Got a gamer in the house? What if someone told you they might be able to make a career of their love of video games — a pretty good one?
Xiaomeng “VKLiooon” Li just became the first woman to win a Hearthstone Grandmasters Global Finals esports tournament and a BlizzCon tournament, which is considered a landmark moment in esports. She walked away with a whopping $200,000 for her effort, the equivalent of nearly four years’ worth of an average annual salary in America. While her skills were developed over years of gaming, she dropped out of law school when it became obvious that she was really, really good at esports — so good that she could actually win big money competing in it.
Video games: Idle diversion or career path?
It’s no secret that lots of kids love to play video games, and if you asked them if they’d like to turn it into an actual career one day, many would respond with a resounding, “Yes!” Some parents, on the other hand, aren’t so sure. With so many conflicting messages about whether it’s OK to let your kids log hours playing video games and if so, how much, it’s no surprise that many parents are confused by the idea of video games as a career.
So how do you when your child’s favorite pastime is just eating up hours that could be spent doing homework, playing actual sports, or engaging in other, seemingly more enriching activities, and when they’ve got a bonafide skill that perhaps should be nurtured and supported?
Ethan Yankel was a 16-year-old honor student when he told his parents he wanted to be a professional gamer. After much discussion, his weary parents agreed and he’s now one of just a few elite gamers who have gone pro in Overwatch. He signed last winter with the Washington Justice, one of 20 teams in the professional Overwatch League known as OWL.
It might seem unlikely to land a gig as a pro gamer, but the field is expanding. As professional gaming has become more popular, pro team franchises have emerged thanks to high-powered investors like Robert Kraft, who owns the New England Patriots, and Stan Kroenke, who owns the Los Angeles Rams. Sponsorship deals in esports are also becoming more mainstream with the likes of Toyota and T-Mobile getting into the mix. There are also major broadcast partners who have realized the power of esports, including ESPN and even Disney XD. It’s no wonder the industry was estimated at $4.5 billion last year.
For those kids — and parents — who don’t want to give up their college dreams for esports just yet, there may be a way to combine both. Last year alone about $16 million in scholarships was reportedly awarded to gamers, according to the National Association of Collegiate Esports (NACE). And this year esports will become a high school-sanctioned activity in at least 17 states via the National Federation of State High School Associations.
But where does this leave parents? Experts say parental concerns tend to fall into two buckets: Will my child become an addict, and is it possible that so much gaming might actually make my kid more prone to violence? While you can find research to support both sides of the argument, there’s plenty of reputable evidence that suggests children don’t become more violent because of gaming. Experts say there’s little evidence to link real-world violence to gaming, attributing that belief to outdated research that has since been disproven.
Think your child has a future in esports? Here’s what to do.
If you think your child might be a good candidate to play at the professional level, experts suggest getting to know the games they’re particularly good at, so you can debunk any myths you may be subscribing to. Then attend a tournament or other esports event to see what the community is really like. Much like you might sit through your child’s three-hour basketball tournament on a Saturday, why not sit down and see what all the Fortnite fuss is about? Sometimes you have to see the games played out and the sponsorships and dollars behind these things with your own eyes to fully grasp the phenomenon.
If your child has a passion for it and seems really, really good, you might want to suggest that they focus on mastering one specific game instead of one particular skill, at least if they want to make a living as a pro gamer one day. Having an extremely high level of knowledge and experience with one game is key to winning tournaments as most are focused on a specific game, not a skill set.
Of course, the vast majority of kids will probably not grow up to be professional gamers, despite their desire to do just that, just like the vast majority of kids who play soccer will not go on to play at the pro level. But it’s OK to nurture their love of the game, right?
If you’re still worried about the time they’re spending working on their budding “pro skills” in esports, talk to your child about your priorities (school, family, friends, etc) but try to stay as involved with their gaming as you would with anything else they do, say experts. This way they’re more likely to talk to you about their thoughts and dreams without worrying you will laugh at them or dismiss them altogether. Having a goal is great, after all, and chances are whatever your kiddo thinks they wants to do today will be entirely different in six months (or six weeks), so try to take it in stride. At least you know there’s finally a real future in it!