It quickly became painfully apparent that the entrants in the Fortnite competition hosted at Samsung’s location in the Eaton Centre weren’t ready for Burhan and Imran Khan. The tournament that the Khan brothers entered on a whim soon became a bloodbath, as they claimed first and second place out of a pool of 100 players. “My brother won a 65-inch Samsung TV and I won a Galaxy Note 9,” said Imran.
The Samsung tournament was held in 2019, when Burhan and Imran were in their first year at Ryerson University. Fast forward to 2022, and the twins have navigated shifting gaming and global environments to become co-managers of Ryerson’s Fortnite team. Whereas some see gaming as a hobby, the Khans see it as their future.
The Khan’s gaming journey started with Delta Force, a first-person shooter (FPS) title released in 1998 by EA. Its official age rating is “T for Teen,” but Burhan and Imran remember playing it at six years old. “That’s what started it all off,” said Imran. “In terms of why we’re good at FPS, we’ve played since we were kids.”
The brothers’ views around gaming changed when Fortnite first came out. A free-to-play battle royale (BR) that marries cartoony graphics with pump shotguns, 350 million people played the game in 2021. Even though Fortnite itself is free, its in-game microtransactions generated $5.1 billion in 2020.
A key feature of Fortnite are its daily tournaments, where players can enter and play for cash prizes. This was the tipping point for the Khan brothers. “When Imran and I first got the game in 2018, we won a lot of money, and we were like ‘wow this is amazing!’ From then on, we started playing competitively,” Burhan said. “That aspect came in when there was money involved. That’s when you want to try and become better.”
Burhan and Imran then brought their Fortnite talents to Ryerson when they enrolled at the Ted Rogers School of Management. They started at Ryerson Esports as players in first year, then coaches in second year and now managers in third year. This semester, they’re looking to take what they learned as players and apply it to their new leadership role. “We learned that we have to be very disciplined, attend all the practices and respect each other,” Burhan said. “As managers, we want to make sure everyone is treated equally and plays efficiently.”
They also intend to prioritize equality. “Esports has always been a male-dominated industry,” said Burhan. “We definitely need more competitive female players. One of our goals as managers is to focus on diversity and inclusion.”
Anybody joining the twins on the Fortnite team will have to strike a balance between gaming and school, something that even average students (*ahem* this writer) can struggle with at times. “We do have a minimum GPA in place,” said Benson Lam, the president of Ryerson Esports. They also offer mental health and academic support systems for their athletes.
If players can find that balance, the rewards can be sweet. “Ryerson Esports is one of Canada’s top esports organizations,” Lam said. “Our Halo team is number one in Canada, our Call of Duty team is number one, our CSGO team is number one, and they’ve combined to make around $3,000 USD in prize pool money last fall semester.”
The Khans got their fair share of that when they led the Rams’ Fortnite team to a seventh-place finish out of 53 schools in last semester’s Collegiate Star League (CSL) table. Over the course of their careers, they estimate they’ve made $50,000 from playing Fortnite, both through Ryerson and external tournaments.
But gaming is, well, not all fun and games. The Khan’s parents still haven’t quite come around to their sons spending so much time honing their skills. “We’re almost 21, and our parents are still sometimes like ‘you’re playing too many video games,’” Burhan said. “It’s good that we have parental guidance and we have to put our studies first, but sometimes we play 10-14 hours a day and it’s a little too much.”
In keeping with their “school first” mantra, the brothers made sure their prize money didn’t go to waste. “Most of our earnings went to tuition straight away, so there’s really nothing to spend lavishly on,” said Burhan. Imran added that his family feels like games are going to fluctuate and that it’s better to focus on your studies and land a ‘good job.’ “But online school makes it easier for us to balance it out,” he said, “so as of right now we’re chilling.”
What isn’t chilling is the esports industry as a whole. According to Lam, it is becoming more and more feasible to launch a professional gaming career. “A lot of players from Ryerson Esports have turned out to be successful,” he said. “We’ve had players go to Spain to compete, we’ve had players drop out of school to compete and they’ve turned out to be successful, and we’ve had streamers as well.”
That industrial growth is being reflected on campus too, as Ryerson is set to unveil the Red Bull Gaming Lab on the second floor of the Rogers Communications Centre. “It’s a facility where players will play out of, and it’s also a classroom that will host video game-based courses,” said Lam, “it’s something we’re really excited to have.”
A Rainbow Six Siege player by trade, Lam worked his way up from Ryerson Esports’ social media manager to club president. “Ryerson Esports gets a lot of job opportunities,” he said, “so it’s a really good position to have on your resume because esports is something new, but it’s also something very interesting to employers.”
In that vein, the twins see themselves staying in the esports industry after graduation. “Esports is growing a lot,” Imran said. “Even if you play competitively and you’re not in your prime anymore, there’s still opportunities to be a show caster, host, coach or even journalist.”
For now, the twins are gearing up for another semester of bleary eyes and hand cramps as they chase down more Victory Royales. They’re actively recruiting for their Fortnite team now, with a new set of prospective players ready to vie for six coveted spots during tryouts on Jan. 29. “When you have a passion for something, any pursuit can seem like an endless journey,” Burhan said. “Whether it’s playing a video game or participating in an esports team, there will always be work involved.”