Recently, the US Tennis Association had announced that said the winners of the men’s and women’s singles titles at the 2019 US Open will receive a record payday of $3.85 million each. The winners will pocket that amount in the first weekend of September at the Arthur Ashe arena and will enter history books.

But with more than a month to go for that, on Sunday, at the very same iconic venue, a 16-year-old won a title worth $3 million. What sport, you ask? eSports, of course.

America’s Kyle Giersdorf, alias “Bugha,” became the first Fortnite world champion in the solo division, winning $3 million at age 16 on Sunday.

Originally from Pennsylvania, the young gamer took the lead in the first of six games of the grand event that saw 100 participants from 30 countries. The overall prize money that was at stake for the World Cup was a whopping $30 million.

“It’s insane,” the young millionaire said after the final, during which he scored almost double the points of his closest opponent (59 to 33).

Aside from the second of six games, Bugha was remarkably consistent despite playing in the first world cup final, with millions of dollars on the line, in the Arthur Ashe stadium, where the US Open tennis tournament takes place.

“This morning he was worriless, energetic, having fun to make sure he wasn’t stressed at all,” his best friend Colin Bradley told AFP after the final.

In the game, users are dropped onto an island where they must search for weapons and other resources while eliminating other players – all while trying to stay alive. A sense of placement, a talent for building, brilliance in close combat and rock solid self-control – Bugha had it all in the final.

For some perspective on the prize money, here’s a snippet from an Engadget article: “The $30 million prize pool for the Fortnite World Cup matched that of this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup, the biggest showpiece event in women’s soccer. The teenager even earned almost 50 percent more than Tiger Woods did for winning the Masters – the golfing legend scooped up $2.07 million along with his 15th major title.”

Prize money comparison

Event Total prize money Prize money for champions
Fortnite World Cup (E-Sport) $30 million $3 million
ICC World Cup 2019 (Cricket) $10 million $4 million (highest in tournament history)
US Open 2019 (Tennis) $57 million $3.85 million (singles champions)
Fifa Women's World Cup 2019 (Football) $30 million $4 million
Fifa World Cup 2018 (Football) $400 million $38 million

READ: The phenomenal growth of esports in India

‘It’s massive’

Epic Games – Fortnite’s creators – have spent a whopping $100 million on the inaugural event, including staging 10 weeks of qualifying culminating in this weekend’s tournament.

Over the three-day tournament, Epic Games gave out $30 million in prize money.

Every competitor is guaranteed to leave with $50,000, making them the envy of the schoolyard when they return home.

On Saturday, gamers using the pseudonyms “Nyhrox” and “aqua” became the first Fortnite world champions in the duo division, winning $1.5 million each.

During Sunday’s final, the crown jewel of the tournament, three players in addition to Bugha also became millionaires: “Psalm” ($1.8 million), “Epikwhale” ($1.2 million) and Kreo ($1.05 million), all Americans.

Argentinian player Thiago Lapp, alias “King,” made a splash at only 13 years old. He just missed the million-dollar mark ($900,000) and finished fifth, employing an ultra-aggressive style that helped him eliminate 21 competitors over six matches, the best after Bugha (23).

During the weekend’s highlights, attendees filled about two-thirds of the Arthur Ashe stadium, which has a seating capacity of 23,000.

READ: How an elite eSports team hones its skills under the same roof

The popularity of the game – which is free to play and has 250 million users worldwide – is higher than ever, thanks to its fast-paced updates.

According to the Engadget report, “the Fortnite World Cup prize pool wasn’t the biggest in esports, though. Dota 2’s The International has the largest one around. It topped $30 million last week, and is likely to grow even more ahead of next month’s event. Last year’s winning squad, OG, took away $11.2 million. But Bugha’s prize is the largest ever for a single player at an E-sports tournament.”

A Conversation report in 2018 said, “This popularity also opens up more opportunities to compete on the professional level and earn huge endorsements, prize money and salaries just like LeBron James, Serena Williams, Danica Patrick or Sidney Crosby. In fact, higher education eSports programs are already launching across the country and college scholarships are now commonplace, further acknowledging the economic viability and social acceptability of this phenomenon.”

“And with talks of introducing eSports in the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, Canada’s “Own the Podium” program may soon have to follow suit.”

With the craze only growing for the various E-sport events around the world, a Guardian report summed up the situation perfectly: “A walk around the sprawling grounds where the US Open will take place next month raised a pressing question: not whether esports is the future of sports entertainment, but whether there’s any possible scenario where it’s not.”

(With AFP inputs)