A new esports organization has hit the ground running — and winning — less than six months since its founding, according to its Kansas City co-founder.
M80 is set up for sustained success not just because the organization’s Valorant and Rainbow Six teams already boast one championship apiece, Nate Schanker said, but also thanks to the founding staff’s blend of experience, dedication, and commitment to building community.
M80’s staff of seven is a stark contrast to the structure of most esports organizations, Schanker said, though he believes that to be an advantage.
“We’ve got a really small team, but I think that’s what works well,” he said. “A lot of esports organizations have so many staff members — 50-plus — and I don’t think that’s sustainable for a lot of these organizations. Having a really dedicated small team is perfect.”
That commitment to doing things differently guides most of M80’s moves, Schanker said, noting that the organization prioritizes growing sustainably instead of just quickly.
“We’re very focused on community and building a dedicated fan base rather than hyper-growth,” Schanker said. “All these other organizations are really focused on things like follower counts and revenue right off the bat; our main focus is community.”
Guided by experience
Despite being just 21 years old, Schanker brings plenty of his own experience to M80, having already worked in the esports industry for five years, he said.
Schanker and his Boston-based co-founder Marco Mereu launched M80 in December after leaving their roles at XSET in August.
Schanker was hired at XSET by Mereu to be head of social, a role he held for more than two years, working closely with his future co-founder on a daily basis, he said.
“In August after Marco left XSET, he messaged me, and we got on a call to talk about a vision of starting a brand new esports organization,” Schanker recalled. “Everything we talked about, we both agreed with — just how the industry is moving, and how we want to go about things.”
That conversation ultimately led to the creation of M80, which Schanker said comes at a time when many esports organizations are finding it challenging to turn a profit.
“It’s actually really interesting, because if you look at esports right now, a lot of organizations are leaving,” he shared. “A lot of people cannot find profitability within it, so we’re entering at a very interesting time.”
That exodus doesn’t concern Schanker or the M80 founding team, he said, as they trust that their experience will guide them toward continued success.
“We’ve been in the esports industry for a while and have realized what works and what doesn’t,” he said.
Mereu and creative director Zachary Azzara have previous experience guiding a company from launch, Schanker said, and all seven founding staff members are industry veterans.
“With all of us being so engrossed in the scene for ‘X’ number of years, it’s definitely helped us start the organization and have it where it is today,” Schanker said.
Working toward promotion
M80 plans to continue growing, winning, and charting its own path within the industry, Schanker said.
Up next: the M80 Valorant team is set to compete with teams from across the globe this July in a tournament that, if M80 wins, will earn the team a promotion to the top division, called the Franchise League.
“Right now we’re favored to be promoted, which would be unbelievable for M80,” Schanker said. “Valorant is made by Riot Games, which is a very prominent company, and they support the organizations within the Franchise League. It would just be great.”
Though the seven-member Valorant team — composed of five players, one coach, and one analyst — has achieved great success so far, M80’s Rainbow Six team also won a championship already, Schanker noted.
M80 also competes in Rocket League, and plans to expand into more esports games in the future, he added. All M80 teams are based in Austin, Texas.
Long-term, M80 might look into Web3, Schanker teased, and especially hopes to enter the game development space, using fellow esports organization 100 Thieves as a model.
“I think that’s a route I could see us going, having sub-brands under M80 — an energy drink, a game,” Schanker said. “There’s all kinds of different avenues we can go with it.”
While M80’s team is spread out — only Schanker and his brother, chief of staff Max Schanker (both co-founders of the Digital Sandbox KC-funded Overland Park startup SWOT, which wound down in 2022) are based in Kansas City — he praised the potential of the local esports community.
“I think eSports in Kansas City is definitely on the rise,” Schanker said. “I’m potentially looking to host [events] here to bring people from outside Kansas City to experience the area.”
All in all, Schanker is appreciating M80’s rapid growth, working hard to ensure it continues, and inviting everyone to come along for the ride.
“We’re just growing extremely fast,” he said, noting that M80 sold out of all merchandise on its first sale. “It’s just incredible how far we’ve come within six months. I had no idea this would grow this quickly, so it’s kind of insane to see.”