If you missed part 1 of our profile on Ashton “Astonish” Harris, you can check it out here.
A year and a half after qualifying for the 2019 Fortnite World Cup and placing 87th due to a combination of being sick and extremely nervous, Ashton “Astonish” Harris was going through the paces, succeeding at playing competitive Fortnite, but not really catching the attention of any top-tier esports organizations. In August of 2020, that changed when he found himself being scouted by XSET, a recently launched gaming and lifestyle company founded by former Framerate co-founder and CEO Marco Mereu and former FaZe Clan executives Clinton Sparks, George Selkoe, and Wil Eddins.
Mereu, who serves as XSET’s COO, had heard of Harris through a mutual friend, and even though his newly launched company wasn’t looking for Fortnite players at the time, Harris was an interesting prospect. As he looked deeper into the young Fortnite player’s background, Mereu was somewhat puzzled by the fact that he hadn’t been signed by a major esports organization, despite performing well in the competitive space. It didn’t really make any sense. Still, Harris’ story really resonated with Mereu and XSET.
“I’ve said this before, but when we look at talent or we look at adding people to XSET, the first thing we try to do is look at the type of person they are and what their social numbers are as a secondary aspect,” Mereu told The Esports Observer. “It’s always about the person first. We thought he was a really good guy, really, level-headed, had a great back story as to what he had done to support his family. It was more about him fitting the ethos of what XSET was all about and why we started the organization.”
Many of the Fortnite players who had already signed with XSET knew who Harris was and had nothing but good things to say about him. Mereu decided it was time to talk to this “Astonish” guy directly and see what he was really about.
“When they [XSET] first started talking to me, I didn’t really know them because they had just announced as an org,” Harris said. “So I started talking to my friends and saw all those famous people, people from the NFL, coming together and being this big family. It was so diverse. It looked very cool and I knew I also wanted to be a part of that.
“So when they came to scout me I told myself, ‘I need to do everything that I can to impress them because I would love to be a part of this group.’”
Mereu and Harris talked for several months, and by October of 2020, XSET had decided to sign him to a deal. At around the same time, Mereu was also negotiating a partnership with Atlanta-based music and lifestyle company Quality Control Music about working with XSET on a number of collaborations. Nothing had been finalized, but the conversations were positive and continued to move in a good direction.
Atlanta-based Quality Control Music is a record label whose line-up of talent includes Offset, Takeoff, and Quavo (collectively known as The Migo’s), Lil Yachty, City Girls, and Layton Greene, among many others. Sister company QC Sports represents sports and entertainment stars.
During October and November, XSET and Harris worked on an announcement video (found here) telling his backstory and introducing him to the community as a member of the team. The plan was to announce his signing by the end of 2020 with a slick video presentation and a media campaign. Mereu thought the video was exceptional and decided to send it to someone at QC.
“I sent the video on Astonish that we were producing to someone at QC, and I said, ‘These are the kinds of kids that we’re signing here as part of XSET and I’d love to partner with you guys on this,’” Mereu said. “And they literally emailed me back that weekend. They said that the video was amazing, we want to work with that kid, let’s get this partnership going. So that was a catalyst to move our partnership conversations with QC along.”
Harris remembers having to delay the planned December announcement because QC Music had decided to go all-in on XSET, and, more importantly, on him.
“When XSET finally said ‘yes,’ we already had this filming thing about to happen in October or November of 2020, and right before we were going to announce in early December, we got some big news, Quality Control loved my story and they wanted to be a part of it,” Harris said. “They wanted to help promote it and everything.”
XSET officially announced signing Harris and its partnership with QC Music in late-February. The deal with XSET was always about more than just music or fashion collaborations; for both companies, it was and is about promoting the professional Atlanta gaming scene and young people of color like Harris.
“This was the opportunity to really partner together, to work with Astonish, to advance content creators, esports players, gamers of color in the South, and really put a spotlight on that,” Mereu said. “So that’s really kind of where it all came from. We had to wait a little while longer once QC was involved and became a partner with him as well. We’re super excited to have Astonish with XSET and we’re looking forward to doing some really cool stuff with him, content-wise.”
Mereu said that the Harris deal is a joint effort between both companies who will represent him in different areas, ensuring that he gets the proper connections, exposure, and attention he needs to create opportunities.
“We haven’t put it out there, but XSET and QC partnered to help market and promote Ashton in some capacity, in terms of putting opportunities together for him, getting involved in the music space, and getting him out there from a marketing perspective,” Mereu said. “QC is obviously very, very good at that. So, XSET will operate on the gaming side and QC on the music entertainment side He’s someone that we’re holding up as the future of Atlanta gaming and really putting gaming on the map in the city. We’re going to work together with QC to put opportunities in front of the Astonish that he might not normally see just from an esports org or from a record label on their own.”
Reflecting on his journey, Harris said that he is grateful to be a part of this new family and that even if he wants to go and pursue his dream of playing college football he will continue to represent XSET while he does it.
“I’m doing content creation, I’m still playing competitive Fortnite, as well. I would love to play other games competitively for XSET, and if possible, anything outside of gaming, too. If I decided to play football and do gaming still, I would love to represent them on the field. “
Mereu says that the company will continue to support Harris no matter what he wants to do with his life, and he will, schedule permitting, continue to game for them during the process.
“We would support him in anything that he felt was the right move for his career. This is really about him as a person and we want to support him as a person. If he wants to play pro football we will support him in that endeavor, and he could still rep the set, he’d just be repping it in an NFL uniform and doing stuff like other XSET NFL players are.”
Reflecting on his journey, from his grind in the competitive scene to signing with XSET, Harris offered some advice to the kids playing games and dreaming of one day becoming a professional gamer:
“I would say if you love something like gaming keep doing it because all the other things people say are the way to go, like “Oh man, sports is where it’s at, or rapping is where it’s at, gaming can also be that too. Gaming is a growing thing and it’s getting bigger and bigger every day.”
Finally, for those parents out there who think their kids are wasting their lives sitting in front of a screen playing games for hours on end, Harris offers this:
“Gaming is not a waste of time. If parents can see their kids becoming a doctor, an athlete, a musician, or whatever, but they really like games, then you can just let them play their games. It may look like they’re on them 24/7, but they are enjoying themselves and they may just have the ability to become the next ‘Ninja.’”