Nolan Burdick's love for video games started when he was eight years old. Now, a decade later, the Edmonton teenager is preparing to compete in his first professional video game tournament in South Korea.
"It's obviously a dream come true to do this right now, " said Burdick, 18, from his five-star hotel room in Incheon where he arrived just under a month ago to quarantine for two weeks before he can officially start playing.
Burdick is the only Canadian competing in the international tournament, which is hosted by PUBG esports. The tournament sees 32 teams from around the world playing PlayerUnknown's Battleground (PUBG), a first-person shooter battle royale video game. The teams will compete in a six-week round robin tournament for a prize pool worth $3.5 million.
The last team standing will take home a grand prize worth more than $500,000 USD.
Burdick plays for an American team called Zenith eSports, but the tournament also consists of teams from China, Japan, South Korea, Brazil and more. While two teams are competing remotely due to COVID-19 restrictions, the others will play while safely spaced apart.
Each session starts with 16 teams on a virtual grid that's eight kilometres by eight kilometres in size. The teams are parachuted into various points of interest on a map, like cities or military bases, and then the battle to hunt other teams down and eliminate them is on.
"As the game progresses, the circle starts to close and you have less playable terrain, so teams are forced to fight each other," Burdick said.
"By the end of the game there's only enough terrain for one team out of the 16 in the competitive match to be alive and eventually a team will win."
'Oh my gosh he's going to South Korea'
Burdick started playing PUBG two years ago. At first, he didn't think anything of the game. But he soon found himself winning and finishing atop the leaderboards before eventually joining Zenith.
Top players are recruited with sponsorships, salaries, clothing and trips to tournaments around the world. For this tournament, Burdick says he and his teammates' living costs are all covered for the three months they're there.
Because of confidentiality agreements, Burdick says he can't reveal how much he's paid, but it's not uncommon for gamers to make anywhere from $10,000 per month or higher.
All of this has been a whirlwind for the 18-year-old and his family.
"This is what he's worked for, this is the goal," said Rachel Devereux, Burdick's mother.
"Then reality set in and we were like, 'oh my gosh he's going to South Korea for three months in the middle of COVID.'"
But Burdick's family was confident with the tournament's safety protocols, and the required quarantine before the tournament started. They also viewed this opportunity as a business trip, as the 18-year-old embarked on his first professional tournament.
'Its been a real journey'
Seeing the elaborate international events her son competes, how the esports competitors are treated and what's at stake, has been an eye-opener for Devereux. She's realized all those hours of playing video games has paid off for her son.
"They're paying them for their food for three months, and their five-star hotel, their flights and their visas. Like that is massive amounts," Devereux said.
She plans to juggle her schedule so that she and the rest of her family can watch Nolan play live online in South Korea, which is 16 hours ahead.
As for where this video game journey will take her son, Devereux says it could lead to a future working for one of the many esports companies when his gaming days are over. But whatever he does, he's got their full support.
"I probably didn't have a great understanding before a year and a half ago. But once he started the trips and getting on a team and having contracts, it changes and it becomes more real, something that I can wrap my head around. And it's been a real journey for us too," Devereux said.
The tournament's round robin format begins on February 2.