Pinned atop Maddy Wojdak Marquissee’s X (formerly Twitter) account is a post with four photographs hashtagged #WhatAGameDevLooksLike. “I’m also a gamer, cat mom, Trekkie, athlete and currently nine months pregnant!” the caption reads. In the first shot, Marquissee holds a cocktail; in the second, her flame-colored hair is tucked under a headset at a video gaming event; in the third, her cat Nicholai sits on her shoulder; in the fourth, her pregnant belly is on proud display.
On the day I meet her at Riot Games — the publisher behind League of Legends, one of the most popular PC games in the world — just north of the Interstate 10 in West L.A., Marquissee is still on maternity leave. In the lobby of the video game developer’s HQ, there are screens showing League of Legends tournaments, framed fan art of the game’s champions and a mural of Arcane, the popular TV show from Riot. We walk past an arcade, a League of Legends–themed coffee shop, a basketball court and the company’s take on a PC bang, one of the South Korean internet cafes where League of Legends and Valorant are favorites. We hurry by her boss’s office — “I don’t want him to think I’m back from my leave,” she says with a grin — and into a conference room named Kha’Zix (all the meeting rooms are League of Legends themed).
Marquissee wears a sleeveless green sundress, which reveals a tattoo of her cat awash in wildflowers that runs from her right shoulder down to her elbow. As we get settled, I ask her about that pinned tweet. “There have been times working in games that I have been the only woman in the room,” she says. “It feels a little weird, but I don’t mind it so much. I was very much raised in a way where I will loudly speak my mind.”
The #WhatAGameDevLooksLike hashtag, she explains, happens once a year; it’s meant to challenge expectations and open up the gaming industry. As of 2021, only 24% of the industry identified as female. “I wanted to say, like, ‘I am a gamer, but I’m also a game dev,’” she says. “And I don’t look like the stereotypical gamer that you think of.’”
No, she does not. As Champions Product Lead of Riot’s mobile game League of Legends: Wild Rift, Marquissee works to bring gamers’ beloved avatars to life. It’s a job that has sometimes made her a lightning rod among the game’s 15 million devoted (often rabid) fans. But, she tells me, even in the crazy world of cyberspace the good still outweighs the bad, and this is her dream job. In the four years since she received her M.B.A. from the UCLA Anderson School of Management, Marquisee has traveled the globe representing Riot and has hosted livestreams with world-famous gamers (and, randomly, the actor Joe Manganiello). In 2021, she was chosen as one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in Games. Marquissee may not look like the stereotypical gamer, but she’s become one of its faces. “I figure that someone has to be bold enough and loud enough to help change the situation [for women’s representation in gaming]. But not everyone wants to be that person,” she says. “That’s one of the reasons I try to be a little more visible.”
The gaming industry boomed during COVID-19, growing by 26% between 2019 and 2021. The World Economic Forum projects that the industry will add more than $100 billion in value by 2026, with estimated gaming revenue of $321 billion. And League of Legends is the most popular esport in the world; in 2022, tournaments for Riot’s flagship game were watched for 617 million combined hours, according to Esportscharts.com.
Marquissee’s role at Riot’s mobile game League of Legends: Wild Rift has made her something of a public figure in the rapidly growing space. Her X account has more than 12,000 followers, and she stars in many of the videos on the mobile game’s 998K-subscriber YouTube channel. For an industry with the same female representation as leadership roles in financial services, Marquissee’s being front and center matters.
After graduating from Emerson College, Marquissee took a marketing job at DeviantArt, the online art social network. But as an avid gamer, she longed for a career in the industry. Hearing that an M.B.A. could help her chances, she entered UCLA Anderson as a Forté Fellow. “UCLA,” she says, “had always been an aspirational school for someone who grew up in L.A.”
She credits her time at UCLA Anderson with helping raise her comfort level as a woman in a male-dominated space. And it’s served her incredibly well at Riot. She says she doesn’t think everyone who wants to work in gaming needs an M.B.A., but adds, “For me, I don’t think I could have gotten to where I am right now without the degree. It gave me a lot more confidence in the way I can speak and in understanding what senior leadership is thinking about.”
With her pink hair, nose piercing, tattoos, cat eyeliner and denim jacket stacked with different pins, Marquissee made an impression right away when she arrived, says Lin Young, UCLA Anderson’s associate director of M.B.A. career advising and corporate outreach. “Maddy stood out from day one,” Young says, “in a very positive, creative way. She’s very comfortable in her own skin and in being different, and in being a powerful woman.”
Marquissee started business school with a mission. Well, to be more accurate, three missions: First, to make UCLA Anderson a B-school that took gaming seriously. Second, to leverage her time there into a career in gaming. And third, to get selected as one of Forbes’ 30 Under 30.
Marquissee has loved video games for as long as she can remember (“My parents tell me that when I was 3 years old, I could go to the computer, open the run menu, and load Putt-Putt”). But the pull became even stronger in college, when Marquissee and a group of friends started taking over the computer lab to play Left 4 Dead. That experience showed her what gaming at its best could be — good, clean, friendship-building, zombie-killing fun. It also provided her with a window into the global world of video games. She says, “It was my goal for people at UCLA to realize that you can go to a movie studio if you want to work in entertainment, or if you want to work in tech, you can go to somewhere like Facebook or Apple — but there is also this intersection of entertainment and technology that exists, and that’s growing rapidly.”
