It took Timothy "Bizzle" Miller only a handful of matches to realize he hated Fortnite.
"I tried it, and then uninstalled it," Bizzle remembered. "I thought it was too cartoony. At the time, [PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds] was pretty popular and everyone liked how realistic it was. No one thought Fortnite was going to turn into something as big as it is now."
Although Bizzle uninstalled Fortnite as quickly as he installed it, the game was harder to remove from his memory. A few weeks later, without quite understanding why, Bizzle gave Fortnite a second chance. And now he has a good shot at a share of the $30 million Fortnite World Cup finals in New York in July.
"I don't know what changed, maybe I won a game or something, but I just fell in love with Fortnite," Bizzle said. "Over the next couple weeks, I found myself playing more Fortnite than Counter-Strike. My team was pushing me to choose one or the other because I couldn't do both."
Drawing upon the same competitive zeal he used to excel in traditional sports like soccer, golf and badminton, Bizzle got better as he played more. His drive intentionally mimicked the OpTic Gaming Call of Duty team he supported through Ghosts and Advanced Warfare. Bizzle devoured the OpTic house content while in middle school, learning what it took to be a pro gamer from stars like Matt "Nadeshot" Haag and Seth "Scump" Abner.
"Watching how their lifestyle was playing games all day, enjoying that whole experience, just fueled me up and got me into that competitive mindset," Bizzle said.
Soon, Bizzle found his place among the North American Fortnite elite, gaining access to the exclusive Discord pros were using to organize scrims.
"All the players would ready up, and one person would count '3, 2, 1, go,' and hundreds of people would click go at the same time, hoping to get into the same match," Bizzle said. "If we got five to ten squads in the same game, that was good. Getting 20, 30 player endgames was hard at the time, which is pretty crazy to think about. You see 60 to 70 now."
Some of the friends Bizzle made in this new community, like Dylan "Dmo" Moore and Enzo "Enzo" Simonette, eventually become his teammates on Ghost Gaming. Bizzle thinks Ghost signed the squad in part because of FaZe Clan's Dennis "Cloak" Lepore's recommendation.
"If you won two or three scrims a night, that was really, really good," Bizzle said, "and that was something we were averaging. [Cloak] knew that we were a good team, underrated, didn't have the biggest following, but he judged us on our talent at Fortnite. I'm really glad he did."
Despite the otherworldly hype that saw Fortnite skyrocket in popularity throughout 2018, Bizzle still wasn't sold on Fortnite as a full-time career. His mother, Debra, had always pushed her son to get a degree, first at Penn State for accounting, before he transferred to Suffolk County Community College after one year. Even throughout Summer Skirmish, the plan was to attend classes in the fall. But once Bizzle won $205,000 in Seattle, he decided to tell his mom the bad news.
"The day after I got home [from PAX West in the late summer of 2018] I was supposed to start classes," Bizzle said. "And I was like, 'Mom, I'm not going to classes. I'll try to do Fortnite full time and see where it goes.' I'm so glad it's turned in the right direction, and it's going great for me."
Committing to Fortnite changed the trajectory of Bizzle's life. Since the game's competitive scene began in earnest last summer, Bizzle has amassed more Fortnite winnings than any other player. Some highlights: second at the PAX West Summer Skirmish finale; fourth in a duo with Dylan "Dmo" Moore at TwitchCon; and first at the Secret Skirmish Solos.
On April 14, Bizzle was among the first wave of players to qualify for July's Fortnite World Cup with its $30 million prize pool -- the largest ever offered by an esports event. All told, Bizzle has earned more than $500,000 in prize money during the competitive scene's nine-month life span -- more than any other player.
For Bizzle, reaching the World Cup podium would set yet another high-water mark in an already tremendous 2019. Bizzle's top five finishes at Secret Skirmish, ESL Katowice Royale and BoomTV's Code Red Fortnite Tournament represent the strongest run of his young career, capped by third place in Week 1 of the World Cup qualifying solos that locked in his World Cup finals invite. That level of consistency is what Bizzle hopes for going forward.
"I didn't win anything for a while," Bizzle said. "My first win was Secret Skirmish, which might have made a presence for some people, but it wasn't that big of a deal for me. I'm extremely happy that I won, but it's nothing crazy out of the way from second place, and I've placed second in five skirmishes. If you place second out of 100 players, that's extremely good and Fortnite rewards you for that."
