Days away from the biggest video game competition of all time — a staggering $30 million is being handed out at the Fortnite World Cup Finals at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City — Benjy “Benjyfishy” Fish, 15, has only one goal in mind.
He wants to buy his mother a house.
“I would like to buy a house for my family,” Benjy said. “We have always been renting since my dad passed away when I was 8 months old, so it would be nice to be able to help out.”
Living with his mother on a small river isle in the United Kingdom where there are no cars and everything must be transported by cart, Benjy is cut off from most of the world. In his bedroom — the only bedroom in the cottage-like house nestled near a river — he connects with those he would never meet in his daily walk of life by playing Fortnite, staying up into the wee hours of the morning until the sun bleeds over the riverside.
His mother, Anne, sleeps behind the couch in the living room, her bed and desk scrunched together in the rented home she shares with her son. Although it is a modest living situation, she does her best to support her youngest of two children, working three jobs to let her son continue being a kid.
What began as a simple hobby he shared with school friends — similar to millions of teenagers around the world who have been playing the free-to-play game — has turned into a life-changing moment for both Benjy and Anne.
Benjyfishy, at only 15, has become one of the most prolific Fortnite players in the world, has signed with NRG Esports and has a real shot at winning the World Cup. Provided by Victory Pictures/Epic GamesAt the start of 2019, Benjy made a list of goals for him to complete this year, including joining a professional esports organization, surpassing 5,000 followers on Twitter and qualifying for the event every kid dreamed of playing in — the Fortnite World Cup.
As of Wednesday, Benjy, who signed with NRG Esports in March, has just over 145,000 followers on Twitter and is qualified for both the singles and duos events at the World Cup.
“Benjy won [an online tournament], which was a $10,000 prize fund,” Anne said in an interview with ESPN. “That was my first inkling that Benjy was actually good at the game. I was in bed at the time and couldn’t believe it at first and ended up not sleeping all night.”
The only obstacle standing in Benjy’s way from completing his list of goals, for a time, was Epic Games.
Before Epic Games changed the rules, the age restriction for entering one of its life-changing-prize-money tournaments was 16. Benjy would play well enough to make it to the grand finals of big events but wasn’t allowed to compete for prize money because of his age. In a game in which some of the brightest stars are just entering high school, the age limit would have prevented the U.K. teenager from competing until 2020.
Luckily for him and the rest of the teenage talent in the Fortnite scene, Epic Games officially lowered the age limit to 13 in February, just as Benjy was beginning to make a name for himself in the online world. After becoming eligible to compete in the World Cup, it was time for him to get to work. Over the span of 10 weeks of qualifiers, in which some of the top names in the game such as Tyler “Ninja” Blevins and Team Liquid’s Thomas “72hrs” Mulligan failed to advance, Benjyfishy qualified four different times.
Although players can officially qualify only twice, once in the solo division and once with a teammate in the duos division, Benjy and his duos partner, 14-year-old Martin “MrSavage” Foss, placed well enough in three separate qualifiers to earn tickets to New York City for the $30 million tournament.
Benjyfishy sits on his couch next to his brother, Charles, right, while his mother, Anne, works at her computer. Provided by Victory Pictures/Epic GamesGrowing up in a place not created for high-speed internet connections, Benjy thought he would one day be playing a different kind of sport. Although his older brother introduced him to gaming and enjoyed games like Guitar Hero, Benjy was an athlete in the making.
He played rugby, cricket, soccer and 10-pin bowling, showing a special aptitude for the latter, which he started playing at age 3. On the desk in his room, propped next to his computer and streaming equipment, a myriad of bowling trophies showcase what might have been his future.
Even then, his mother was right beside him, their makeshift team ready to confront the world.
“My mum has always supported me with whatever I was passionate about and helped me pursue those interests,” Benjy said. “For example, when I was competing in 10-pin bowling competitions, we would travel every couple of weeks to get coached by England coaches. My mum helps a lot for me and works behind the scenes to support me.”
Benjy’s career in traditional sports came to an end when he was diagnosed with Osgood-Schlatter disease and Sever’s disease, ailments that affect his knees and feet. This led him to play more computer games, where he could be seated for the duration of play, as a new outlet for his competitive side.
After winning his first tournament, he became the talk of his school, his teachers not believing he actually made money playing a computer game. Soon, it felt like the days were getting longer and the nights shorter, as Benjy did his best to juggle the life of a professional gamer and a 15-year-old kid trying to make his way through the school year. At times, he would fall asleep in the classroom, the strain of competing in tournaments becoming too much to handle.
Seeing her son struggle, Anne knew he needed a change in his life.
This is generally the part of the story where the parent tells the child to quit with the silly video game career and focus on work. Not Benjy’s mom. She suggested homeschooling, allowing him to stay up later and wake up during the afternoon so his body wouldn’t break down from the stress and lack of sleep. The decision worked out, as Benjy qualified for the World Cup Finals a few weeks later.
At the World Cup Finals, Benjy is one of the favorites in both the solo and duos divisions. Looking at the rest of the field, he expects to be challenged by his teammate MrSavage and another U.K. teenage prodigy, FaZe Clan’s Kyle “Mongraal” Jackson, in the solos competition, which will close out the event on Sunday, with the winner walking away with the title of world champion and $3 million.
When Epic Games announced the Fortnite World Cup last year, it wanted to develop a competitive gaming scene different from other esports. Instead of franchising like Riot Games’ League of Legends or Blizzard’s Overwatch or relying on the star power of the players who helped Fortnite skyrocket in popularity in the first place, Epic wanted to create new stars. With an open-qualifier system and by lowering the age limit to 13 — League of Legends and Overwatch have age limits of 17 and 18, respectively — Epic Games has made it clear it wants to give anybody from anywhere the opportunity of a lifetime.
Benjy is that anybody from anywhere, coming from a town that small towns would call tiny. Those late nights when he was alone in his room, pitch black except for the light emanating from his computer as he tussled with strangers from across the globe, he was never actually alone. His mother was there every step of the way, a door away, snuggled behind the couch, supporting and watching with a careful eye.
“I actually get very emotional just thinking about it,” his mother said when asked how she’ll feel watching him play at the World Cup Finals. “I will be incredibly nervous for him, but words can’t describe how proud I am of what he has achieved, and his dad, David, will be watching over him.”
Since Benjy was a child, Anne has always wanted a place of their own. At the Fortnite World Cup, she will get to see Benjy finally have a place of his own — on the stage, in the place where he belongs.
As he plays for $3 million and the chance to become a world champion, Benjy won’t be playing by himself. His mom will be there too, as she always has.
As she always will.