Welcome to another edition of The Esports Advocate’s long-form content series “The Path,” where we profile the unique journeys of professionals of all ages and backgrounds as they try to find their way in the esports and gaming industry. Our latest edition focuses on the story of Nate Schanker, a young man who began his entrepreneurial journey at 14-years-old. From selling social media accounts for tens of thousands of dollars and running a $150K USD business at 15-years-old to becoming a co-founder of a major esports organization, Schanker has proven that he is exceptionally skilled at what he does, but he wouldn’t be where he is now—in esports—if it wasn’t for his neighbor loving Fortnite enough to dedicate his life to it. This is Nate Schanker’s story.
Junior Social Influencer
Nate Schanker had an average, American middle class upbringing in the Kansas City area with good parents who supported whatever he wanted to do, though they didn’t always understand just what exactly that was most of the time. Schanker’s self-starting entrepreneurial journey began when he was just 14-years-old; he found at a very young age that there was something about social media that made his head buzz with excitement.
At first he started fooling around with creating simple memes using sports moments and altering them with Photoshop. The social media accounts he deployed these little creations on grew over time, and at one point he was operating six Instagram accounts with a total of 8M followers. He did this for a while through the company he founded, Elevate Management, and figured out that there was a real desire for brands to tap into these accounts.
“I ran one Instagram account that I was doing these sports edits on using Photoshop to edit pictures. I grew this account to about 100K followers,” Schanker told The Esports Advocate earlier this month in an interview. “I started working with brands selling shoutouts. It was very early on with this kind of influencer marketing idea and eventually someone actually offered to buy the account, so I sold it and I started using that money to buy other accounts and then growing them and then reselling them. So at 16 I had this whole network of 8M followers.”
He also joined Blu Market, a social media influencer collective who commanded large audiences that advertisers and brands could go to to get a deal across the entire group. Members would divide up the profits based on who had the largest followings, with the bigger members getting the lion’s share.
“I was 14 and in the eighth grade when I started doing the social stuff. I guess part of it that’s interesting is that I was in this really prestigious influencer group called Blu Market that was founded by one of the Jonas Brothers. It was made up of all these mass accounts on socials, a creative collective, and all of these brands would come to us and pay us per click and per download. So this was big influencer marketing because that was one of the first companies to do it and I was a part of it. These apps would come to the Blu Market website and they would see this collective with probably 100M followers and we would all just split it depending on the number of followers, engagement rate, and stuff like that.”
According to Schanker, the most he ever sold a social media account was for $30K; others he sold for tens of thousands of dollars each over time. Keep in mind that all of this was happening when he was between 14- and 16-years-old.
He also launched Hyped KC in the summer of 2017, a high-end, popup resale store for sneakers and streetwear. He would ultimately open two of these popup stores before exiting the business after a little over a year.
“One of my most successful businesses early on was called Hyped KC and it was a resale and sneaker store. We ran a few pop-up shops near my house. We generated $150K in revenue when I was only 15-years-old, so it was definitely something special. I programmed this bot that would go onto these sites and buy sneakers and streetwear within like half a second and it would purchase as many as it could. Then I would flip it the next day for double or triple the price of the sneaker.”
This Thing Called Esports
Schanker wasn’t a hardcore esports fan by any stretch of the imagination, but when he saw a Snapchat post from his nextdoor neighbor about winning $60K for playing in a Fortnite tournament, it immediately caught his attention. It was all just dumb luck looking back on it now, he says, but it set him on a course to work with some of the biggest professional players in the scene at the time.
“I had no idea he was a pro gamer, and knew nothing about esports at the time (I was 17-years-old then). So I message him to say congratulations and ask, ‘What is this?’ He explained all this stuff and that he was getting signed to T1 for Fortnite. It was all super brand new to me but I hit him up and told him that I have skills in marketing and can help him grow his brand.”
After talking with his friend Sofa, Schanker decided that this was a space he wanted to get into because he could really put his skills to work to help people grow. He offered to help his friend for free (which he accepted), and through a combination of hardwork and pure networking, Schanker was helping his friend and other Fortnite players he knew, grow.
“I started working with his friends and proving to them that I was worth a few hundred dollars a month. And then I just started using that network to contact other pros; I would say, ‘Hey, I’m working with my neighbor Sofa’ and I started working with the biggest names in Fortnite like Khanada, Blakeps, Ceice—all these tier-one players who had millions of followers.“
While doing all of this, Valorant was announced and then launched as an esport, and Schanker knew he wanted to be involved in it. The biggest player at the time was TenZ, and so using the network he had managed to build, he found a creative way to connect with him.
