Ella Pravetz’s career has taken many surprising turns. She’s moved from California to Berlin and back at the drop of a hat. She’s worked in Silicon Valley and Paris and China like it was nothing. And she’s transformed from comedy TV producer’s assistant to Misfit Gaming’s President of Media and Branding in just a few years.
Being President of Media for a tier one organization like Misfits Gaming Group is no easy gig. The Misfits are one of only a few organizations partnered with three distinct franchised esports leagues. They have a League of Legends European Championship team (Misfits Gaming), plus a dedicated Call of Duty team (Florida Mutineers) and an Overwatch team (Florida Mayhem). And they have a Misfits Fortnite team.
Representing such a huge organization means that Pravetz is essentially in charge of her own full-fledged media company. She manages creative teams for all three franchises, including designers, production teams, post-production teams, social media teams, teams specifically for YouTube… And that’s not even taking into account Pravetz’s rebrand and redesign overhaul.
I talked with the “Creative disguised as managerial” innovator to discuss her history in gaming, her hectic-yet-fulfilling life of work, and her relaxed understanding of the way people across the world approach vulnerability. I left as a distinguished member of the Ella Pravetz fan club.
Even though she’s an esports powerhouse today, Pravetz’s journey into esports media happened by chance. She’s not even the biggest gamer in her family – her brother is. “When I was young-young I played video games as much as he did,” Pravetz reflected. “It was a lot of educational games, like Jumpstart Fourth Grade or Where in the World is Carmen Sandiiego.”
Pravetz’s father was a computer scientist who lived in Silicon Valley, so her household had computers much earlier than most. “But we weren’t actually allowed consoles,” Pravetz stipulated. “I don’t know why.” Though, like many kids who lived through the ‘90s, Pravetz still got her hands on a GameBoy to play Pokemon.
Still, Pravetz’s video game experience was deeply influenced by the PC – and by her brother’s tastes, since he was quickly becoming a heavy gamer. She fondly recalls games like World of Warcraft, Black and White, Mist, and Swoop. But when Pravetz entered high school, her gaming dropped off as she threw herself into extracurriculars. “I was barely home,” she said.
“I was always very, very aware of all the games, whether or not I was playing them,” Pravetz clarified. “Because [my brother] would be going to Magic tournaments… Or I used to sit behind him and get yelled at while he’s playing, like, Starcraft. Or his best friends would have LAN parties, where they bring all their PCs together at our house.”
Pravetz attended the School of Theater at UCLA, where she focused on directing. After graduation, Pravetz got in a year working an essential LA job: executive assistant to a veteran producer, who was pitching around comedy shows. “I learned a lot about writing jokes… One of the best things I learned from my boss was the truer something is, the more vulnerable, the funnier [it is], usually.”
However, these jobs aren’t usually described as “fun.” So when a college friend in Berlin called Pravetz at 4 am to tell her, “I hate our videographer. I think you’d do a better job,” her response was, “Fuck it.” She at least was able to convince her friend to give her two weeks to move to Berlin instead of one.
And so, Pravetz landed herself a job making a docu series for Fnatic.
There was just one problem – Pravetz wasn’t a videographer. She had done photography “on the side, for fun.” She also found out at the last possible minute she had to have a 4K camera – “still sort of paying that off,” she laughed. Pravetz read the manual back to front in her eagerness to learn everything she could for the new job.
When Pravetz arrived in Berlin, she couchsurfed for months while immediately jumping into work with Fnatic. Pravetz followed the team around, shooting material for the weekly series.
“It was the biggest culture shock ever,” Pravetz said. “I had just been working with a bunch of comedians at my other job, and they’re the most outgoing friendly people – they want to be on camera… I remember then walking in [to Fnatic] and being like, ‘This is Ella, she’s your videographer.’ And, like, maybe one of them looked up.”
Plus, Pravetz was making this weekly series entirely by herself – which, she said, is “kind of impossible for one person to do.” She was even editing the video as well, which she had no prior experience with. “I was learning how to edit at night, watching YouTube videos, pulling all-nighters,” Pravetz said. “It was just one of those things where it was like, ‘Fake it til you make it.’”
Still, Pravetz knew she had two key strengths: she was a good storyteller, and she knew how to make something funny. “I kept telling myself over and over in my head, ‘You’re a good storyteller. You can do this,’” Pravetz recalled.
To play to these strengths, Pravetz decided to change the series’s format from something formal and serious to something more akin to The Office. The management at Fnatic were initially skeptical of this approach – they wanted their players to come off as heroic. But they gave Pravetz’s vision a chance.
Pravetz leaned on the lessons she had learned from the comedians in LA, especially about the comedy of contradiction. Pravetz focused on “finding those juxtapositions and making them stand out. The way you cut around it, edit it – it’s really humanizing.”
“I would find little things that they were doing, like the storyline of Caps forgetting his shoe somewhere,” Pravetz described. “And I would chase it – I would bring it up and ask them interview questions. And I made them more in the moment because they all hated interviews, formal ones… So I just told them, ‘The more you guys turn to me and just tell me what’s going on right now or answer my questions, the less formal interviews you’ll have to do.’ So they started all just turning to me, they’d be like, ‘Oh, we’re going here?’… It became an almost personality-esque series.”