With all the optimism surrounding his buoyant career, it was jarring to watch Bizzle's brief, expletive-laden tirade on a stream during the Week 3 World Cup qualifiers.
Bizzle was playing for fun, plus a bit of prize money and practice (as he had already qualified for the World Cup), but nothing about his experience seemed enjoyable. Midway through his Sunday set, Bizzle suffered a looting bug that prevented him from picking up pistol ammo. After he died, Bizzle launched into a rant chastising the "idiots working at Epic" as he readied for the next match.
"I can't believe I play this game," Bizzle said on stream. "I want to play f---ing Counter-Strike. ... God, I'm going to [go] back to competitive Counter-Strike."
It's easy to misinterpret Bizzle's outburst as entitled whining instead of what it was: the simmering frustration of an ultracompetitive player finally put to boil. And Bizzle isn't alone in his feelings; many in the competitive Fortnite community are incensed by Epic's haphazard gameplay decisions. That same weekend, a University of Georgia Fortnite duo claimed they were quitting competitive Fortnite minutes after winning the Collegiate Starleague finals.
Epic has become notorious for releasing new items, mechanics or major patches immediately before major tournaments. Bizzle mentioned a few: Gravity zones at PAX West. The Infinity Blade at Winter Royale. The Boombox at WSOE 3. Patch 7.40 and its suite of (positively received) balance adjustments that went live the morning of Secret Skirmish. Launching Season 8 and its volcanic map changes the day before ESL Katowice -- the same volcano that destroyed Tilted Towers and Retail Row hours before Week 4 of World Cup qualifiers began.
"They changed the whole northeastern side of the map a day before [ESL Katowice]," Bizzle said. "Imagine practicing for months at the same spot over and over again, and the day before you have to compete for money, it's gone. Out of the game. You have to go to a new spot, learn it, and you're going to have to fight people off spawn too because you don't know what you're going into."
Whatever magic that drew Bizzle from Counter-Strike to Fortnite is slowly being lost. These days, he is a master in a game in which the meta is constantly shifting, forcing him to reinvent his game every few weeks. For a competitor like Bizzle, it's immensely frustrating, and he is not shy about sharing his feelings.
"If Epic would just listen to what most pro players want done with the game, this wouldn't be a problem at all for anybody," Bizzle said. "... Being a competitive player and wanting to be the best player I can, every change that they make changes the meta of Fortnite.
"If every player can't practice the same amount of time with new metas, then I don't really think it's competitive or fair for any of the players involved."
Epic has been listening. In a blog post published on April 26, the Fortnite team promised to reevaluate its communication frequency with competitive players, recognizing that the status quo was insufficient. But the team stood by its decision regarding the World Cup field-of-vision and native resolution lock, arguing that it constituted an advantage unavailable to non-PC players.
Fortnite isn't alone as an evolving competitive game; most esports are regularly patched and improved. The difference with Fortnite is that intentionally dropping massive changes immediately before or during major tournaments heightens entertainment values at competitors' expense.
Passionate competitors such as Bizzle might always be at the mercy of Epic's priorities, but where else would they go? Fortnite tournaments are by far the richest gigs around, offering unparalleled sums of money and visibility that drastically changes lives. That's why Bizzle is skeptical when pros claim they'll quit after the World Cup, even though he has felt the same urge to leave this often disheartening circumstance behind. The money is too lucrative to ignore.
"Pretend the week after World Cup, Fortnite announces another $50 million tournament," Bizzle said.
And it's not out of the question.
"With the money [Epic's] putting on the line, there's no way you can turn that opportunity down. I'm hoping they make it so we can do both, enjoy the game and play it competitively," he said.
Soon, the World Cup finals will be held at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens, roughly 45 minutes west of his hometown of Commack, New York. Bizzle knows the nearly 24,000-seat tennis stadium well. Bizzle will be there, but what awaits on center court is anyone's guess.
Will it be Fortnite in the round, complete with stacked player consoles and individual front-facing LED screens? Will the high-end servers and custom player resolutions from Secret Skirmish return? By the end of July, Fortnite will likely have entered Season 10. What will the map look like? What will the meta be?
We'll just have to wait and see, Bizzle said. In the meantime, he'll be grinding Fortnite, the game he loves, hates, loves to hate and hates to love.
"It's going to be insane to see a whole stadium filled with people for the World Cup," Bizzle said. "It's all going to be new once I get there. I can't wait for it."