If nothing else, Team 33 certainly made a splash when it arrived on the esports scene earlier this month. In a press release, the previously unknown organization boasted of a Hollywood team house that had already played host to big names like Janelle Monáe, Post Malone, and Drake. But it wasn’t glitz and glamour that prompted a withering glare from the esports community’s eye of Sauron. Instead, it was the team’s first announced signee: a Fortnite player named Joseph Deen. He is 8 years old.
Deen is a child. To hear Team 33 founder Tyler Gallagher tell it, he’s an extremely skilled child, but a child nonetheless. Despite that fact, Deen is now a full-fledged member of a professional organization, and he’s got a $33,000 signing bonus and a brand new $5,000 gaming setup to show for it. When the signing was first announced, some esports fans declared Deen’s unlikely debut a dream come true, the sort of opportunity most kids would screech themselves hoarse over. But others looked on with furrowed brows and scrunched up faces. They smelled something fishy. At such a young age, how could he enter tournaments? And what could the team possibly have him do that wouldn’t violate child labor laws? Surely, fans figured, Deen’s signing couldn’t be legal.
Extreme youth is not uncommon in the esports world, where teens become stars, and teams push limits to get an edge on the competition. Multiple Overwatch League teams have incubated underage players until they’ve hit the minimum required age to play on Blizzard’s big stage (18 years old). In 2019, then-16-year-old Fortnite phenom Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf won the Epic mega-game’s $3 million world cup. Somewhat notoriously, 2019 also saw H1ghSky1—a player signed to esports behemoth FaZe Clan—get busted for pretending for years that he was above the minimum required age to stream on Twitch and compete in Fortnite tournaments (13).In reality, FaZe first signed him when he was 11. In response to this revelation, Twitch suspended his account, and Epic revoked his tournament winnings. He went on to stream on YouTube with direct parental supervision, per YouTube’s rules for young children, until he turned 13 earlier this year.