American teenager Kyle Giersdorf won $4.3 million ($US3 million) on Sunday after taking the top prize in a tournament in New York for the popular online video game Fortnite.
Giersdorf, 16, from Pennsylvania, was one of at least 100 players competing for $43 million ($US30 million) in total prize money, as the booming popularity of video and online games has drawn top-dollar investments and fuelled the emerging professional sport.
Playing under the name "Bugha," Giersdorf won the solo finals portion of the Fortnite World Cup by scoring 59 points, 26 more than his nearest competitor "psalm," according to the Fortnite World Cup Leaderboard, posted on the game's website.
"Words can't even explain it. I'm just so happy," Giersdorf said in an interview at the event at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, New York, posted by organisers on Twitter. "Everything I've done, the grind, it's all paid off. It's just insane."
Launched in 2017, Fortnite's popularity has helped Epic Games reach a $15-billion-valuation last year. It competes with other games like Electronic Arts Inc's Apex Legends and Tencent Holdings Ltd's PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. Tencent also owns a 40 per cent stake in Epic Games.
For the first Fortnite World Cup, Epic Games struck a deal to take over the tennis centre for three days. It was the last possible weekend to do so before the US Open build-out begins in earnest.
"If I was sane, that last weekend probably would have been about 30 days ago," Daniel Zausner, the chief operating officer of the tennis centre, said.
With a limited window to host events in nice weather that do not interfere with the Open, Zausner said, the Fortnite World Cup was attractive because of its young audience. "This just breaks down a barrier for people that are not that familiar with tennis or not that familiar with the venue," he said.
A multitiered stage hung from hundreds of cables fastened to the roof of the stadium. Needless to say, structural engineers were required. Racks upon racks of servers were assembled in the commissary, connected to hundreds of computers and video cameras by 25 miles of fibre-optic cable. More than 60 tractor-trailers of equipment were unloaded, including one filled mostly with gaming chairs.
Like an inverted panopticon, 100 screens featured the views of 100 cameras, letting the audience in the far reaches of the stadium watch the competitors. Giant 4K LED screens showed in-game action, and smoke machines, spotlights and confetti went off after matches. The sound of virtual battle was so deafening that ear plugs were included with media credentials.
"That will make everything better," one mother said while buying a cocktail during Friday night's celebrity pro-am event. "I can't take it in there anymore." On the other end of the spectrum, one family of three wore T-shirts that read, "We're Not a Regular Family, We're a Fortnite Family."
Given the expensive construction and the gobs of prize money, it is difficult to imagine that Epic Games will directly profit on the World Cup. The suites inside the stadium were not sold, nor were sponsorships and television media rights. Tickets for the entire weekend cost about $50 to $150.
"Their ticket prices could have been 10 times what they were," Zausner said. He added: "As you can tell from their model, they are not out there hawking sponsored products. They are about their brand identity."
Befitting a virtual game entering the physical world, the entire experience was aggressively online. Signs posted everywhere warned spectators that they were consenting to being filmed by Epic Games, and the company was not the only one filming. At one point, four men in their 20s walked by chanting indecipherably, pointing a phone at their faces to livestream.
Looking at his phone while going up an escalator, one competitor marvelled at his social media performance. "Bro, I've gained so many followers since I got here. Like 600."
"Just wait until you compete," his friend told him.