When 16-year-old Fortnite world champion Kyle Giersdorf returned to his home in Pottsgrove, Pennsylvania, the United States in July 2019, he did so with a cheque for US$3 million. When I was 16 years of age, all I could hand my parents were report cards that contained suggestions that I was “lazy” (“indolent” if it was from my English teacher), “could do better”, “needs to apply himself more” and “probably could be more usefully deployed down a mine or up a chimney”. I apologise. I have been reading quite a lot of Charles Dickens recently, and clearly it has affected my thinking.
On 28 July 2019, Giersdorf (nicknamed “Bugha” – I don’t even want to go there, but apparently it was a cognomen given to him by his grandfather, and it really is snot an issue) was crowned as the Fortnite World Cup Solo Champion. The little Bugha picked up a cool three million bucks for playing a game on a computer. As Americans might say, “he plays it pretty good”.
The pro gamer may also have produced his report card from school at the time, but his parents could have been forgiven for leaving it on the mantelpiece and concentrating on the greenbacks. “That’s my boy,” one would imagine his father saying. “Would you care for a glass of milk, dear?” would have cooed his mother.
For those of us not familiar with Fortnite, it is an online video game released in 2017, developed by Epic Games (a company valued in 2018 at US$15 billion). It’s a “shooter-survival” game in which players fight off zombies, build things, defend them, and save the world. These are exploits with attendant values that I think we can all support. What’s not to like? Killing bad things is good. Saving the world is like, you know, like, radical. Like.
For many people around the world tuned into the news headlines and learning of a teenage multi-millionaire who had acquired his wealth by playing a “game” (a computer game no less), it was nothing short of bizarre. But these are the times in which we live, and Giersdorf has every right to bask in the glory of being the absolute best at what he does as, say, Usain Bolt did when he was in full tilt; Mike Tyson, at his pomp, when no one would get in a ring with him without a hospital plan; or Lionel Messi, when he was taking on entire teams single-footedly.
I am being slightly disingenuous. Computer games, professional gaming, and esports in general are not a sport, and Kyle Giersdorf is not a sportsman, but he’s the best at what he does, even if some (maybe even most) of us think that what he does has little value.
He practises (plays games) for hours and hours, and after securing the dosh at the Fortnite World Cup, you can bet your bottom dollar and newly built leisure cruiser yacht that Giersdorf’s mum and dad are no longer censuring him for the time that he spent in his bedroom, alone, with the door locked. I did the same as a teenager, but for different reasons.
I had a conversation about it with a friend who’s an academic, and I always imagined that he’d be something of a dismissive reactionary with regard to video games. I was wrong.
“This world rewards excellence,” he started off by saying, “in everything, and…(there was a slight pause)…anything. If you work hard, at whatever you’re doing, to be the best of the best; the best in the world…it’s worth celebrating. It’s also worth watching. Becoming the best in the world at something a lot of other people are also trying to be the best at, is not to be taken lightly.”
This could account for why e-gaming, eSports, e-sports, esports – I can’t even be bothered to get the nomenclature right – is now massive, and…on television. You can tune in on a device that enables you to play video games, to watch other people playing video games. And it’s compelling viewing, apparently.
I thought that we had reached a nadir when reality TV shows became ubiquitous, but even they had a human element that was sufficient to engage interest for a nanosecond before the viewer realised that they comprised nothing more than an individual desperate (and I mean desperate) to acquire their “15 minutes of fame” (thanks Andy Warhol; you have a lot to answer for).
I would watch women trying to have babies in the desert (“natural” birth), “Pawn Stars” – great title, big disappointment, and even “My Perfect Patio”. Hell, I’ve even tuned in to two minutes of Keeping Up with The Kardashians – albeit immobilised and heavily medicated, which helped. But watching televised coverage of someone playing a video game? Give me a commercial-filled break.
It may not be to everyone’s taste (or even understanding) but the esports and professional gaming industry is here to stay and growing faster than the muscles on Giersdorf’s thumbs. He doesn’t give too much away to his legion of fans – led in choruses of approval, no doubt, by his parents – other than to say that he does a 30-minute warm-up before playing a game, and that he practises and/or plays for a minimum of six hours a day. I can only imagine what my parents’ response to me spending six hours a day locked up in my room, alone, would have been back in the day, but then I was only eating the bacon, not bringing any home.
This article is an excerpt from UNRESERVED’s November 2019 issue from the article Games People Play.