The words were not mine, but came from an acquaintance, a sharp, friendly C-level executive somewhere near fifty, as we were talking in his car.
The subject was his teenage son, who apparently is one of Top 300 Fortnite players. No, not Top 300 in Denmark. Top 300 globally. We were discussing his parental reflections on children, money, student jobs and that sort of jazz.
And when I heard that his son was that good at Fortnite, my immediate reaction was “Wow! Do you support him in that?”. He admitted that he didn’t. Not in a way, where he was against it, but he didn’t really see potential in it. On the other hand, he also had a feeling he was looking it at all wrong.
And that was when he laughed ruefully and said the words.
“If he’d been this good at tennis, I’d have sent him to tennis camp.”
For me, that’s where this got really interesting. It wasn’t that he was opposed to Fortnite or that he was completely unaware that e-sports was a thing. No, it was more a combination of not knowing how big of a thing it really is, fearing that it would lead to less exercise (where classic sports often lead to more!) and the whole “But it’s sitting in front of a computer instead of getting out into the sun!” argument.
My conversation partner’s views on this matter aren’t unique. And he was open about his bias. He even asked me about whether I thought he was just being old-fashioned. Being me, I gave him a resounding affirmative.
Yes, that’s being old-fashioned.
And for those of you who find yourself in similar shoes — either as parents or as budding e-sports stars, here are four things that are worth bringing into that sort of conversation.
- E-sports is exploding. Today, there are more than a hundred million Fortnite players, but in a couple of years there’s a good chance that number will be much higher.
- Professional e-sports is exploding as well. Not too long ago, the world ooh’ed and aah’ed at League of Legends players getting prize money. Now, those prizes have dwarfed the former numbers.
- The e-sports eco system is expanding. Big sports franchises didn’t have e-sports teams 10–15 years ago. There weren’t training academies and government support. Ten years from now we’ll probably be in a place we can’t even imagine today.
- There’s more social capital there. Unsurprisingly, most people aged 50+ don’t realise how cool it is to be among the world’s best Starcraft players. But as time passes, more and more adults will have been gamers themselves (and might still be).
And what about the whole “Sitting in a dark room looking at a screen instead of going outside and getting exercise and sunlight” angle?
Well, to be honest, it IS a thing. To get really good at Fortnite, you need to play a lot of Fortnite, and that probably won’t happen outside in the sun, wearing tennis socks while running around in a tennis court.
From a job/future point of view, it doesn’t really cut it. When someone says “Dad, I want to go to business school and become a CEO of a Fortune500 company”, the response is rarely “That’s great, young one, but have you considered that CEOs spend a lot of time indoors? Maybe you might want to reconsider?”.
When we’re told that people want to become doctors, I have yet to hear someone say “Hmm… aren’t you worried that you’ll have to spend a lot of your work life in rooms with artificial light? How about becoming a gardener instead and soaking up some sunlight?”
Or in other words — it’s an angle, but I don’t buy it as a relevant one.
So where am I going with this?
I’m saying that if you’re the parent of a young e-sports talent, it’s (definitely!) time to start taking that seriously and leaving your biases behind.
There’s nothing wrong with saying:
“Hey, I like that you’re so enthusiastic about football and I understand why you might want to pursue a pro career, but it’s not all glamour and fun.”
That’s totally ok. I have a cousin who spent his final teenage years as an honest-to-capitalism pop star in a boy band, and his parents were (rightly so) worried about whether it would impact his high school duties. They’d have said the same if he’d showed the same talent for volleyball.
But if you are the type who would consider getting your daughter private lessons if she was particularly adept at basketball, then you should extend to her the same courtesy if she comes home and has stars in her eyes when she talks about DOTA (google it if you don’t know what it is).
That’s all I ask. Stick to your ideals, whatever they might be, but don’t get stuck in the 20th century just because that’s when your youth was.
And to the father, who inspired me to write this, I will say what I said then:
“If you’d have sent him to tennis camp, if it was tennis he was good at, just do the same here. Ask him what kind of training he needs to become even better and ask him how you can help. Few children complain when parents support them in their dreams — even if they don’t fully understand them.”
And how did he respond?
When I showed him the draft of this article, he told me that after our conversation, he’d gone home and sent his son what amounts to roughly a thousand dollars to improve his gaming rig.
Now THAT is parenting done right. ❤
Claus Raasted spent fifteen years of his life building the world’s largest live action role play company, and then a year struggling to save it from collapse. He failed, and is now using his hard-earned knowledge to stand out in other spheres; most noticeably those of leadership training, experience design and culture design. He serves as the Director of the College of Extraordinary Experiences, is the Chief Marketing Officer of The World of Hans Christian Andersen and does high-level consulting for clients around the world.