Of course, not everyone’s willing to “play” along with Pravetz, and she recognizes that. “Then I’ll just do something that’s a bit more truthful and serious,” she said. “But if someone’s got that little spark, where you can kind of like throw some jokes and they’ll be dry and sarcastic back – you can do a lot with that.”
Contrary to the comedians Pravetz had been working with in LA, most gamers aren’t particularly naturals in front of the camera. Pravetz credits her sixteen years of theater experience with helping her know what to do. “I kind of trick them into it a lot of the time,” she explained. “[If] we talk about something they like, usually they’re comfortable doing it. I also try to make it very conversational. I try to give them stuff that they can answer… or ask them in a way where they feel really comfortable. I try to take pressure out.”
For photo shoots, Pravetz’s technique for creating a fun atmosphere might sound surprising. “I almost bully them a little bit, because then they start laughing and get comfortable,” Pravetz said, laughing. “I’m just like, ‘Bro, just cross your arms and smile for me.’”
Pravetz’s techniques don’t stop at light jests. “I’ll bring in the other guys with them to egg them on… I’ve seen the most success when I make people feel like they can be themselves and that it can be fun content and that there’s no pressure. And usually then you distract them or get them to forget about what they’re doing.”
To make matters even more complicated, Pravetz wasn’t exactly familiar with League of Legends when she started. “It felt like a foreign language,” she reflected. Fortunately, the friend who had brought her onto the Fnatic team was a huge gamer. “I spent a lot of time learning,” Pravetz said. “When I was making documentaries, I learned the history through that… In a weird way, I think my role positioned me to learn the industry really well. And really fast, because I was making stories all the time.”
Just a few weeks in, Pravetz started traveling around the world with Fnatic – first to China, then to the world championship (Fnatic won the first-ever League of Legends world championship in 2011 and regularly places in the top four). Pravetz estimates she was leaving Berlin every three weeks.
“I’m still processing half of it now,” she reflected. “I had so many experiences within, like, a year-and-a-half span of time… The amount of culture shocks in different ways, and the learning curves of not only the industry, but also even elements of my craft and all this technical stuff. And a country and the language.” The experience certainly spurred Pravetz to make some rapid adjustments: she became more organized and more attuned to finding patterns and she strengthened her critical thinking skills.
In the end, Pravetz’s hard work paid off, and then some. Fans loved the new series and the comedic shift Pravetz had taken with it. The series became so popular, Pravetz was flooded with job offers. “There weren’t a lot of creative people in esports, especially at that point,” Pravetz explained. “So everyone was just starting to get money and be like, ‘Fuck, we need people.’”
Fnatic had Pravetz under a contract for a six month trial run. When the contract was up, she had to decide whether or not to stay in Berlin. However, the day before Pravetz was going to return to Berlin, she received another fateful phone call. This time, it was from a friend at Riot Games. The friend informed Pravetz that Ben Spoont, the CEO of Misfits Gaming, was looking for a creative director for his Berlin-based teams. And Pravetz had recently told this friend she was pining for a position as a creative director, which was more in-line with her background as a director.
Even though Pravetz already had a freelance contract signed elsewhere, Spoont gave her an offer she couldn’t refuse. And so, the next day, Pravetz boarded the plane she had already booked, but immediately started working as the Creative Director for Misfits Gaming’s original team, which competed in League of Legends.
Pravetz was the first non-competitive employee hired at the Misfits’ European office – other than a few very young freelancers – so there was no infrastructure. Pravetz helped build the team by bringing over a few people from Fnatic, but Misfits were in a six-month limbo as they waited to see if they’d enter the first-tier League. So Pravetz had to continue doing all the shooting and editing herself. Fortunately, she was able to bring all the knowledge she’d acquired with Fnatic, crafting enough quality content to support the team’s ultimately successful bid.
Pravetz used the same techniques to help the players have fun in front of the camera. Pravetz pointed to one hype video, where the team “fell apart trying to do something serious, so I made them dance for me, and, like, kind of yelled at them and joked at them. And we made this really funny, upbeat hype video.”
By the time Misfits became tier one, Pravetz hadn’t had a single day off in months. She began to grow her team, and Spoont kept promoting her to higher positions of authority. Until, one year at the Fortnite World Cup, Spoont asked her to – once again – cancel a flight to Berlin last-minute and come to Miami instead. In Miami, Spoont proposed that Pravetz move to Florida to become the head of all of Misfits Gaming Group’s media, including their two Florida teams – the Mutineers and the Mayhem.
This time, Pravetz had the luxurious timespan of a couple months to pack up her life in Berlin and relocate to Florida. She ended up moving right as the MGG was massively expanding – signing on new brands and teams, bringing in huge partnerships, looking to branch out from their temp office. “It was super different, going from making things on your laptop,” Pravetz said. “Very different work environment.”
This also happened to be right before the pandemic hit.
