As Harrison “Psalm” Chang walked around Manhattan, navigating his way through the thousands of locals and tourists around him Monday, he stopped for a moment to catch his breath and contemplate his new reality.
Chang woke up Sunday morning as a 24-year-old professional gamer who had earned a little more than $69,000 last year playing Heroes of the Storm and Fortnite, and he went to bed Sunday night $1.8 million richer as the runner-up of the first Fortnite World Cup Finals solo division.
“I just stopped at one point and thought to myself, ‘Dude, I’m a millionaire,’ ” Chang said. “It just hit me at that moment. It’s crazy what I just accomplished.”
Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf, a 16-year-old from Pottsgrove, Pa., claimed the solo division championship and a record single-day prize of $3 million in front of a packed crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens and more than 2 million concurrent viewers on Twitch and YouTube.
Chang, a Los Angeles native who attended UCLA, was one of the oldest competitors at the World Cup Finals. He said he heard his fair share of “grandpa” jokes over the week despite not yet being old enough to rent a car.
“It’s weird, because at 24 years old you’re considered to be in your physical prime in traditional sports, but in a fast-paced game like Fortnite where you’re doing several actions at once and you have to be thinking so fast, you actually do feel your age,” Chang said. “It’s different. It’s a lot more precise, and there’s a lot more going on in one second than there is in traditional sports.”
Chang at first joked about going to a casino, finding a roulette wheel and attempting to double his prize by putting it all on black. “I love gambling. I do. It’s fun. But I’m not going to do that,” he said a day later. “I’m going to go with the safe option: Invest it and hire financial advisors.”
However, he added that he had decided “there should be one thing I go crazy on. I’m still trying to figure that out.”
Chang, an avid Lakers fan, said he might splurge on season tickets. He was 15 the last time the Lakers won a championship and likes their chances next season with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma and DeMarcus Cousins on the team.
“I grew up a Lakers fan, but they’ve kind of sucked for a long time,” Chang said. “They’re finally good again, so I’m definitely looking forward to watching them this season.”
That Chang is able to joke about going to a casino and talk about splurging on items such as a new car or home shows the difference in age between him and his competitors. Not only was the $3-million winner 16, the player who came in fifth was 13-year-old Thiago “King” Lapp from Argentina who made $900,0000.
“They couldn’t even celebrate with a couple of drinks,” Chang said. “That’s crazy, right? The average qualifier for the Fortnite World Cup was 16 years old. I’m almost twice as old as some of these guys, and I’m only 24. It’s crazy, man. I’m hanging out with a bunch of teens.”
Fortnite is a popular battle royale video game in which 100 players are dropped onto an island where they fight to the death until one winner is left standing (and dancing). The simplicity of the 2-year-old, free-to-play game has attracted more than 250 million registered players, from grade-school children to professional athletes. Chang was a professional Heroes of the Storm player when he decided to change games last year.
“I started playing Fortnite a year and a couple months ago, which is later than most other pros,” Chang said. “I started playing it because it had become so popular that I had to check it out and see what it was about, and I got hooked on it and I made the switch over.”
The first Fortnite World Cup will forever change the lives of those who finished in the top five. Within 24 hours of his triumph, “Bugha” had attracted more than 200,000 new Twitter followers, 200,000 new YouTube subscribers and 100,000 new Twitch subscribers. He also landed an appearance on “The Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon. Last year, he won about $26,000 as a professional gamer.
To put the $3 million he earned Sunday into context, consider that Novak Djokovic made a little less than that for winning Wimbledon earlier this month and Tiger Woods made a little more than $2 million for winning the Masters in April.
“The beauty of esports is that it’s not like traditional sports where you have to be born tall, fast and strong,” Chang said. “Something like this, anyone’s got a shot and anyone can compete. Anyone can go for it if they put the time in. Look at me. I’m just your average-built Asian guy. I’m 5-foot-8 with an average weight, and I’m out here competing.”
It might take a while for Chang to fully adjust to being a millionaire.
“I was freaking out on Sunday, man. I was freaking out for a very long time, and I’m still kind of freaking out,” he said. “It hasn’t hit me yet. I feel like I won 100 grand or 200 grand, which would be great. It doesn’t feel like I won nearly $2 million. That kind of money is crazy. It’s just surreal.”