Nineteen-year-old Austin Etue silently stared at his computer in disbelief. He'd just won $250,000 playing a video game.
Before Sept. 3, almost no one in the gaming world had even heard of Etue — he had less than 10 followers on Amazon-owned gamer streaming platform Twitch and was playing against big names like FaZe Clan's "Tfue," who has over 3.5 million Twitch followers.
But there he was: He had just defeated 99 of the world's top gamers in the final round of the Summer Skirmish, a tournament for Fortnite, the massively popular multi-player online survival game. Fortnite developer Epic Games put up a total of $1.5 million for the final stage of the competition, and Etue had finished first and was taking home the biggest chunk of that tantalizing prize pool.
"I don't think that I've processed how much $250,000 is yet. I don't even know," a shrugging and nearly speechless Etue said in a post-match interview on Epic Games' livestream on Twitch, after seeing the dollar amount of his prize flash on a computer screen at PAX West, the gaming conference that hosted the final stage of the tournament in Seattle.
Etue, who plays Fortnite under his gamer alias "Morgausse," was understandably shocked that he'd won. The teenager, who lives with his parents and two younger brothers in Tennessee, was an underdog entering the tournament. He was a relative unknown in the burgeoning world of competitive gaming, unsigned by any professional esports team.
Etue wasn't even expecting to make it to the final stages of the tournament, he tells CNBC Make It; he thought he would be eliminated in one of the qualifying rounds that determined which players would make the finals. Instead, he defeated more high-profile players — gamers with professional contracts, like Team Liquid's "Poach" and Ghost Gaming's "Bizzle."
"Really earning the respect of all those other players and actually beating them is definitely a crazy feeling," Etue tells CNBC Make It.
Players in the Summer Skirmish earn points by winning battle royale rounds as well as for eliminating other players, and Etue finished first in the finale with 20 eliminations and 11 overall points.
In his post-match interview, Etue, a skinny kid wearing a hooded sweatshirt and a backwards baseball cap, thanked his parents for supporting his gaming and offered some words of advice for any aspiring Fortnite champions watching at home.
"Keep your grind up no matter how hard it gets, no matter how tough the times are, it'll be worth it if you keep it up," he said.
The scene was "surreal," Etue tells CNBC Make It, as he nearly instantly went from an unknown to a Fortnite celebrity. After the top finishers were announced and Etue had been interviewed on camera, he says "people were saying they wanted to take pictures with me, and congratulating me. It was hectic, but it was definitely really cool."