Makeup and Esports: An Interview With Rosa Menendez and Lorena Acevedo
Do you remember a little while back when the internet found out what Pokimane looked like without makeup and collectively lost its mind? Apparently, a lot of people were completely unaware that women are not actually born with perfectly winged eyeliner and bright red lips, and so for a while, my Twitter feed was full of messages about how makeup is tricking men into dating ugly women or something.
But consider this, dear reader: the true evil here is not how girls on Twitch are buying professional lighting setups and are shape-shifting their eyebrows at will to get innocent viewers to hand over their wallets. It’s not about how Ninja dyes his hair as a brand statement to cash in on Fortnite fans who just don’t know any better. Oh no, this conspiracy runs much, much deeper. You see, at professional esports events the world over, players, hosts, casters and other assorted members of production staff are also having their natural beauty enhanced cosmetically.
That’s right. I’m here to drop the truth. MonteCristo wears airbrushed foundation. Rachel Quirico’s winning smile is enhanced with gloss. It isn’t enough that the best gamers on the planet would destroy you in one on one virtual combat: now you are being seduced into thinking Coolmatt’s hair is that perfect on its own.
Professional gaming is all a lie. The end times are nigh. Pokimane was just the tip of the iceberg.
But all silliness aside, maybe you’ve heard of Rosa Menendez and Lorena Acevedo? The two-woman team that runs the Esports Makeup Twitter account have had a major hand in developing the on-screen looks for several talents that feature in big name esports. You might not recognize their faces but you’ve definitely seen their work. They’re experienced, they’re smart, and they take their jobs seriously.
But how do you get to be the go-to makeup artists for the world’s most prestigious professional gaming events? After getting to spend a crazy couple of hours hearing all about their whirlwind lives, let me share with you their story.
Makeup Artist Beginnings
Rosa Menendez is thirty years old and grew up in south central Los Angeles. Her family originating from Guatemala, Rosa’s single mother worked as a seamstress whilst supporting her three children in a rough neighborhood in America. “We lived in the middle of two rival gangs from different sides of the block,” Rosa says without hesitation. “We stayed indoors and played video games to escape because of the gunshots.” Both her siblings much older than herself, Rosa’s laments that a lack of money meant that they had to go into work as soon as they could and never got to pursue their own dreams. “My brother was the ‘man of the house’,” she replies when I ask what they did, “so he had to provide and he sold [marijuana]. My sister worked at a library and would say all the time ‘I have to do this, I have to do this’.”
To help coax her brother out of the street life, Rosa’s mother and sister collaborated to buy him a PlayStation and some of Rosa’s fondest memories were of playing Resident Evil together. “My sister would be the strategy guide and then me and my brother would play,” she laughs. “We made green herb jokes all the time because of the weed.” Later, Rosa’s brother would buy her a Gameboy Colour with Pokémon Red. “I couldn’t stop crying, but then I found out he traded drugs for it.” She scoffs.
As she got older, Rosa thought about her future. Unlike her siblings, she was aware that she had more choices when it came to her education and decided to go to school to become a herpetologist (a branch of zoology that studies amphibians and reptiles). But quickly she realized that this was not the life she wanted. “I didn’t want to study animals,” she tells me, “but I didn’t want to be begging for money from the government when I was from the hood so I went through a rebellious phase.”
Rosa decided to come home where she became fascinated by old Hammer Horror films. “I got caught up in a world of beautiful women in these movies. I couldn’t understand how they looked so beautiful and my mom said ‘they’re wearing makeup honey’. So I started writing down the names of the makeup artists in the credits.”
But at seventeen years old Rosa fell unexpectedly pregnant, having her son just a month after she turned eighteen. “My ex came up to me and said ‘you’re not going to be another latina woman who did nothing with her life’,” the artist recalls. “He told me to look up makeup schools.” Because she did not qualify for loans Rosa did not get into her first school of choice, but she found a smaller institution that would be only $3000.
“I worked my ass off,” she adds proudly, “and I’m here now.”
Lorena Acevedo, on the other hand, is slightly older at thirty-four and is from Oxnard, California. Her parents had migrated from Mexico and they spent the majority of her younger years doing field work on farms. “I grew up pretty much in daycare,” she discloses, “I missed my parents but they had to work. We were in a lower income area – it was a little town and not a good place.”
