Todd Harris looks to make Atlanta the next esports hub
Resurgens Gaming, the parent company of production company Skillshot Media and esports organization Ghost Gaming, is looking to establish Atlanta as the 'new home' of competitive gaming. Hitmarker spoke with CEO Todd Harris, a co-founder of SMITE and Paladins developer Hi-Rez Studios, to unravel this ambition.
The background: Resurgens Gaming has just been unveiled as the company above Skillshot and Ghost which aims to be the "southeast's largest gaming media platform."
- Skillshot Media broke away as a division of Hi-Rez Studios in January 2020, as co-founder Harris left the development company and completed a management buyout.
- Harris and Phoenix Capital Ventures Managing Partner Andrew Steinberg acquired prominent esports organization Ghost Gaming in October 2020 to bolster their efforts in making Atlanta a gaming hotspot.
- The official merger of Skillshot and Ghost under Resurgens Gaming was announced in February 2022 with the intention of providing a turnkey solution for brands looking to leverage gaming media to reach young audiences.
- Ghost will be headquartered in a one-million-square-foot development based in Uptown Atlanta which is located next to Skillshot Media's studio. The company's base will serve as the organization's operations hub and also includes a production studio, a studio set, practice areas, a classroom for an esports certificate, and an atrium for broadcasting live events.
The company: Resurgens itself is new but both Ghost Gaming and Skillshot Media are well-established.
- “There's completely separate management between the two companies and we also have this facility component which is a big part of our strategy because, at the end of the day, gaming’s community-oriented," Harris told Hitmarker.
- The workforce for both companies is also separate. Ghost and Skillshot both have a "combination of full-time employees and contractors" — though the CEO affirmed it's "mainly contractors" on the company's books — with each company roughly having 50 people working for them on a monthly basis. This scales based on demand though, such as events that Skillshot may be producing and broadcasting.
- Esports organizations are notorious for struggling with profitability at the current stage of the industry (recent examples include Astralis and Guild) but Ghost doesn't have that pressure presently. “We're getting good production business production revenue and that does give us time," Harris said. "I expect, in the short term, revenue's going be higher from Skillshot Media and then, in the long term, I believe it will be much higher from Ghost."
The regional approach: While some organizations are undergoing 'global expansions,' Resurgens is doubling down on a single city.
- "Most people think gaming is global and esports is global, I think gaming is global and esports is regional," Harris explained. "Humans are tribal and geography helps with the formation of fandom; I saw it back in the SMITE days when, no matter what the team was, it always came down to Europe versus North America.”
- “There are organizations that truly want to conquer the world and good luck to them but, for us, we can concentrate our impact," the Resurgens CEO continued. "We can't put computers in schools all over the world but we can do that in our community.”
- Harris notes that the Dallas Cowboys was everybody's first or second favorite team when he was growing up, regardless of location. While "there's no plan to rebrand Ghost Gaming to the Atlanta Ghosts," he believes that "people are going to know we're Atlanta without us saying it."
- Two esports leagues in particular are trying to go this route, too. Activision Blizzard's Call of Duty League and Overwatch League are both made up of teams that are tied to certain locations and own their given terroritories. Despite this geolocated lockdown, the OpTic brand is onto its third location in as many seasons: in the first season it was OpTic Gaming Los Angeles, in the second season it was OpTic Chicago, and now it's OpTic Texas following the Envy Gaming merger.
Why Atlanta? "If we can't do it here, I'm not sure it can be done."
- “I've been here forever," he told Hitmarker. "Hi-Rez Studios created 500 jobs here. Before that, I was a part of two other technology companies that created thousands of jobs. People take me a little more seriously when I say this esports thing can be big and it will create jobs because I have a track record here."
- Atlanta has two esports franchises that use its name — namely Call of Duty's Atlanta FaZe and Overwatch's Atlanta Reign, both of which are owned by Atlanta Esports Ventures — and he's happy about it. "We're not in Overwatch, Call of Duty, or NBA 2K — we're all focused on different games but growing things together and it’s great.”
- Harris was quick to cite Georgia's developments in the movie industry as another reason for the state being the perfect place for his company to bunker down. "Last year, the direct spend in Georgia just making movies was $4B," he said. "The state set up a program to start letting kids get college credit, but they're taught by industry people. We’ve partnered with them to do the same with gaming, digital media, and esports. I built the whole first curriculum and I taught two semesters myself."
- The program has already proven to be a solid feeder program for Resurgens' companies too, providing young and budding professionals with an education and a tangible pipeline into esports. "We've got 10 interns or employees between Skillshot and Ghost that came right out of that program and we’re just getting started," Harris added.
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The venue: Resurgens Gaming is based in Uptown Atlanta, utilizing a mixed-use project in Buckhead.
- Being redeveloped by the Rubenstein Partners, the facility will be home to Ghost Gaming and an esports academy.
- Combined with Skillshot Media's studio, the combined footprint of the company will have all of the resources needed to house its competitive endeavors and produce esports tournaments and broadcasts.
- “There are already some great gaming centers right here that we will definitely be working with," Harris told Hitmarker. "We’re also in conversations with a few companies to get them located next to the new headquarters. It’s a really nice complex and it's very important for us to have ways to activate the community and help us build fandom."