Last weekend, over 80,000 people descended on the Sydney Olympic Park precinct to see the Canberra Raiders take on the Sydney Roosters in the 2019 NRL grand final.
Amongst the sea of blue-specked green could be found a handful of young adults who were there for a completely different reason – to earn prize money and, for one, to eventually own a dog.
The five players, aged between 13 and 17 years, were gathered to compete in the League Royale – a Fortnite competition organized by Let’s Play Live (LPL) in partnership with the NRL. These players earned flights, accommodation and a ticket to the NRL grand final by placing in the top 5 during the LPL qualifiers. Now, they had to battle 5 content creators/influencers, 3 NRL players, each other and over 60 pros competing from home to earn a share of over $18,000 worth of prizes.
This is not the first time that traditional sports and esports have intersected. Earlier this year the Australian Open also played host to a Fortnite competition, albeit on a much larger scale. The AFL have invested in professional and high school League of Legends in Oceania. The A-League has a video game equivalent called the E-League. These are just some of many examples.
Despite the best efforts of stream host Robert “ManicMunday” Munday, it was a slow start to the day at the League Royale, with crowds anywhere but the LPL stage. However, this all changed when the three scheduled NRL talent – Josh Mansour of the Penrith Panthers, Ryan James of the Gold Coast Titans, and Benji Marshall of the Wests Tigers – turned up to play, and the competition began in earnest. Josh and Ryan promised big performances but recorded an early exit in the first two matches. In the end, it was smiles from the trio, who shared a moment with fans before leaving prior to the third match.
As expected, the top 5 qualifiers had much more compelling performances. Before the matches, the five teens chatted and laughed, but once the headsets were donned, steely expressions indicated that it was time for serious business.
For some of these competitors, Fortnite IS serious business. Ryley “Jynx” Linde is a sponsored player for the Esports organization Corvidae. He’s hoping to turn enough money playing Fortnite to turn it into a career. It’s not unrealistic. Earlier this year, Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf earned $3 million USD at the Fortnite World Cup. Closer to home, the Fortnite Summer Smash at the Australian Open offered a prize pool of $300,000.
Matthew “LunR” Conlon was the winner of the LPL qualifiers, meaning he was the one to watch at the League Royale. He wants to share in the big Fortnite money so he can buy a house for his family. It’s an admirable and selfless goal for a 15 year old. His father, Jason Conlon, is quick to reveal the whole story. “He really wants a Samoyed. It’s a fluffy, white dog that looks like a cloud. If we move into our own home, then we can get a dog. It’s Matthew’s dream to own his own cloud dog.”
In the first match, with half the players remaining, we hadn’t seen LunR at all. I make this remark to Jason. He doesn’t seem phased. “That’s LunR’s strategy. He will lay low and try to go for the placement points rather than trying to accumulate eliminations.”
The strategy works. With 15 players remaining, we finally see LunR. He fends off an onslaught of fire from competitors with quick builds and bold rotations, eventually placing second. The placement points are good, but he only secured one elimination. The Victory Royale and a whopping seven eliminations went to @PriceFNBR – one of the qualifiers playing from home. Price was going to be difficult to catch.
Unfortunately for the on-stage pros, and LunR’s canine-owning aspirations, the next two rounds don’t go so smoothly. LunR is out early, while Jynx is only able to record a top 20 placement in the final round. In the end, it was Price who secured the victory and the right to have the last dance.
While you’re catching up on the LPL twitch VODs here, LunR will be working on getting his Samoyed.