Bryce Hoover craves competition.
The 13-year-old incoming eighth-grader at Key Peninsula Middle School likes being on the baseball and football fields. He’ll even try to out-sing everyone on stage in the school choir. But it’s in front of his computer tucked away on a desk in the corner of his kitchen where the ultimate competitor in him comes out.
Bryce, like many kids his age, is spending a lot of his summer break playing Fortnite, an uber-popular online multiplayer game. Players, in the “Battle Royale” version search for weapons, resources and supplies to help them compete and survive against 99 other players.
Hoover was a latecomer to the evolving six-year-old game. He’s only been playing for 18 months, but with almost 300 wins on his record, Hoover has established himself as one of the premier players in the KP and Gig Harbor area.
“As soon as I started playing, I just fell in love with it,” Bryce said.
The game gets a bad rap, he said. Yes, there’s shooting. Yes, there’s violence. And yes, there’s killing.
“But there’s absolutely no blood, no gore, no decapitations,” adding that because it’s a fantasy world and not a first-person shooter game, it’s not as impressionable as the more violent games. “It’s not meant to be a dark game,” Bryce said
Players can use resources to build forts and bridges and create sniper nests. With elements of Minecraft and Roblox, two other popular online games, it gives players a chance to adapt to different environments and overcome obstacles in real time.
His dad, Paul, appreciates the benefits of Fortnite.
“It’s less about, ‘You shoot me, and I’ll shoot you,’ and more about learning problem-solving skills and working with other people to accomplish a goal,” he said.
Bryce applies some of the skills he’s picked to his schoolwork, slowing down to think strategically before answering questions or solving problems. He’s become faster and more accurate at typing from using his keyboard so much, and the visuals and graphics from the game inspire him during art class.
Paul and his wife Jamie have had conversations about online safety with Bryce over the years and feel comfortable with him playing in the kitchen, just feet away from them in the living room. They’ll take a quick glimpse of what he’s doing when they walk by and can hear everything he and his friends are talking about.
“Bryce is a pretty good trash-talker (with his friends), but I think that comes with any form of competition,” Paul said.
There are not many kids in their neighborhood south of Gateway Park and most of Bryce’s friends live more than a bike ride away, so online gaming is a good way for Bryce to stay connected. For Bryce, Fortnite is more than just a game, it’s a place to share in the joy of a like-minded hobby.
“He’s goofing off and being a kid with friends, but he’s at home and he’s safe,” Paul said. “It could be worse.”
Both parents are fine with gaming but have instilled a sense of balance between real and virtual life in Bryce.
“He does a pretty good job of self-management,” Paul said. “He has to do some form of athletic activity every day and as a family we try to get out and move. For the most part, I want to make sure he’s not sitting here hypnotized by a computer screen 14 hours a day.”
Bryce thinks he will be good enough in the next few years to enter Fortnite competitions. Professional “electronic sports” players can earn seven figures for winning.
“That’s definitely one of my dreams,” Bryce said.
It’s a good thing he loves competition because Bryce has a lot of it. According to ActivePlayer.io, a website that gives live updates on the number of people playing Fortnite, Bryce is one of nearly 250 million people playing the game this month, and there are more than one million playing at any given moment.
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