About an hour ago

In just a few weeks, high school athletes across the WPIAL will begin the fall scholastic sports season. All will pursue a championship and try to earn a college scholarship with the hopes of turning pro one day and making the big bucks.

Kiski Area rising junior Nick McGuire has them all beat. In a little more than nine months, the 16-year-old esports phenom already has signed a contract and turned pro, has more than six figures in the bank and placed 61st in last Sunday’s “Fortnite” World Cup finals, bringing home $50,000.

“I was nervous,” said McGuire, who goes by the “Fortnite” handle “Aspect.”

“I wasn’t as nervous as some of the other people were. There’s always some nervousness when you’re being watched by a crowd.”

McGuire sat center court in a sold-out Arthur Ashe Stadium in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens for the tournament.

With more than 40 million gamers trying to qualify, the field was pared to 100 of the world’s top “Fortnite” players. They competed July 26-28 in four classes: solo, duos, pro-am and creative. McGuire’s duos teammate, Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf, 16, of Montgomery Colo., won the $3 million grand prize.

Giersdorf finished with 59 points to earn the largest payout in esports history. McGuire closed the three-day tourney with 11.

“The winner was who got the most cumulative points over the six games,” McGuire said. “I just missed all of my shots. I could not aim. I had a game where I got three kills, and I got sniped.

“The last game I almost won. I remembered how to aim in the last game, but before that I forgot how to shoot.”

McGuire’s rise to “Fortnite” phenom was analogous to that of a professional baseball player. He started in what people might compare to Class A baseball and rose through the ranks before becoming an elite player and professional. Last summer, McGuire was playing in what could be viewed as Class AAA.

McGuire hit the bigs last October by signing with Sentinels, a gaming organization based out of Los Angeles, when he turned 16. Three days later, the Kiski Area honor roll student won his first tourney as a pro and pocketed his first earnings, $32,000.

“He works at it very hard,” McGuire’s mother, Bonnie, said. “He’s obviously gifted at what he does. It’s given him great opportunities. I think it was my responsibility to support it.”

The game has taken McGuire around the world. Last March, he travelled to Poland to compete, and he has been Los Angeles a couple of times.

Playing video games was something McGuire was good at early. He made the commitment to become a full-time gamer later.

“At the end of his freshman year of high school, he said he was going to spend the whole summer playing this video game, and he was going to be signed by the end of the summer,” Bonnie McGuire said. “By the end of the summer, and by the time school started, he had a couple of contract offers, all of which he did not accept. This is sort of what he does, and this is his thing.”

McGuire said he spends 8-10 hours a day playing video games. As for tips on how to become a better “Fortnite” player, he said playing on a smaller monitor or television is key so the eyes don’t have to cover as much ground. Second, he said, “Go middle circle in every single zone and aim for the head.”

And lastly, play in a lot of “open discords.”

“It’s just a lot of hard work playing every day and grinding as much as you can,” McGuire said. “With all the money I’m making right now, I’m going to play video games as long as I can.”

McGuire will use his new-found stardom to help raise money for a good cause. He will set up a booth Sept. 21 at Leechburg’s Pink Day, where he will ask for donations to sign autographs and take photos and give the money to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

William Whalen is a freelance writer.