Kyle Giersdorf, who goes by "Bugha," said he planned to buy a new desk with the money. He has played the game for two years.
Some teenagers make extra cash by mowing lawns or babysitting. But 16-year-old Kyle Giersdorf of Pennsylvania put them all to shame by winning US$3 million ($4.5 million) playing Fortnite.
Giersdorf, who plays Fortnite Battle Royale online as "Bugha," beat out 99 other players Sunday to win the solo competition at the inaugural Fortnite World Cup, held at the US Tennis Association Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre in New York.
The status of that venue — best known for hosting the world's top tennis players at the US Open, which will begin next month — was testament to the incredible popularity of Fortnite, a game that allows as many as 100 players to meet on a virtual island and battle it out until one is left.
The game has nearly 250 million registered players, according to its publisher, Epic Games, and about 40 million of them participated in online qualifiers for the World Cup. Tickets to attend the weekend event cost $50 to $150.
Giersdorf said in an interview Monday that his confidence had grown as the event had unfolded. "I definitely went into the competition aiming for at least top 20, but after that big first game I definitely thought I could win," he said. He played a total of six games, each lasting about 23 minutes, he said.
He said he had played Fortnite for two years and had been introduced to the game by his father, Glenn Giersdorf. (They live in a town outside Philadelphia, but Kyle Giersdorf declined to specify further.)
It's the only game Giersdorf plays competitively. "I saw it and I was like, 'This is something I'd be interested in playing,' " he said. "And I just started playing with my friends, and it got pretty fun. I started playing every day."
He now plays six to eight hours a day, at least five days a week, in his room.
Giersdorf's management company, Sentinel, said his $4.5 million payday was the largest individual prize in esports history. It was also not far from the amount of money awarded by more traditional sporting events: The men's and women's singles champions of the US Open will each walk away with US$3,850,000 ($5,805,930), for example.
Only a handful of other professional gamers have earned more than Giersdorf, according to Esports Earnings, a community-driven rankings website. The man who tops that list, according to ESPN, is Kuro Salehi Takhasomi, known as "KuroKy," who has won US$4.2 million ($6.3 million) since starting his career in 2010. (His game of choice is "Dota 2," another multiplayer online battle arena.)
"I definitely want to save the money and invest it toward my future," Giersdorf said. "Make sure I'm safe with the money."
He does plan to splurge on a new desk, he said.
Giersdorf finished the tournament with 59 points. Harrison Chang, 24, an Orange County, California, native who plays as "Psalm," came in second place with 33 points and won US$1.8 million ($2.7 million), according to Fortnite Intel. The message pinned to the top of his Twitter account reads, "There is no freaking way I just made 1.8 million ..."
After the competition, he ran around excitedly for 10 minutes. "I went crazy," Chang said Monday. He became a full-time gamer in 2016 when he dropped out of the University of California, Los Angeles. In total, he has 19 years of gaming experience.
Chang, who currently lives with family and plans to move out soon, isn't sure what he'll do with his winnings. "I've always lived kind of frugally, and I'm not really big into, like, spending big," he said. "I'll use it somehow to make more money, though."
Third place went to 16-year-old Shane Cotton of Redondo Beach, California, who goes by "Epikwhale" and finished with 32 points. It was his first major competition, and he won US$1.2 million ($1.8 million). He brushed it off on Twitter as "a couple of $."
Cotton practised six to eight hours a day during the school year, and in the summer he stepped it up to around 10 hours a day, he said. "It's a great relief for me," he said about his performance at the World Cup. "I've been putting in hours every day. Just trying to get better and prepared for this tournament." He plans to save most of his winnings but said he will spend some on clothes and shoes.
Giersdorf said he knew the other top players in the competition but didn't talk to them frequently.
His usual training process, he said, includes warming up his hands, calling friends to discuss techniques to improve, watching videos of the game and competing in scrimmages. He will try to balance that time-consuming schedule with his class work in high school, where he'll be a junior this fall.
"During the school year it's a little bit harder to control that," Giersdorf said. "It's a little bit on and off. Usually I try to keep it consistent, but it's hard with school work."
He said his family was proud of him and was not too worried about the time he spends gaming since he's making money. "Fortnite" hasn't taken over his life, and it's been a positive influence on him and helped to create friendships, he said. "When I'm not playing 'Fortnite,' I'm usually trying to spend time with my family or friends," Giersdorf said. "Just want to stay in touch with them."
The popularity of Fortnite, which was created in 2017, helped drive up revenue for the video game industry and other interactive media last year by 13 per cent, to about US$120 billion ($180 billion), according to a report by SuperData, a market research firm owned by Nielsen. Fortnite was the top-ranked free-to-play game in 2018, raking in US$2.4 billion ($3.6 billion) in revenue, according to the report, which described the game as "a global phenomenon."
That all bodes well for Giersdorf's plans to make a career out of gaming. "I'm going to keep playing and try to grow my brand," he said.
He'll try to be at next year's Fortnite World Cup. "For sure, any competitions that come from 'Fortnite,' I'm definitely going to try to be involved in," he said.
Written by: Derrick Bryson Taylor and Niraj Chokshi
© 2019 THE NEW YORK TIMES