Rising above 40 million players in preliminary rounds and beating 99 others in the end, Kyle Giersdorf emerged triumphant, holding tight to a gold trophy, a novel sense of fame, and a staggering $3 million prize. All thanks to Fortnite.

It was his most decisive victory yet — first place at the inaugural Fortnite World Cup at the Billie Jean King Tennis Center in New York City.

He is 16.

A student at Pottsgrove High School who plays the game under the name “Bugha,” Giersdorf was named champion of competitors across the globe who play the online video game. (His username hails from when he was a baby. Whenever his grandfather cooed, “bugga, bugga,” he would giggle. When he got older, he made “bugga” his username, albeit with an alternative spelling.)

Developed in 2017, Fortnite is a free-to-play online game. In Fortnite Battle Royale, arguably the most distinctive version of the program, 100 players skydive onto an island, where they hunt for survival items and defend themselves from others. Published by Epic Games, figures have estimated Fortnite recorded almost 250 million players, generated $2.4 billion in revenue, and touted more than a million members on forums.

Back at home after a whirlwind weekend, Giersdorf, a rising junior in high school, spoke with The Inquirer by phone Thursday.

Kyle Giersdorf celebrates as he holds up the trophy after winning the Fortnite World Cup solo finals in New York.
NYR103 / AP
Kyle Giersdorf celebrates as he holds up the trophy after winning the Fortnite World Cup solo finals in New York.

Answers have been lightly trimmed and edited for clarity.

Q: Well, first, congrats on the win. That’s huge. So what went through your head when you realized that you won on Sunday?

A: So, when I won, I was just really surprised, but at the same time, I didn’t have too much emotion, because this is honestly the craziest thing ever. I was just honestly glad that all the hard work I put into the game has finally paid off.

Q: How’d you get into Fortnite? And at what point did you start playing on the level of other professionals?

A: I started playing about two years ago and I think when I first started playing competitively was around, maybe, a year after I started playing. I got into a little bit of the competitive team, playing against top players.

Q: How much time are you putting into the game?

A: I say, on average, six hours. Usually on school days, I start around 3 and end around 9. So when I get home around 2, I have an hour to do [home]work, and later at 9, I have another hour to do work. In the summer and weekends and stuff like that, it can be on and off.

Q: What was the World Cup like, if you could describe it for all these people who weren’t there?

A: The stage was huge. There was a big crowd. They put a lot into the production. I was just glad to meet all the new people who I’ve been playing with for about a year.

Q: How do you prep yourself to do well in Fortnite? Do you have any special techniques, rituals, or any pep talks that you give yourself?

A: I think one of the most important things is to stay confident. You definitely want to put a lot of your time improving certain aspects, like going over what you do wrong and how to improve from that. Reposition yourself, and other things like that.

Q: Has anyone in the neighborhood or at school recognized your accomplishment?

A: Yeah, definitely. I think I’ve gotten a lot of recognition from around my area. And just from text messages and things like that, from all my close friends. I’ve had some neighbors come over and congratulate me, stuff like that.

Q: Seems like the World Cup put Fortnite even more on the map. So how do you feel about the game leaving an even bigger footprint at this point?

A: The World Cup was really good for the community in general because it’s going to be a larger influx of players coming in. Competitively, it’ll continue to grow now because there’s going to be people dedicated to the grind and wanting to be the best.

Q: You’re up $3 million now. What’s the plan?

A: I’m definitely just going to save the money and invest it into my future. I also want to buy a desk so I have more space. I play in the corner of my room and I have a desk that pretty much hangs up on the wall. It’s fine, but I could use a better one.

Q: Is it back to normal life now?

A: I wouldn’t say back to normal life. I’m still getting a lot of DMs [direct messages] from people. Getting a lot of messages from organizations, sponsorships. But yeah, it’s pretty crazy. I haven’t experienced this before.

Q: Did your parents ever get frustrated you played so much Fortnite?

A: At the beginning, they were a little skeptical. I wouldn’t say too frustrated with me. They were skeptical about the amount of time I was putting into the game because they thought I was missing out on some other aspects of life, but once they realized it could be an actual career, they started supporting me a little bit more.

Q: What other plans do you have for the future?

A: I just want to keep competing, striving to get better. Also, want to grow my Twitch channel, my YouTube, my social [network pages]. All that.

Q: Last question. Anything you want to say to your fans who are reading this?

A: To my fans who are reading this, I’m very thankful for all of you. If it wasn’t without you guys, I probably wouldn’t be here without the support to keep me grinding and motivated. But yeah, thank you, guys. I love you.