The U.S. Men’s National Team missed this year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia, but America still has a shot at a lesser-known World Cup: the 2018 FIFA eWorld Cup, which will bring together the world’s 32 best EA Sports FIFA video game players. It begins on Aug. 2 in London, and the winning purse is $250,000 of a $400,000 overall pot.
Alexander Betancourt, 19, is the only American competitor to qualify for the tournament, after 19 of the 23 Major League Soccer teams selected a gamer; Betancourt represents Sporting Kansas City. (His preferred team to play with in FIFA isn’t an MLS team and isn’t exactly a sleeper pick: Real Madrid.) FIFA is the only game Betancourt plays competitively, but—surprise!—when he’s “relaxing,” he plays Fortnite. (Listen here to our recent Yahoo Finance Sportsbook podcast on Fortnite.)
Competing in esports is going so well for Betancourt that he’s taking the next year off from school at the University of Kansas.
“I’d love to do this as a career,” says Betancourt. “I’m just kind of riding the wave, seeing where it’s going.” In case you’re wondering how Betancourt’s parents feel about putting off college to play video games competitively, he says, “They’re ecstatic. They’re mind-blown just like I am.”
The esports industry has quietly exploded, reportedly topping $1 billion in revenue last year. There are esports competitions around a wide range of video games, from shooters to sports, but the phenomenon has been driven by Activision Blizzard’s mega-popular shooter game Overwatch, which now has a structured 12-team league and backing from pro sports team owners like New England Patriots owner Bob Kraft and LA Rams owner Stan Kroenke. Twitch is reportedly paying Activision $90 million for its two-year deal to stream Overwatch, and Amazon paid nearly $1 billion to buy Twitch in 2014.
In case you wondered about the training regimen for a 19-year-old competitive video gamer, Betancourt says that at this point in the year, “It’s one or two hours [per day].” If that doesn’t sound like much, he acknowledges, “Most people think, ‘Oh, he’s playing all day, 14, 15 [hours],'” and he says that at the beginning of the year, when a new edition of the game comes out, the commitment is indeed closer to 15 hours per day. And as for the diet? “Normal stuff,” Betancourt says. “Junk food.”