By her second year, Marquissee was chosen as a TA. “One of my weaknesses was the gaming industry,” says Sanjay Sood, faculty director of UCLA Anderson’s Center for Media, Entertainment & Sports. “With Maddy’s help, we beefed up that part of the class. It went from being one of the weaker modules in class to one of the stronger modules.”
Marquissee also dove deep into extracurriculars: She coached at Parker Career Management Center, where she was named UCLA Anderson ACT Coach of the Year, and she worked to bolster the gaming program at the Entertainment Management Association (EMA). “She was the first female VP of gaming ever,” Young tells me. “She’s highly involved in everything.”
Today, UCLA Anderson has become one of the premier business schools for gaming. Mission One: complete.
Mission Two got underway when Marquissee landed a summer internship at Riot Games between her first and second years. Hers was one of 700 resumes that Tim Hsu, then director of Strategic Advisory at Riot, read through. He put 20 possible fits through a rigorous interview process; Marquissee got the role. What let her win the bakeoff? Hsu, now COO of the newly launched video game studio The Believer Company, cites three things: Marquissee’s critical thinking, her desire to learn and her authentic passion for gaming.
Fortuitously, soon after Marquissee started the internship, Hsu was moved from the PC side to a larger role within the company’s newest venture, the mobile version of League of Legends, which would eventually become Wild Rift. Instead of a standard B-school internship, Marquissee started work at what Hsu explains as “effectively a startup within Riot.”
Marquissee began to learn product on the fly. Her first role as an intern was owning New Player Experience — designing tutorials and other in-game features to help a player quickly get their footing. At the end of her internship, she went to Hsu with a proposal. He recalls, “Maddy was like, ‘Hey, can I stay on part time?’” He offered her a 20-hour-per-week role while she completed her second year at UCLA Anderson. So, while taking a full slate of classes, Marquissee was working on PowerPoints to present to Riot’s senior leadership, TAing for Sood, career coaching and serving as VP of gaming at EMA. “It was amazing,” she says.
When she graduated, Marquissee took a well-earned vacation, then started full time at Riot. Mission Two: complete.
All that remained was that pesky 30 Under 30 award. “When I was applying to business school, I had this timeline in my head the whole time: ‘I’m 26. I’m gonna graduate turning 28. That gives me a year and a half to make enough of an impact that I can apply,’” she says. “I had a friend who was obsessed with the idea of getting on it. He was the one who put it into my head.”
In 2021, Marquissee got the word: She’d been selected.
She had been turned down for every gaming job before applying to B-school. She’d been rejected from every B-school she applied to except UCLA Anderson. But just four years after starting at UCLA in 2017, she had completed all three missions. She’d helped elevate her school, landed her dream job and made the Forbes list. What was left to do?
There’s one mission Marquissee knows is far from complete: making gaming a more welcoming space for women. It’s been a decade since Gamergate, a campaign of online abuse against prominent women in gaming. Today, many of the biggest video game’s online chats are still incredibly misogynistic, toxic spaces. Though there are now mechanisms to report slurs, threats and other vile language, it’s still often harrowing to put a headset on to play multiplayer games online.
Riot’s games have not been immune from the culture. “When Valorant came out, there was a lot of news about the voice-chat toxicity and stuff like that, and that actually scared me away from really ever getting into playing it myself,” Marquissee says. Riot invested in building out a talented player-behavior team for Valorant to make the community safer.
For a time, Marquissee says she owned the role of how to report sexist and racist behavior in Wild Rift. Soon, she realized that a full-time team was needed to guarantee that the mobile game would be the friendliest, most accepting place possible. The focused effort has worked, though Marquissee hesitates to take too much credit. “While you’re on League, you can just right-click halfway across the map so your guy’s running, then hit enter and type,” she says. The fact that it’s more difficult to easily access the chat while playing on mobile may be partly responsible for the comparatively kinder playing field. “If you’re using your phone, it’s a lot harder,” she explains.
Another factor that’s helped keep the space less toxic is the animating goal of Wild Rift, which Marquissee says, is “to be the friendlier, little sibling game.”
But clearly, her being a central Wild Rift figure at Riot and online has also helped foster a safer, friendlier environment — because when Marquissee sets her sights on a mission, it tends to get done. This last one will be yeoman’s work. Marquissee returned from maternity leave late last summer and moved from Wild Rift to Riot's marquee game: the PC version of League of Legends. As a senior product manager running the growth team, she will be responsible for creating features and experiences to help guide new entrants into the extensive (and extremely challenging) world of League. It's no small task to grow a game that has around 150 million active players.
For helping to light her path into the industry, Marquissee credits women like Catarina Macedo, who has since moved onto the video game company Bungie, and Joie Bernabe M.B.A. ’14, another UCLA Anderson alum in gaming. And she makes it a point to be an ever-present resource at UCLA Anderson, paying that mentorship forward. “It’s sometimes a little nerve-racking being a woman on the internet, or playing games, or working in games because there isn’t full representation,” she says. “But I want to change that.”
Read more from UCLA Magazine’s Winter 2024 issue.