James Wingard had never thought about being a professional esports competitor. Now, the 17-year-old Los Angeles resident, who's also known as "Wings," is part of one of the world's biggest esports organizations.
He's playing in a new league that boasts a $1 million prize pool — and he's doing it all on his phone with "Clash Royale."
Made by game publisher Supercell, "Clash Royale" is a mobile electronic sports game that pits players in head-to-head strategic matches to destroy each other's digital towers. They use decks of cards with their own special abilities. It's all part of a booming global market for esports that research firm Newzoo expects will generate more than $143 billion by 2020.
Following its 2016 launch, "Clash Royale" generated over $1 billion in revenue in less than a year and now has over 50 million daily active users, according to Newzoo. In March, some 25 million competed in a global in-game qualifier event that saw about 7,000 players move on to the next rounds. A much smaller handful was recruited for professional teams.
That includes Wingard, who was recruited by esports organization Cloud9 at the end of July, just in time for the Clash Royale League debut on Aug. 20. He's now one competitor on the dozens of teams worldwide competing in virtual leagues.
"I kind of just played [the game] a lot in my free time," Wingard told CNBC. "Eventually I found myself improving a lot, and I competed in small tournaments. When they announced the championship series, I qualified for it."