Caption: League of Legends teams like Team Fusion compete for millions of dollars during the game’s League Championship Series.
The game plan: Destroy the opposing team’s territory.
Navigate labyrinthine battlefields of devious sorcery, mystical monsters and legendary warriors, knowing when to attack, hold back, read maps and cast magical spells.
The popular online video game known as League of Legends has become the latest team sport gaining global traction with electronic game players and spectators alike.
Pro gamers, including Columbus State University student Ethan Smith, have taken the video game challenge and competed in the virtual warfare on an international platform.
“It’s an adrenaline-rushing video game that requires a lot of team strategy to get far,” said Smith, a 22-year-old business major. “Each player selects a ‘champion’ or character, and together each team member has to figure out the right roadways to take in order to reach the enemy and destroy their Nexus, or turf.”
Smith and his friend and business partner, Alden Haight, formed California-based Team Fusion to compete against other League of Legends teams for millions of dollars.
“Our team failed twice to gain entry into the game’s League Championship Series, which is the major leagues of League of Legends,” Smith said. “We decided to disband our team, focus on our strengths and pivot our company into a new direction.”
Team Fusion became Fusion eSports Sponsorship & Branding — a 13-member marketing agency that helps clients build unique brands in the now billion-dollar gaming industry.
“We represent all kinds of organizations and individuals, including eSports teams, streamers, popular YouTube personalities, talk shows and pretty much anything else involved in the ever-evolving world of eSports,” said Smith, Fusion eSports’ founder, co-owner and COO. “The majority of our clients are located in Los Angeles — the heart of eSports — but we represent organizations in several different parts of the United States. We firmly believe this will become a multimillion-dollar business for us.”
The Brand Design
Fusion eSports provides clients with branding strategies to attract sponsors.
After building or establishing a client’s brand, Fusion eSports seeks out sponsors willing to invest into their clients in return for advertising and marketing the sponsors’ products, said Smith.
“In return for our services, we either charge a monthly rate or take a percentage of sponsorship revenue,” he said. “Sponsorships provide our organizations with financial or product support in return for advertising their brand and products. It’s the same concept used in football or baseball. Intel, AMD, SteelSeries, NewEgg, HTC, Razer, MSI, Corsair, Kingston and Dell are just a few of the many brands currently sponsoring teams in eSports.”
Throughout the academic year, Smith flies from one end of the country to the other for personal and professional eSports matters.
“I went to Texas this summer for vacation,” said Smith, who is originally from Phenix City, Ala. “As for L.A., I have traveled there 18 times in the past six months, two of which have been during the summer. While I’m in L.A. or at conventions that happen across the United States, I am either attending meetings; working with our clients; or networking with companies and important people in the industry.”
Caption: Ethan Smith is a business major in CSU’s Turner College of Business
The Business Degree
Smith hones his eSports entrepreneurial skills at CSU, studying general business in the D. Abbott Turner College of Business.
“I felt that as an entrepreneur I needed to have a firm grasp of all the different areas in the field of business,” he said. “Specializing in just one area of business would not be beneficial in the world of entrepreneurship where you wear many different hats. Several of my professors have always said running a business never goes as planned and you have to be flexible. This is by far the most important thing I have learned in college.”
These classroom lessons have primed Smith for his leadership position in his growing company.
“I’m prepared for all of the times the unexpected has happened in my business,” Smith said. “Having this knowledge ahead of time has kept me steady and focused to avoid panicking when things go wrong.”
Smith completes his degree at the end of fall semester.
“I’m on the Paul S. Amos Aflac Scholarship,” he said, “so I haven’t had to pay for the majority of my classes.”
The scholarship assists students working full time in the Columbus and Phenix City areas and also earning their first academic degree.
Between homework and course projects, Smith always found time to play video games — a hobby he started perfecting since age 8.
“I have been an avid, competitive gamer for most of my life,” said Smith. “I got into eSports when Alden approached me with an opportunity that I was very interested in. He wanted to invest in eSports team ownership and for me to come on board to run the business end of the company.”
The Big Dollars
The duo’s first venture in eSports: Build and become team owners of a professional League of Legends team, which is how Team Fusion originated.
Along with bragging rights, a team has the potential to earn millions through sponsorships and prize money by competing in national and international tournaments.
“An entry-level pro gamer can easily make higher pay than most American corporations offer,” he said. “If you’re a good gamer and popular in eSports, you can make big money. Some of the best players make seven figures. That’s how serious this industry has gotten.”
Playing video games competitively and against players across the globe has opened up new lines of communication and cultural connections for Smith.
“Video games are fascinating because with today’s technology you’re able to play with people from around the world,” he said. “You’re forced to communicate with people of different personalities and cultures. You have to learn to work with them, and people on the Internet can be harsh. They aren’t censored and always say what is on their minds.”
Nevertheless, the virtual reality realm of video games remains “fun and interesting” to the business student as he continues to champion the industry and develop his company.
“It’s an environment that can truly prepare students for the professional world,” he said. “My experience and time as a competitive gamer has been invaluable throughout the entire process of starting and running my company. I’ve learned I’m capable of doing almost anything as long as I’m dedicated. As for the world of gaming, it’s apparent that while extremely competitive, it’s still a young industry with a lot of maturing to do.”
Caption: The video gaming industry is now a billion-dollar business.
Visit fusionesports.gg to learn more about Fusion eSports. During May, The Los Angeles Times featured Ethan Smith and Team Fusion’s quest for living the eSports dream.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the Fall 2015 edition of Focus, Columbus State University’s alumni magazine.
Learn more »