INTERNATIONAL - Griffin Spikoski spends as much as 18 hours a day glued to his computer screen playing the wildly popular, multi-player video game Fortnite.
His YouTube channel - where he regularly uploads videos of himself playing the online game - has nearly 1.2million subscribers and more than 71million views; figures that have netted him advertisers, sponsorships and a steady stream of income.
Last year, that income totalled nearly $200000 (about R2.8bn).
It is all the more impressive considering Spikoski is 14 years old.
Still, he approaches video games the way an elite student athlete would approach a sport like football or basketball: when he’s not playing, Spikoski, who goes by the name “Sceptic” on YouTube, completes school work online.
But video games remain his focus, according to family members.
In a short documentary published on YouTube last week, Spikoski’s mother, Kathleen Connolly, suggested her son’s passion and success took her by surprise.
“I never realised that Griffin was good at games,” she said. “He told me he was good at them and then the world just kind of confirmed it.”
After creating Sceptic Gaming Inc, the teenager’s parents hired a financial adviser and an accountant to help him manage his money.
Despite their increasingly visible impact, video gamers have yet to receive the widespread respect and admiration afforded mainstream pro athletes. Like skilled computer experts and programmers, they are sometimes conflated with hackers or stereotyped as sun-deprived misfits who grow inside suburban basements like some form of 21st century human fungus.
Electric sports (known as “e-sports”) have become big business, so much so that the biggest e-sports tournaments are now providing payouts of nearly $25m, according to Gamespot, offering salaries that rival or surpass many professional athletes.
Last year, the video game and software company Epic Games announced that the company would provide $100m to fund prize pools for Fortnite competitions for the upcoming season. The audience, which spans the globe and flocks to popular gamers on YouTube and streaming platforms like Twitch, is in the tens of millions. More than 67 million people from around the world play League of Legends each month, according to Riot Games.
“E-sports mimic traditional sports leagues principles: Exciting content, likeable stars, catchy team names, slow motion highlights, intense competition and an uncertain outcome,” according to the Conversation.
“These video games attract audiences as they are no longer simply designed to be played, but increasingly to be visually pleasing for audiences,” the outlet added.
For years now, Spikoski’s family said, the teenager’s entree into professional e-sports had seemed inevitable.
His big break came last year when the Spikoski beat a well-known Fortnite player and uploaded a video of the battle to YouTube, quickly resulting in 7.5 million views. It didn’t take long, the station reported, for the teenager to make his first $100 Twitch. Not long after, his father, Chris said, everything changed.
“Two months went by and we were like, ‘Alright, we’re going to need to get an accountant and get a financial adviser,” he said.
Spikoski’s parents told filmmakers that they decided to remove their son from high school as his dedication to gaming deepened.
Spikoski’s parents said their son had been pushing them to allow him to pursue online schooling. With his success growing, they eventually relented.
“I was playing games all day and watching videos, that was just my life,” Spikoski told filmmakers when asked about his parents’ reaction to his request. “They already knew.”
Their only choice, Chris Spikoski said, was to “embrace it” and now they treat their son’s passion like it’s any other sport.