Tennis stars Serena Williams and Roger Federer will be criss-crossing New York’s Arthur Ashe Stadium when the US Open begins later this month, each battling for $3.85 million in prize money.

But the arena has just hosted a very different kind of “sporting” event, with a prize of $3 million – and not a real ball or racket in sight.

American teenager Kyle Giersdorf, aka “Bugha”, won the solo final at the inaugural Fortnite World Cup in front of more than 23,000 fans in the Flushing Meadows stadium, and millions more watching on video streaming sites YouTube and Twitch.

Jul 28, 2019; Flushing, NY, USA; Bugha celebrates after his win as the first solo World Champion at the Fortnite World Cup Finals e-sports event at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports - 13114815
Bugha: the first world champion at the Fortnite World Cup.
Image: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY

Just weeks after Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic’s epic four hours 57 minutes Wimbledon final, Bugha played a total of six games, each lasting around 23 minutes, to win his prize.

And all the 16-year-old wants to do with the money is “buy a new desk”, he told the BBC.

Bugha was one of more than 40 million players who attempted to qualify over 10 weeks of online competition. In the solo final on Sunday, 28 July, there were just 100 players battling on giant screens for the prize.

Jul 27, 2019; Flushing, NY, USA; A general view of Athur Ashe Stadium during the Fortnite World Cup Finals e-sports event at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY Sports - 13110563
Fortnite World Cup Finals at New York’s Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Image: Dennis Schneidler-USA TODAY

The survival game, in which players eliminate each other on a virtual island, has 250 million registered players worldwide and is free to download. People from more than 30 countries took part in the solo or duos competitions in New York.

As the Fortnite World Cup marks a major moment in the burgeoning e-sports (electronic sports) industry, here’s what you need to know...

1. It’s big business

Epic Games, who make Fortnite, will give out $100 million in prize money in 2019, with $30 million of that at the World Cup.

But the company’s record for the biggest prize pool for an event has already been surpassed by the International, taking place in August, where the pot is crowdfunded by Defense of the Ancients 2 (DOTA 2) players. It currently stands at $31,044,415.

How crowdfunding for the International compares year on year.
Image: DOTA2

Global revenue from e-sports is set to break the $1 billion barrier for the first time in 2019 – hitting $1.1 billion, a year-on-year growth of 26.7% according to Newzoo’s annual market report.

The biggest e-sports market is North America, with revenues of $409.1 million, while China is predicted to overtake Western Europe to become the second biggest market, generating $210.3 million in 2019.

2. Millions watch pro gamers playing every day

Image: Newzoo

One of the surprising forces behind the rise of e-sports is the viewership. More than 15 million people watched the final of the International in 2018 on various streaming sites.

The world’s most popular Fortnite player, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins – who took part in the Pro-Am tournament before the World Cup – has more than 22 million subscribers watching him play on his YouTube channel.

As the above chart shows, research firm Newzoo predicts a global e-sports audience of 645 million by 2022. Newzoo CEO Peter Warman says: “E-sports’ impressive audience and viewership growth is a direct result of an engaging viewership experience untethered to traditional media.”

3. There’s an e-sports gender gap

Among the 100 finalists at the Fortnite World Cup, not one of them was a woman. But that’s not reflected in the statistics of players in general, as 46% of gamers in the US are female, compared to 54% male, according to the Entertainment Software Association. The average age is 34 for women and 32 for men.

There are a handful of high-profile female gamers, including Canadian Stephanie “missharvey” Harvey (20,000 YouTube subscribers), who told the BBC: “I've been doing this for almost 15 years now, and when I started it was extremely male-dominated, especially in pro gaming – it still is. On the circuit, there aren't that many females.”

4. Gaming heavily has raised health concerns

In 2018, the World Health Organization added “gaming disorder” to its list of “disorders due to addictive behaviours”, under the parent group of mental, behavioural or neurodevelopmental disorders.

The WHO considers gaming behaviour to be disordered if, over a one-year period, the gamer loses control over the habit, starts to prioritize gaming over many other life interests or daily activities, and if they continue playing despite clear negative consequences.

Defining behaviours like gaming as addictive or as mental health conditions is still controversial, though. The American Psychiatric Association is one body that has said there is not sufficient evidence to "determine whether the condition is a unique mental disorder". It has recommended the area could benefit from further research.

Image: Entertainment Software Association

Bugha plays Fortnite for six to eight hours a day, five days a week, but he says it hasn’t changed him – rather it’s had a positive influence, helping him to make friends. He told the New York Times: “When I’m not playing Fortnite, I’m usually trying to spend time with my family or friends.”

5. Pro gamers train like any other sports person

Bugha told US talk show host Jimmy Fallon he warms up his hands for 30 minutes before a competitive game, while London-based professional FIFA 19 player, Conran “Rannerz” Tobin has a coach.

He trains for 16 hours a day, practising elements like corner kicks – and even goes to the gym to have a healthy mind and body.