The fifth child out of six living in a two bedroomed house, Lorena watched a lot of television with her sisters. She credits shows like The Simpsons for teaching her about life lessons such as how to deal with bullies. As they could not really afford games her brothers occasionally stole titles for the family to play but, later on, as a Christmas gift Lorena was lucky enough to receive a PlayStation One. And eventually, all her family’s hard work paid off. “My parents got out of field work and started doing electronic assembly,” she states. “A company came to the fields to recruit people for better wages and they promised how to teach them good English too.”
Like Rosa, Lorena grew up with a lot of films in her life. Having seen Monster Squad early in life, she fell in love with the makeup of classical creatures and special effects. This love led her to enroll to Cal State North where she majored in film and television with an emphasis on editing and cinematography for a bachelor’s degree.
Makeup artistry was just around the corner. “When we did student work,” she chuckles, “there would be a bunch of guys and they would put the girl on the makeup. It was a bit sexist and I didn’t know what I was doing but I really loved it and the interactions I got with the actors.”
Six months after she graduated, Lorena was off to cinema makeup school but it wasn’t an easy decision for her to make. “I really didn’t want to go back to school. I was twenty-five. I thought I should have a job already.” She says. But despite this, she agreed to at least tour the schools with her sister. “She said ‘you look really happy when you walk around here’. So I did it and I never turned back.”
After this Lorena went to work in film, working on more than 15 productions in two years. But in 2014, Rosa reached out to her and asked her to come help her work an event she didn’t know named ‘Blizzcon’.
“Afterwards I was like ‘GG I’m in’,” she declares, “this is gold. This is amazing. This is nothing like film at all. The crew and talent. Nothing compares.”
Getting Into Esports
Rosa’s first esports event was Blizzcon 2013. “I was referred by an actor on a film I worked on,” she says, “they sent Blizzard over a list of makeup artists but said ‘no one else matters if you can get her’.” That year she ran Blizzcon’s makeup department by herself, sorting everyone for World of Warcraft, Starcraft 2 and the Hearthstone Invitational. Rosa was invited back for 2014 but this time Blizzard had the budget for two artists. And she wanted no one else but Lorena.
“We met eight years ago on a film set where I was doing a favor and Lorena is basically a mind reader. I was like ‘you’re a witch, I like this, let’s keep doing it forever’.” Rosa admits that sometimes the pair have had to sit down and have heart-to-hearts, but she attributes their success as both best friends and business partners to having open lines of communication, something that comes naturally to both her and Lorena.
From then on esports related jobs started rolling in. The team worked on ESL EU and then ESL NA. Rosa was calling Lorena more and more for gigs. Between 2014-2016 every single ESL show was run by the two and events were happening 4-5 days a week. From then on, the duo’s already impressive list of shows expanded to E3 and TwitchCon. And then, once work with ESL wrapped up in December 2016, they focused on Red Bull and the Overwatch World Cup.
“[After that] we were in talks for the Overwatch League,” Rosa explains, “when [OWL] was announced I was with Lorena and I said ‘I don’t know how but that’s gonna be our show’. When I got the confirmation I just broke down and cried. Five minutes after I confirmed ‘yes’ I got an email asking who I wanted to work with and I sent Lorena’s details.”
With family being a big part of her life, Rosa was quick to spread the news between her siblings who she confesses do not really understand esports. “I was with my brother when I got the email,” she laughs, “he said ‘what the fuck is Overwatch League?’ and I said ‘think of it as I got the NFL. I got THE show of esports!’ and he said ‘oh that’s dope, cool, can I get tickets?’.”
But initially, Rosa and Lorena had to stay as quiet as possible until the contracts were in their hands.
“We were hanging out with people in esports and we had to play dumb for like two months. When we made the announcement on Twitter it exploded. Lorena went from fifty followers to three hundred and now we have like nearly three thousand. For people behind the scenes in esports, those are very high numbers. Overwatch League was our spotlight moment.”
Working an Esports Event
So how does one approach doing makeup at an esports event anyway? Having had some minor experience of my own moving paints and cosmetics around for LARP events, I could not imagine the logistics of transporting all the equipment and products required for hair and makeup on-the-go. I could barely carry enough for one person!
“We use luggage bags to move our stuff. We weighed it and it’s 80lbs and that’s just actual physical makeup and tools,” Rosa says. “At the Overwatch League we get to have a large setup and we put up little trays and flowers and incense. When we bring in all the extras that’s about one or two backpacks. When we fly we have a check in bag each and our carry on luggage too and if we’re doing a small show like Contenders we try to do less.”
“But you know we have big professional palettes which make it all easier. The average person will say that they have twenty eyeshadows but they really mean twenty palettes and now companies are making it easier to pack things in. We can play Tetris with them and 80lbs is a lot more makeup than you think!”
