Todd Harris ’86 Shapes the World of Esports
by Stacy Calfo | Back to Table of Contents
As founder and CEO of Skillshot Media, an esports operator, and co-founder of Hi-Rez Studios, a video game developer, Todd Harris ’86 is something of a digital magician.
“I’ve always loved creating technology products that improve lives in the real world,” Harris said. “The amazing thing about computer programming is that you can start with just an idea, and with the right computer code and hard work, that idea manifests itself in the real world.”
We recently sat down with Harris to learn more about his path to the online world and his influence as a digital game developer and esports revolutionary.
What did you do after graduating from Ravenscroft?
I submitted my first computer game to UNC-Chapel Hill as part of my college application, since writing games was more fun than writing essays! After getting a BS in computer science there, I entered the software engineering industry in Atlanta. I spent about 15 years developing technology products for retail stores before helping start Hi-Rez Studios in 2005.
How did Ravenscroft prepare you for this path?
Ravenscroft was amazing in terms of developing my communication and leadership skills. I think I received a 2 on my first paper (it left quite an impression). By the time I graduated, thanks to help from my teachers, I aced my AP English exam and had become a much better writer. In terms of leadership, I began high school being very reserved but gradually became more active in extracurricular activities and ended up leading many clubs and being student body vice president.
Describe a typical day for you.
After 15 years at Hi-Rez Studios I’m now leading a new start-up company called Skillshot Media that produces esports media and live events. Imagine stadiums full of cheering fans and millions watching from home, but instead of a traditional sports event like basketball, the fans are watching other people play video games competitively for millions of dollars. There are already more than 200 million people watching these types of events online, and the industry is just getting started. I spend most of my day talking to brand marketers at other companies, explaining gaming and esports to them and helping them reach this audience with sponsorship campaigns.
What an esports event looks like
You were recently named one of Atlanta’s Most Admired CEOs. Is this the highlight of your career?
While I was honored to receive this award, I’m most proud of the work we do in the community. Last year before the Super Bowl, Skillshot worked with [football legends] Steve Young and Jerry Rice to open an esports center in downtown Atlanta. This center gives free computer access and training to underprivileged youth who lack access to equipment and qualified teachers. This center and others will help with that. Hi-Rez Studios is also heavily involved with Make-A-Wish Georgia.
How would you describe your leadership style?
To me, leadership is the art of the possible. A leader is realistically optimistic and holds a vision of the future that the organization delivers upon, time and time again. A good leader is also self-aware. I have strengths and weaknesses, and rather than try to improve upon every weakness, I play to my strengths and have partners in other areas.
What goals do you have for the future for yourself? For your company?
I believe esports is the future of sports and entertainment. It is like Sports 2.0 — what traditional sports aspires to, esports will deliver. Esports is blind to gender, race, nationality or class. It is very accessible and truly global. At the same time, gaming isn’t perfect and can be done to excess or delivered in an exploitative way. We are at the birth of a new entertainment industry, and our company wants to help shape that industry so gaming is delivered in a healthy and sustainable way.
What advice would you give current Ravens looking to a tech future?
Pick at least one project and take that small project to completion. If you want to try game development, pick up Scratch or Unity and build one simple level. Build a webpage or maybe try video editing for a YouTube channel. Just try creating something small and see if you enjoy that process. Don’t overthink it. Create something, get feedback from your friends and then improve it based on the feedback.
Through Hi-Res Studios, Harris has partnered with Make-A-Wish Georgia to raise money and provide opportunities for “Wish Kids” to attend esports events, meet game developers and even create their own video games.
Todd Harris ’86
Football legend Steve Young talks about Skillshot Media and esports at the opening of an esports center before the 2019 Super Bowl.
Making Wishes Come True
by Todd Harris ’86
Over the years we’ve been fortunate to work closely with Make-A-Wish Georgia. Our involvement started with “Wish Kids” wanting to attend esports events and meet the game developers, and we made that happen. We’ve also done fundraising campaigns where the gaming community can watch a live stream on Twitch.TV and donate. Those are like a new form of telethon, and we’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Make-A-Wish that way.
In January, we partnered with Make-A-Wish Georgia on a new project. Ethan is a Wish Kid who wanted to create a video game based on the theme of defeating cancer. We wanted to make that dream come true. In January, we organized a few teams at the Global Game Jam — an annual event where teams around the world work on game projects for 24 hours — to work with Ethan on his theme. Ethan picked his favorite design and worked with some developers from Hi-Rez Studios to complete that game and publish it.
Gaming gives us a massive platform to reach others. We’re fortunate when we can work with partners like Make-A-Wish Georgia and demonstrate the power of gaming to change lives and improve the world just a bit.