While all us hoity-toity critic folks were tripping over ourselves to talk about the majestic naturalism of Monster Hunter: World and the political cowardice of Far Cry 5, a goofy online shooter called Fortnite: Battle Royale went and became the hottest game on the planet. It checked all the right boxes for blowing up: It’s free. It’s playable on most platforms. It’s social. It’s all over popular livestreams on YouTube and Twitch. And it’s gone mainstream in a way we rarely see, name-checked by athletes on national television, and even getting Drake involved. The Fortnite craze only got bigger when the game launched a mobile version, which, according to one analysis, raked in $25 million in its first month. That handheld edition is so popular with kids that, not long after it launched, the internet became flooded with reports about how badly it was disrupting schools and dominating kids’ social circles.
With that in mind, we have some good news for all you teens out there who are currently trying to play Fortnite by hiding your phone behind a textbook: Ashland University in Ohio has just become the first to offer a scholarship for elite Fortnite players. Ashland is one of the several dozen schools across the country that operates a varsity esports program, having announced plans for intercollegiate competition in League Of Legends and Overwatch earlier this year. Ashland was already offering $4,000 scholarships for students that land spots on those teams—and many of its collegiate esports compatriots provide similar scholarships—but the Fortnite prize is the first of its kind.
It’s an especially bold investment, seeing as competitive Fortnite isn’t even a thing right now. Anticipating that its popularity could lead to a scene as lucrative and popular as established games like League Of Legends and Counter-Strike, several major esports organizations have started assembling professional teams of their own, although there have yet to be any major matches so far. Maybe by this time next year, competitive Fortnite will become its own internet juggernaut, and every poor high-school teacher in America will have to hear about how they’re crushing their students’ esports dreams as they dump confiscated phones into the “Battle Royale Bucket.”