But despite all this, Rosa and Lorena admit to never knowing what will happen on the day. “Talent expects to have everything ready for them,” Rosa groans, good-humored. “They come in with wet hair and stuff. CoolMatt used to come in and all we had to do was a little bit of hairspray. But talent has gotten used to pampering. They’re accustomed to ‘they’ve got this’.”
This is by no means the biggest challenge though when working a hectic event.
“Time constraints and lighting are the worst ones,” Rosa hums. “At Overwatch League, we get everything we want and need. Shelves, drawers, chairs that go up and down, big mirrors, great lighting. We have an ongoing joke with Rachel (aka seltzerplease) that ‘Rosa doesn’t do makeup on easy mode’. She jinxed us! We went to TwitchCon and the lights died and we had to do her makeup with cell phones lights.”
Moving on, the ladies had a long list of potential things that make for enemies of the professional Makeup artist (MUA) world.
“Sometimes our rooms have conflicting lights with the stage but that’s just convention life. Sometimes you are lucky if you have a chair. You’ve hit a goldmine if you get a table and a chair! The lights we get are usually like desk lamps and we have to be like ‘I’ll just shine it in their face then’. Sometimes we get sent to the green room to do makeup rather than getting our own room entirely.”
Having previously worked in film though, they were prepared for any and all situations, improvising workspaces and setups out of what was on hand. Anything to make a production run as smoothly as possible with the tools that were available.
“Timing can also be hard. Esports doesn’t understand that women take an hour and a half to an hour and three quarters to do. They’d send ten men and a woman and say ‘you have an hour’ and walk away. So we speed run makeup and we’re pretty fast now. I helped out a friend on a film set recently and was like ‘man esports taught me how to go fast.”
So what’s the difference between doing makeup for esports and me standing in my bathroom mirror trying to get the perfect cat eye look for forty-five minutes anyway?
“When working for esports or film work you have to worry about harsh lights. This is stage makeup. You have to put on as much makeup on as possible with it being the least amount,” Rosa advises, “Soembie is a beautiful woman and her fans complain about her wearing too much makeup on set. When you are on camera it will pick up any imperfection. Pimples will be the size of Texas. Pinkness will be amplified ten times. So you have to go hard.”
After everyone is through with hair and makeup, cleaning time comes and sanitation is an important issue for makeup artists. The team wipes down counters and chairs and capes and if they have a working sink, brushes are washed. They carry Lysol and Beauty So Clean in their kits, check that they have enough brushes to keep using and also carry disposables just in case. “I have fourteen powder brushes, fifteen for foundation and twenty for concealers,” Rosa tells me. “I can’t count eyeshadow brushes anymore. I’ve got about twelve or fourteen lip brushes as well.”
At some events the team makes individual bags that are labeled for each person who will come into their care, separating personal brushes, sponges and other tools and products unique to that person to avoid a risk of contamination.
“If I’m doing makeup on myself though I use my fingers,” Lorena admits, “I’m a cavewoman. I will slap it on myself and it takes about fifteen minutes because I don’t want to clean my brushes. I just want to wash my hands and leave.”
But doing someone else’s makeup is very different. “If you ask any woman in esports what their worst experience is with makeup in other countries they will have tonnes. It’s really sad when you hear horror stories because it’s like ‘I promise I’m not that person’. That’s why we hold trust and respect from talent. We’re not gonna do anything that would make them look bad. If they look bad, we look bad. Their faces are their money makers and they need to know we’re not going to jeopardize that.”
Having worked in esports now for several years, both Lorena and Rosa have experienced a lot, made friends and fulfilled dreams. They both have a long list of future ambitions and favorite personal achievements, but there’s still a lot to learn and growth to be had.
“All I wanted to do was Anna Prosser‘s makeup,” Lorena admits when asked if there is anyone she wanted to work on. “She is a powerful woman so I was very nervous and excited. I finally got to do her makeup at TwitchCon but I was a little disappointed because the lighting wasn’t good until she was on stage, and then she looked perfect. I also did DJWheat! Everyone knows ‘Mama Rosa’ so I get excited when people know me outside of her.”
“I also want to work with Frankie [Ward]. One of the assistants did her this year. But I love her curls – I am obsessed with curly hair and she just has that face you want to work on! Some people just have certain features like Soembie’s eyes and cheeks and Rachel’s lip shape and Anna’s eyebrows.”