“I knew there was something special about TenZ because his clips were just the best out of anyone in the scene. So I hit him up on one of my client’s accounts because I knew he wasn’t going to see my DMs… I reached out on one of my client’s Instagram pages [with their permission] and got on a call with TenZ. Ultimately, we agreed to work together and I grew his socials like crazy—when I started working with him he had 30K followers on Instagram and I grew it to about 800K within about a year and a half.”
Repping the Set, Lighting the Fuse
All of this hard work was beginning to catch the attention of large esports organizations—and a few approached him about working for them—but ultimately a chance meeting with Marco Mereu, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer at XSET at that time, led to Schanker getting his very first full time job at an esports organization.
“I got noticed by a few orgs that wanted to pick me up. I talked to SpaceStation and Team Liquid, and then to Marco Mereu at XSET. He gave me a chance to basically prove myself—I was 18 and it was my first real job working under someone, so I started running their Instagram page.”
At first, XSET treated Schanker like a freelancer, but as he showed that he was capable of growing its social network, the organization kept giving him pay increases and even more responsibilities; he went from operating just the Instagram account to handling everything else including Twitter, TikTok, and its YouTube channel. Ultimately, he was given a full-time position as head of socials, a role he stayed in for two years.
Earlier this year, Mereu left XSET and started a new company called M80. While XSET is aiming to be an esports and gaming lifestyle company, Mereu’s venture appears to be purely focused on competitive gaming.
When Mereu left it was a weird time for Schanker, because he was the person at XSET that coordinated a lot of announcements and other activities related to the social team. Schanker was also very close to him because he gave him a shot when he first started at XSET and had been the main person he talked to at the company on a day-to-day basis.
Schanker thought that Mereu would just end up working at another organization taking on some new executive role, so he was a bit surprised when he called him out of the blue one day to share some news and make an offer.
“Marco called me one day and said ‘I’m going to start an org, do you want to co-found it with me?’”
It didn’t take him long to make up his mind—he jumped at the chance and joined the company as a co-founder and director of marketing. Part of that decision was influenced by XSET releasing its Valorant roster, an esport and game that Schanker is deeply invested and immersed in.
Fate and Getting an Education
Interestingly enough, Schanker admits that he might not be in the esports industry at all if it wasn’t for fate or perhaps even a little dumb luck: If his neighbor wasn’t playing Fortnite professionally and posting about it on Snapchat, he would probably be somewhere else doing social media or marketing work.
“Honestly, if that didn’t happen, I know for a fact, I would be most likely at college right now, in an apartment or dorm room, finishing my degree. I think I probably would’ve started my own full-on marketing agency, working for local companies or big brands and going that route instead.”
Currently Schanker is finishing up his degree while simultaneously working for M80. At only 21, he’s going to graduate this year from Kansas State University with a degree in business with a focus in marketing. He moved back in with his parents so that he could finish it up online, a decision his parents didn’t agree with at first.
“At first they didn’t believe in the whole online degree thing, but it’s the same thing as being physically on campus; COVID changed how [the approach to] education is viewed right now.”
While he sees the importance of getting a degree, he also notes that when he was picked up by XSET, Mereu looked at his past experience and accomplishments, not his education.
Schanker made his early fortunes using just his phone and a single Instagram account, parlaying it into a bankroll that he used to fund his other early ventures. When asked if he had any advice for people that want to get into social media, marketing, or even content creation, Schanker believes that young people should just start doing it now just as he did.
“Maybe it sounds tacky, but just start doing stuff that can get yourself out there. Maybe that’s engaging within the community, staying up to date with every esports brand and paying attention to what they’re doing—right and wrong—and writing all that stuff down. You could also just make a burner Twitter or Instagram account and basically just act like you are a social media manager running socials for that company. Then you have a whole portfolio on an account that you can send to someone like Sentinels if you want to get an internship or land a job there. Just start doing something.”
Finally, Schanker says that the only real tool a person needs to “just get started” is already within their reach: a phone. There are apps to do just about anything including editing, video software, graphic programs, etc., available on most phones
“I tell everyone that all you need is a phone. A lot of my friends in college complain that they don’t have a job, but I tell them that you have a phone and there’s so many money-making opportunities on social media.”
Editor’s note: An earlier iteration of this story stated (from the author’s perspective not Nate Schanker’s), that M80 had picked up XSET’s Valorant roster. This was not accurate and has been corrected.