there.”

“They’d sometimes be like, ‘Oh wow, even their recruiter cosplays,’” laughs Mel “Riot Swimbananas” Capperino-Garcia. She’d had the idea a few months earlier at PAX East to start attending events and conventions as a sort of representative from recruiting, but Worlds was her first time attending in cosplay. She was there to answer any questions a fan might have about what it’s like to work at Riot, what kind of roles they’re actively looking for and why a candidate may or may not have heard a response. “To be someone they can air their feelings out to, whatever they may be.”

It was a natural extension of her job as a recruiting coordinator, except this was over the weekends... and in costume. And though she didn’t realize it right away, these events held the key to a new career at Riot that fit perfectly for her.

It was almost like having two passions, she says, one during the week making sure Riot was finding the best talent possible and one she asked to take on over the weekend connecting with fans so there was a human face—albeit, one in character makeup—to the company. Over time, the latter expanded to include different kinds of community engagement, like a “Cosplay Repair Team” providing con attendees with emergency supplies to repair their outfits on the fly.

“It was myself and Sarah, aka Riot Jynx, guerilla style on the ground of that event,” Mel recalls. “We were dressed up as Star Guardian Lulu and Star Guardian Poppy, and we had Riot backpacks full of cosplay repair supplies—tape and glue and the like—and we would bop around the convention center. While we were helping someone, they’d be like, ‘Yeah, I actually applied to your company a couple weeks ago,’ and I would start answering their questions about the process.”

As her weekend work became more involved and she was becoming more of a face for Riot than just a face for recruiting, Mel found herself being more drawn to her secondary, unofficial role. She auditioned to host Summoner Showcase, connecting with fan creators in a more visible way. And then she faced one of the biggest challenges of her career.

Shortly before PAX West 2018, Kotaku published an article detailing accounts of alleged sexism at Riot. The article took Riot by storm, and folks internally met to decide if we should have a presence at the event or pull out to give some time for reflection. Ultimately, the team decided to move forward with participation and provide a sympathetic ear to any fan who wanted to express their frustration. To go one step further, the team also dedicated some programming time to help women and nonbinary fans learn more about breaking into the video gaming industry, which some other fans took as an overcorrection.

As an emerging face of the brand, Mel herself received some of the anger from fans at that event. So much so that it really got her questioning if this was something she wanted to continue doing. “That was the point where I thought, OK, there’s two routes I can go here: I could just stop doing the community outreach work altogether. I could hide away, put my head down, and stay in recruiting. Or I can double down and say this is something I think is important. This is something I am passionate about.”

Mel wasn’t about to back down. In being on the ground talking with PAX attendees, she came to understand what aspects of Riot’s presence at these events did or did not feel authentic to players, did or did not make space for them to feel heard. “I listened to their frustrations, and instead of saying, ‘Well, at the end of the day, that’s somebody else’s job,’ I realized I wanted it to be my job. I inserted myself into a conversation with the community that really needed to be had, and I wanted to have it.”

She went to her team and expressed her desire to apply for an open influencer management position, a full time role expanding on the work she was already doing at conventions—connecting with the community, elevating the work of creators, and showing the world what Riot means to the fans that love it.

“I think everybody in the world who knew me at that time could tell that that’s what I should have been doing the entire time,” Mel laughs now looking back. As an influencer manager, Mel is the liaison between Riot and players who are also incredible artists, designers, musicians and celebrities in their own right, and she helps amplify their work.

Since joining the team, the group has exploded with new work. “There are tons of new creators coming into our ecosystem. Some of that is due to the new games, but I think a lot of it is because Riot has invested in partnering with them.” They’ve launched the League Partner Program, created an annual LCS cosplay contest, doubled down on community events like Twitch Rivals, and coordinated on a number of multimedia projects to celebrate 10 years of Riot Games.

Asked if she had any advice for others feeling pulled in different directions for their career, Mel says it’s good to take on many different responsibilities to explore the things you like and are good at, but not at the expense of your current role or your sanity. Instead, find reasonable ways to take on more or try new things while delivering on your existing objectives. “If you’re more passionate about part of what you do, make it clear to your team and run straight for it.”