Interview: Meet Todd Harris, new CEO of WWSEF

With NASEF transitioning to become an independent entity operated by the World Wide Scholastic Esports Foundation (WWSEF) on January 1, 2021, we thought it would be a good idea to talk with the new CEO, Todd Harris, and learn a bit about him as he steps into this new role.

He has years of experience in both the tech and gaming industry. Most notably, he is a co-founder of Hi-Rez Studios in Alpharetta, Georgia. Hi-Rez is known for their MOBA game, Smite, along with other popular games like Paladins and Realm Royale. Currently, Todd is the CEO of Skillshot Media, a company that builds community through esports.

This interview has been edited for content and length.

We’ll start off with the big question — What do you see in NASEF that made you want to get involved?

Have you had an opportunity to make that connection with your previous work?

Then my father was a computer programmer at IBM, even though it wasn’t a common profession then. When the very personal computers came out, we were fortunate enough to win the employee lottery to purchase them. There were not very many games for the computer at that time; I played all the games for Apple II and the Commodore 64. I learned computer programming wanting to make my own games because there weren’t many available.

That was my second thing with gaming, it was both social and learning. It was my gateway to computer programming. For me, games have always been about those two things: social connections and learning/skill development.

I went on and got a computer science degree and worked in the technology field for quite a while before co-founding Hi-Rez Studios. I really credit video games for igniting a passion for what we now call STEM.

Todd with two kids from the Make-A-Wish foundation

Sounds a lot like Miyamoto making baseball games on his calculator when he was growing up.

I know you have a ton of experience in gaming, so what are some of the skills you’re going to bring to WWSEF that will help it continue to grow and expand its reach?

That’s certainly number one, number two, I do bring a passion for learning how to make and market games. NASEF already has a well-developed set of careers that span from gaming, but I think I can help just as a subject matter expert around some of the ones having to do with making and marketing games.

Finally, I’ve just been involved with technology automation for a long time. Before Hi-Rez Studios, I was part of quite a few technology companies. As NASEF looks to scale out their offering, more students, more teachers, and more clubs, there’s both a business side and technology side and I’m pretty familiar with that having done that with technology companies before.

We’ve seen how esports has changed education with NASEF so far, how do you see it changing education and our daily lives in the future?

Gaming has always been on the cutting edge of technology and often on the cutting edge of business models. I think it has a lot of potential to evolve education forward. At the end of the day, the mission of giving all students an opportunity to develop these skills… I think we’re just at the very beginning of that.

Ultimately, the project-based approach of how NASEF that happens to use video games can influence all of education in a very strong way.

We see different education standards around the world, how is WWSEF going to tackle that challenge and bring NASEF’s mission to the world stage?

Photo courtesy of Todd Harris and Skillshot

Seeing that firsthand was a great experience for me because it made me even more confident in the overall approach of delivering great student outcomes. A bit of a tangent, but I just wanted to make sure I got that in there.

When it comes to your question on worldwide, the quickest way is partnerships. NASEF has already done a great job starting to build relationships with other countries and education and government leadership in those countries, and WWSEF is all about continuing that. But when you go worldwide, you need to work with local partners and that’s what we plan to do.

Now for a few easy questions to finish out the interview: What do you love most about video games and esports?

What I love is seeing video games training students to have a growth mindset and they can take that growth mindset and apply it to wherever their passion and purpose is, even if that’s outside of video games.

NASEF is very easy to say, so how will we pronounce WWSEF?

Final words as we begin this transition from North America to worldwide?