Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf is the new, 16-year-old Fortnite world champion. He won a total of $3 million from the $30 million that Epic Games had allocated for the 2019 Fortnite World Championships. But he’s not the only one who won big last month. All of the 100 participants were guaranteed at least $50,000 and the four best would become dollar millionaires.
Kyle has been catapulted into superstardom. Since his win, he’s been featured on pretty much every major news outlet in existence, including the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. What he intends to do with his prize winnings? Buy a new desk. Just like most esport pros, Kyle is only a US teenager who loves to game and who happens to be seriously good.
Pro gamers are the new superstar athletes. If you don’t believe me, think about this: Kyle Giersdorf winning the Fortnite World Championships earned him more money than it did Novak Djokovic winning Wimbledon (£2.25 million) and Tiger Woods winning the Masters (around $2 million). And the US National Team that won the FIFA Women’s World Cup? They took home $4 million, but that had to be split among all players.
It’s a worldview shift that many people aren’t prepared for. This is often reflected in the interviews with the parents of the kids who participated in the Fortnite World Championships (because they’re pretty much all younger than 18). I don’t think there’s been a single parent who hasn’t tried to stop their pro gamer child from playing Fortnite. Mind you, best-in-class gamers train for many hours a day, and their school grades often suffer because of it.
You can’t really blame the parents. They’ve lived in a world where you had to get a degree in order to succeed. It was a time where you could join a company that would give you the opportunity to stay there for many decades and where you could climb the corporate ladder with honest, hard work. It was a world where you could buy a house if you saved up enough money in a savings account that would give you a reasonable interest rate.
All of the above has changed. In a way, the world is a lot more volatile now. Full-time employment is risky; a company can drop you at any moment, regardless of how long you’ve worked there. Houses are prohibitively expensive and interest rates are so low your money loses a significant percentage of its value to inflation every year.
On the other hand, the Internet has opened up a world of opportunity. If you know how to navigate it, you can make more money than you could ever dream of, from anywhere in the world. No longer do you need tens of thousands of dollars to start a business. You could start one today for less than $100, by buying a website domain, creating a website, and promoting your product on social media.
The Internet is in large part responsible for the popularity of video games. Video games sales have outweighed box office receipts for over two decades already. They eclipsed home video and theatre earnings combined fifteen years ago. And they’ve earned more revenue than the movie and music industry combined every year for the past eight years (source). If you think that the Avengers franchise is big, realize that Red Dead Redemption and GTA are both way bigger.
The growth of the video game industry shows no sign of slowing down either. In a way, this comes as no surprise, because gaming doesn’t have a cultural nor a physical barrier. Everyone loves to game, regardless of culture or country. This is different from traditional sports, for example, which are strongly bound to culture and which have physical barriers.
Table tennis is popular in China, but far less so outside of China. Sumo is popular in Japan, but far less so outside of Japan. Cricket is popular in India, the UK, and South Africa, but far less so outside of these countries. You get my point. Video games don’t have such barriers.
It’s on this gigantic wave of video game popularity that we’ve seen two new, major developments in the last decade: the rise of streaming and of esports. Just like there was a big market for watching other people practice sports, there’s an enormous market for watching other people play games. This has resulted in millions of people who live-stream themselves as they play games and even more who watch them as they do it.
While YouTube is the platform where you’ll find edited videos of people playing games, Twitch is the number one platform to watch people play games live. Twitch has grown dramatically over the last few years: over four million people broadcast a monthly basis, with an average of 50,000 channels streaming live at the same time. On average, 1.2 million people are on Twitch consecutively watching live streams, all of whom together watched a total of 387 billion minutes so far this year alone.
Some of the most popular streamers bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue every month. Tyler “Ninja” Blevins is a Fortnite player and one of the most popular Twitch streamers. He averages 72,000 viewers during competitions on his live streams. He makes around $500,000 a month in streaming revenue.
The popularity of streaming hasn’t gone by unnoticed. Multi-platinum musicians like Post Malone, Deadmau5, Logic, Steve Aoki, and many others have streamed their concerts. Marshmello has gone a step further and has associated himself with Fortnite directly, playing concerts for gamers inside Fortnite and DJing at the Fortnite World Championships. By now, it should come as no surprise that he was one of the best-paid DJs of 2019.
It’s in all this craziness that blockchain technology has an opportunity too. I’ll prove my point with an example. PewDiePie, YouTube’s biggest channel (screw you T-Series) with close to 100 million subscribers, streams his videos on Dlive, a live streaming platform powered by the Lino blockchain. Only last month, he streamed together with none other than Jack Black, one of the biggest movie celebrities in the world. If that’s not an endorsement of both streaming and blockchain technology, then I don’t know what is.
Different from Twitch, DLive doesn’t take any fees nor any revenue from its creators. Because it’s run on a blockchain, it democratizes video content by giving viewers the opportunity to upvote the content they like watching. Viewers can earn tokens by making meaningful comments, upvoting videos, and in general by positively contributing to the platform.
Another important aspect of blockchain technology is the full ownership of digital items. As video games continue to grow in popularity and as we move towards a fully digital society, this will become increasingly important. What you own digitally should be entirely yours, and blockchain technology enables that.
This means that certain items in a blockchain game will be so-called non-fungible tokens (NFTs). Any NFT that you buy or earn in a game will be entirely your property and will have a monetary value attached to it. These NFTs are on their way to becoming genuine investments, as evidenced by the interview I did with Matty, who’s built a portfolio of digital land that’s now worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
NFTs will add an extra dimension to esports too. Not only will esport pros earn millions in prize money, but they’ll play with items that are worth a lot of money too. If they ever decide to give up on their career, all they’d need to do is sell all their loot for a comfortable nest egg that might last them for the rest of their lives.
If you don’t believe that, think about the money that people have already spent on NFTs. Someone paid $170,000 for a CryptoKitty. Someone bid $60,000 on a Gods Unchained card. A single parcel of LAND in Decentraland frequently sells for over $10,000. Those are individual NFTs. Imagine having a few hundred of these.
Esports will take over traditional sports. It already has more viewers than any other sports in the US but the NFL. It’s growing significantly every year. It will happen. There’s no stopping the momentum.
Blockchain technology will play an increasingly prominent role in this wild mix of streaming, esports, and video gaming. People will come to expect full ownership over their digital items. They’ll reject any centralized entity taking fees or promoting this content over the other. They’ll want their platforms to be democratic and they’ll want to be compensated for their input and their output. All of this is only possible with blockchain technology.
It’s undeniable strange, but when has the future not turned out strange?