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 1.2 million subscribers and more than 71 million views; figures that have netted him advertisers, sponsorships and a steady stream of income.
Last year, that income totaled nearly $200,000.
The healthy sum — more than enough to comfortably raise a family in most American cities — 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.
“It’s kind of like my job Griffin told ABC affiliate WABC-TV, noting he plays about eight hours a day in his Long Island home.
In a short documentary published on YouTube this week, Spikoski’s mother, Kathleen Connolly, suggested that her son’s passion and success took her by surprise.
“I never realized 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 have hired a financial adviser and an accountant to help him manage his money, WABC-TV reported.
Despite their increasingly visible, cultural 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.
When President Trump falsely pinned Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee on “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400-pounds,” he was invoking a well-trod stereotype.
But the reality is that electronic sports (known as “esports”) have become big business, so much so that the biggest esports tournaments are now providing payouts of nearly $25 million, 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 $100 million 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.
“Esports 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.
Like ESPN athlete profiles that air on game day, video game companies are even producing their own short videos highlighting the personality and drive of their most popular players.
For years now, Spikoski’s family said, the teenager’s entree into professional esports has 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, according to WABC-TV. It didn’t take long, the station reported, for the teenager to make his first $100 from 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. With his notoriety increasing, Connolly said, Spikoski struggled to manage two worlds — and two personalities — that felt increasingly divergent. In person, Spikoski is shy and anxious. In the virtual world, he is confident, playful and mischievous.
“I think he made it through three days of high school and he had issues every day that he was there — either being distracted in class because people wanted his attention or feeling like he had to be Sceptic at school,” Connolly said.
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. Even relatives who initially suggested there was no future for the teenager in gaming and that the family “was crazy” have come around.
“It’s been his dream to be a gamer, to be in esports, just to be in this field since he was a kid,” Spikoski said, noting that his son began playing video games at age three.
“We don’t really see that you need a 9-to-5 job to get by in life and you can actually have fun with a career and enjoy your love and do what you love and make a living out of it,” he added.