But the ultimate client Rosa admits would be the StarCraft II professional, Scarlett. “I get fangirly,” she admits, “I can’t work on Geguri because I would fangirl and it would make her uncomfortable. She gets swarmed at events. I wanted her to sign a Zarya figure and I had to ask Lorena to do it for me. She followed me on Twitter and I almost screamed.”
There are other women that the pair looks up to in the world of esports too. “Esports can get trashy and dark sometimes,” Rosa says, “so I aspire to be more like Rachel [Quirico]. She holds herself like no one’s business and never has a bad thing to say about anyone. She’s very positive. Confident but not conceited and wants to lift everyone up. Kim Phan is a rockstar too. I love petite women who are strong and powerful – she can intimidate the biggest boys and girls.”
But working esports isn’t all getting to paint your heroes and jet-set off around the globe.
“At 2013 Blizzcon the World of Warcraft boys didn’t go through makeup,” Rosa laments when I ask her if they was anything she would go back and redo, “and that was when Conan O’Brien did his ‘gamer boy’ segment. If I could go and grab the casters and force them through makeup so that that never happened I would.”
Advice for the Future
“You know, becoming a makeup artist is the easy part,” Lorena muses as the conversation segues into experience sharing. “We’ve dealt with a lot of people trying to screw us over to get ahead. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been doing this for, you should just be nice and welcoming.”
Working in makeup artistry is a role where one is constantly learning and the ladies are keen to talk about how one might get involved and improve.
“You can’t come in like you know it all. Chances are that this girl who’s been in school two months knows a new trick you don’t so you have to be willing to learn from all levels and be respectful on a show. Ultimately, people want to work with people who have a great personality – we’ve worked with plenty of great artists who can do amazing things but then would try to sleep around or steal jobs or think they were mighty. In the entertainment world, you can get cut off easily. This industry is small.”
Not only this, but when she first came to esports, Rosa lowered her usual rates and started from scratch. “Don’t come in thinking you’re making millions of dollars,” she advises. “You don’t start off with the best pay. It’s an art. You will have to work for free. If you love it and you know you can handle it just keep working at it. There are other realms you can go work for – you can work for cosmetic companies directly. But if you are in the entertainment industry you work your butt off.”
Nothing is secure though. Rosa still lives with the fear that she can get fired and replaced with a snap of fingers. “If you are sad you can’t be in a mood, you have to be smiling,” she continues. “You have to leave your egos and personal life at the door. All smiles. SMILE. To future MUAs: learn to be extremely patient and never leak out anything. Loose lips sink ships and your ship is production. Be a people person and have fun. If you are fun on set everyone loves you.”
After some thought on the matter though, Rosa and Lorena quickly confer with each other and then pause dramatically before their final words of advise. “If you wanna get involved in esports, reach out to local organizers, but if you’re in LA and wanna see what it’s all about, reach out to us at Esports Makeup. We’ve hired from social media before and we take interns to shadow sometimes if it’s possible on low key shows. It’s not as glamorous as people think. But we’ll be waiting!”
So, want to follow the Esports Makeup team or get in contact about work experience or events?
Now if you’ll forgive me, I have to go and get back to learning how to do a full face of stage-ready makeup in ten minutes.
Wish me luck. I’m going to need it.
P.S. Personal Favourites Makeup
Haha, thought the article was over, did you? No way. I would be extremely remiss in my duties if I had two of the best makeup artists going on hand and did not ask about Rosa Menendez and Lorena Acevedo’s Official Personally Recommended Beauty Products.
Which I did.
I won’t lie to you. I asked this mostly for my own benefit because, as the human avatar of a sack of potatoes, I am always on the lookout for cosmetics that can help me transform into Rachel Quirico (it is actually unfair how beautiful she is) and it turns out I have a lot of future shopping to get to.
So here it is, makeup favs as recommended by the Queens of Esports Makeup themselves:
Foundation Winner: Temptu and Senna Cosmetics. Note: Rosa uses Senna foundation as a concealer!
Brush Winners: Makeup Forever, Smith Cosmetics and Stelazzi
Lip Winners: Stila and Kat Von D
Eyeshadow Winner: Stelazzi
Blush Winner: Stelazzi
Eyeliner Winners: MAC Liquid Last. Young Blood Gel Liner. Makeup Forever Cake Eyeliner
Mascara: Stila, MAC and Kevyn Aucoin
But the biggest thing that Rosa and Lorena recommend is to look after your skin (even the boys)! Stay hydrated! Work hard, and find what works for you. After all, your skin is your biggest organ, right? It deserves pampering from time to time.