Nearly all established sports are going through some degree of hand-wringing over attracting younger fans as their older core ages out. The death of monoculture and explosion of entertainment options, many accessible without leaving one’s bedroom, have seen attendance drops across the board. MLB and NFL teams have fallen over themselves installing on-site daily fantasy lounges to lure second-screeners. Even the hidebound International Olympic Committee has made transparent plays for youth, most recently with the addition of skateboarding, surfing and three-on-three basketball to next year’s Summer Olympics in Tokyo.
The demographic they’re so thirsty for could be found in droves over the weekend at New York’s Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, where three days of sold-out crowds turned out for the biggest video game competition of all time – the Fortnite World Cup – where a 16-year-old from Pennsylvania named Kyle Giersdorf (aka Bugha) brought home the winner’s share of $3mwith a dominant performance in Sunday’s solos competition. It was the climax of a three-day marathon that saw a staggering $30m in prize money doled out.
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.
Fortnite, the free-to-play sensation published by Epic Games in 2017, is a crossover phenomenon that raked in $2.4bn in revenue last year alone,transcending gaming into the mainstream in ways few titles have managed. The premise is simple: 100 empty-handed players are dropped onto a virtual island and fight to be the last person standing. Simple to learn, difficult to master.