The effect was as chaotic as you’d expect. Pravetz enumerated her responsibilities in those first months: “I had to deconstruct and reconstruct the Mayhem team, and then also build up for Call of Duty, and then also deal with suddenly the pandemic and trying to keep talent, and also growing our brands and trying to put infrastructure in place and dealing with, now, way more business shifting as we find out where the revenue sources are, etc.” Etc. indeed.
Of course, the pandemic also affected the content itself. “A lot of the plans I had been thinking about were optimized for people being able to actually be together,” Pravetz said. “We promised things that were supposed to be easy lifts that became really hard lifts.”
But there were lessons in that adaptation. “We became way more aware of types of content that you can produce remotely,” Pravetz said. “Certain things do way better when you can have the players do certain things from home, or from their interviews from their webcams.” Pravetz and her team found that VODs, reviews, “hot seats,” and even little documentaries worked beautifully.
Pravetz was now in the very pandemic-y situation of directing via video call. She’ll also often assess people’s equipment and send off better microphones or cameras if needed. “I just try to improve their setup as much as possible, so that they also feel happy to work with us,” she said.
There are some deeply relatable struggles, too. “Everything’s on Slack: every piece of feedback, every design thing, every conversation… Especially for creative work, it’s so much harder.”
Pravetz also encountered a new struggle: how to balance the tone of sponsored content with her usual candid style. “It’s kind of hard to pitch if somebody’s not really thinking in that direction,” she said. “You know, they’re thinking, ‘How do we make this thing cool?’ Not, ‘How do I make people fall in love,’ you know?… Same as actual love, it’s really all about vulnerability, right?”
Pravetz is able to recognize which of these battles aren’t worth fighting. However, “proof of content is the best way,” she advised. “You just kind of do it a little bit in secret.” And when the video comes out and performs well, everyone wins. “If your strategy works, and you can just show people without them having to do any work, then usually they agree.”
Pravetz has been using whatever free time she’s able to muster during COVID to dig into the games she’s presenting – she even just got her first PC since she was a child. Of course, traveling around the world with pros for several years means that Pravetz has absorbed a ton of random knowledge. “My friends would laugh because I’ll make a really randomly high level call while we’re playing [League], but I have no idea what I’m talking about,” Pravetz joked.
Pravetz also finally had the opportunity to start digesting the whirlwind experience she had abroad – all while going through a “reverse culture shock.” “[There’s] such a separation and you drive from place to place here. It’s just like, wow, you’re so emotionally disconnected from your life,” Pravetz said, causing both of us to pause and be lost in reflection.
Pravetz and I spent a good twenty minutes expressing our frustrations with supposed “givens” of American culture, and Pravetz had a lot of interesting insight about work culture in particular. “When you’re working with everyone from different countries, everyone kind of comes a little bit more open as humans,” Pravetz explained, “because I think everyone realizes, ‘I don’t know how your culture normally functions for business.’”
Pravetz continued: “The US, for example, is very hierarchy-based. And I noticed, when I work with the pure American colleagues that have really only worked in corporate environments, they’re so used to just top-down, ‘don’t take no for an answer’ – all these little American ways of working, that are very American, and they don’t even realize that they’re American. When you’re working with people from Sweden and England and Serbia and Germany, everyone kind of comes, I think, a bit more open-minded and open-hearted to the table.” Plus, Pravetz pointed out that Europeans are much more used to working with different cultures than the typical American.
“Europeans… like, people work to live, not live to work,” Pravetz opined. “I loved to live in a place where advertising wasn’t something you were bombarded with constantly. Quality is appreciated much more than quantity… In the US, especially being in such a capitalist area, the assumption that you’re always going to go with what makes you more money is so deeply ingrained in our cultural identity and the individualism that you don’t even realize that you’re doing it.”
She concluded, “So many things you grow up with, and you assume are just human behavior, you realize are cultural. And I think that when you live in different places, it gives you that cultural context, and it makes it much easier to decide whether you want to care about that or not.”
Going forward, Pravetz is curious to see how the most internet-based esports model of Europe compares with the rise of US franchises. Since Europe doesn’t have access to blanket forms of advertising, the way Europeans build audiences is way more grassroots.
“The way people were fans [in Europe] was very different than in the US,” Pravetz explained. “They loved when people were humble, and they didn’t like when things felt over-advertised or too hype, whereas here, people have this expectation of a certain production quality and almost don’t feel like it’s legitimate if there isn’t this kind of, like, hero aspect.” She added, “Europeans don’t like the feeling of being advertised to, as much as Americans are really used to it.”
But Pravetz is a champion at compromising these aethstetics. “I try to come up with ideas first that cover all the territories, so that we really mostly focus on ourselves first,” she said. “And [we] come up with so many ideas that there’s tons [a sponsor] can choose from.” In other words, a segment can grow to be bespoke, while still being rooted in sincerity and the team itself.
Pravetz thrives in deftly navigating between sudden, disparate situations, as encapsulated by her work-life balance. On the one hand, she’s a media mogul with influence in more branches of the Misfits Gaming Group and the larger esports industry than I can count. On the other, she’s a worldly humanist who works to live as a connection-driven people person. After our long conversation, I’m not only interested in Misfits, I’m interested in Pravetz, who in every situation, always seems to fit in.