Kyle Giersdorf has been training for this moment nearly his entire life. Of course, he’s only 16 years old, but the teen competitive gamer still just became a multimillionaire by following his passion: playing video games.
On Sunday, Giersdorf won a $3 million grand prize at the first-ever Fortnite World Cup, where he topped a field of 100 of the world’s best gamers playing Epic Games’ massively-popular online survival game. Giersdorf — who plays under the name “Bugha,” his childhood nickname — dominated a group of competitive gamers with an average age of 16, just like him.
Giersdorf took home the largest prize of all by winning Sunday’s singles competition at the Fortnite World Cup, but Epic Games handed out a total of $30 million in prizes during the weekend event at New York City’s Arthur Ashe Stadium. Several teenagers, including Giersdorf, became instant millionaires in front of crowds of thousands of spectators who came to watch the competition in person, with another two million people streaming the action live online.
And while he may be young, Giersdorf has still been working toward this goal for a long time. “He’s been playing video games since he was 3, so this is his passion,” Giersdorf’s mother, Darcy, told ESPN. “He told us he could do this, he put his mind to it and he did it.”
Giersdorf himself seemed to have trouble immediately processing the fact that he’d won millions of dollars playing Fortnite. “It was honestly, like, surreal,” he said in an interview on NBC’s TODAY on Tuesday morning. “But at the same time I had no emotion, honestly, because I didn’t really understand what was happening. But, it was crazy.”
What is clear is that Giersdorf has been putting in long hours of practice to get to this point. He plays Fortnite at least six hours each day, he said on TODAY, even on school days. Despite that video game-intensive schedule, Giersdorf says he still finds time to finish his school work.
“I fit it in with free periods during school and also just after [school] for like an hour or two,” he said.
Giersdorf’s father, Glenn, added that he and Kyle’s mom have made it clear the high school junior can continue dedicating so much time to playing Fortnite as long as he does well in school. “We always told him that as long as his grades were up we would support him and we’d always try to do what we could,” Glenn said on TODAY. “And if his grades would start slipping – which they haven’t, thank God – we said there are consequences to that.”
Meanwhile, in an interview with comedian Jimmy Fallon on NBC’s “The Tonight Show” on Monday night, Giersdorf broke down his daily Fortnite practice routine. On weekends, Giersdorf says he wakes up around noon, eats a banana, and then warms up by playing about 30 minutes of Fortnite’s Creative mode, where players practice building virtual structures, like towers or buildings — skills they can use in the game’s popular battle royale mode.
After that, Giersdorf said he calls his friends and teammates on the competitive gaming team of which he is a member, called the Sentinels. “I go onto a call, talk to all my friends and like go over strategies,” Giersdorf told Fallon. “It’s like my job.”
This isn’t the first time Giersdorf has won money playing Fortnite, as he told Fallon he won about $100 when he first started competing in events with prize money earlier this year. Now, Giersdorf’s “job” has likely earned him more money than most other 16-year-olds can dream of, but he’s not letting it go to his head.
Giersdorf said on TODAY that he wants to invest his major winnings: “Save the money, put it to my future and probably buy a new [gaming] desk,” he said. That echoes sentiments he expressed in an interview with ESPN shortly after he won the $3 million prize on Sunday, in which he said his plan is to “save the money and invest it and not do anything dumb with it.”
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Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf celebrates after winning the Fortnite World Cup solo final at Arthur Ashe Stadium on July 28, 2019 in New York City.
Mike Stobe | Getty Images