Parents Suck: An Esports Blog

Parents have got no idea what their kids are doing when it comes to esports, and they suck at understanding what esports is all about. I know, because I am one of those parents.

Amidst all the hype currently associated with the esports industry, it's nearly impossible not to notice the rocketing interest in this sector. Particularly, the enthusiastic awakening and reaction from sponsors from "non-endemic" brands (i.e. brands not traditionally associated with esports) clamouring to get a piece of the action in this contemporary economic juggernaut that threatens to become bigger than traditional sports.

It’s no secret there are many challenges in esports. Industry insiders openly refer to the "Wild West" environment due to lack of structure and governance, and an evolving power dynamic that is tilted completely unevenly in favour of publishers who own the property but are still grappling with the management of modern day athletes. What it comes down to: it's the athletes who are the collective draw that attracts the dollars. It’s an exciting new space increasingly dominated by billionaire "traditional sports" team owners who have been informed by their well-funded investment analyst teams, and as the metaphorical train departs the station, they all want to be on the train, and avoid being run over by it later.

These and many other challenges to the esports sector are well known and openly discussed. It's a safe bet to say that professional player representation and consequential respect for athlete welfare will be a logical next step. As the industry goes mainstream and acknowledges its role, not only as an economic engine driving a brand new multi-billion dollar sector, but also concurrently takes accountability in relation to its responsibility to the human dignity of the athletes, not unlike the traditional sports sector.

One of the greatest challenges to the sector, however, is less apparent, but potentially reflects an equally significant challenge, which is - PARENTS SUCK!! How am I qualified to write on this, because I am a parent that sucks!  Just recently we had what I would describe as the privilege to host what Matt Low, VP of Operations at The Gaming Stadium, described as the brightest minds of esports people in Vancouver,  at a roundtable event for the community as it strives to position our city on the esports map globally.  

The speakers reflected a cross-section of the community including the hard-working teams at local universities (UBC & SFU Esports) driving the adoption of esports across campus life. It also included the local representatives of the Vancouver sports landscape icons which included Colby Fackler, VP Sales and Service at the Whitecaps FC, and Gopal Patel Senior Partnerships Manager at the Vancouver Canucks, offering fascinating insights into the strategic thinking at a franchise level for these popular brands.  The discussion opened with Ellen Zavian, a 30-year player association veteran and sports attorney, providing a roadmap on the collective bargaining perspective needed in esports when it comes to representing athletes.

However, the most poignant moment for me in a three-hour workshop among nearly 50 people was when Brandon Darby, former professional esports athlete and now coach, said that the greatest challenge to young esports athletes is - PARENTS SUCK! That comment came as the most startling comment of the day for me precisely because a mirror was held up and I saw myself in it. He explained, for example, how difficult it is to get the call (ie. to the dinner table - I've done that!) from your parents to leave the game in the middle of battle, at a critical stage in the game. Parents cannot understand the no-win situation their kid is facing. If you ignore your parents, they get mad, but if you walk away from your machine at a crucial time, not unlike leaving the soccer field in the middle of the game, that's when teammates get "really pissed off".

I have had the privilege of working with younger colleagues over the last year in the sports industry, and on our team we have 5 "traditional sports" Olympians and an Ironman triathlete. We like to think we have sports baked into our organisational DNA. We have also spent a non-trivial amount of time and energy researching the sports sector from various angles. As a post babyboomer born in the late 60's I consider myself probably in the 1% of my contemporaries that grasp this enormous opportunity transforming the sports industry as we have always known it. However,  at no point prior to this epiphanous moment had I realized that it is my issue to understand and assimilate as a new reality, and not for my teenage son to try and explain it to me. Neither is it, as I now understand, for him to stop any involvement in his events -- he is a Fortnite fanatic.

So parents, I actually agree, when it comes to esports, WE SUCK! For those unfamiliar with deeper industry working(STG Esports Research Report), I can only share an analogy that helped me makes sense of the matter. I initially, like all parents' in my 50+ age group, would challenge my 17-year-old to spend less screen time on his "games". I had no appreciation for the social interaction that actually occurs online and failed to appreciate how a generation can be so engrossed in what seemed to me to be such a waste of time. Time, that if applied differently could be better put to use through further study or participation in more traditional sports. I now realize that this was my own perspective, and it was formed entirely through the lens of my generational norms and expectations. So if you, like me, need a way to think on this new paradigm, try and shift your mindset, switch the roles and consider how our kids see our world.  After all, the lens of 17-year-olds offers insights as they are the first generation to have grown up in an always connected, mobile-first world.

With this frame of thinking, my 17-year-old would question as to how or why I can sit glued to a TV screen for an entire weekend of Ryder Cup golf tournament, completely engrossed in every drive, chip and putt in the unfolding drama between the some of the greatest golfers on the planet. I would forego family time, I would skip family meals,  and to my spouse's chagrin likely adopt selective hearing with regards to any request for domestic chores to be completed. I can easily carve out an entire weekend (and more) to give my undivided focus to the gladiators doing battle on the fairways and greens to achieve international fame and glory. This is my genre, it is what I know, it is what I grew up with, it gives me context to interact over social beers with my contemporaries. My 17-year-old son does not know or understand the Ryder Cup, and not because I haven't invited him to join me, he just could not be less bothered, it is not his genre and not his interest.  

It’s a crazy example, I know, and serves to highlight the challenge the traditional sports and events will have in attracting new audiences from younger demographics, and to me, here is the rub. The entertainment I sought and got from a weekend of Ryder Cup golf viewing is exactly what our kids are doing when they watch or participate in their favourite esports. They are watching top athletes, the global superstars of their generation. They don't want or need hot dogs and soda at the local arena or stadium. They can join their social circles, with millions of other like-minded streamers without leaving home. And make no mistake, their superstars are global phenomenons, just like my generation. In fact, in the absence of any geographic constraints (an Internet connection being the barrier to entry), many esports superstars have social media profiles which already dwarf traditional sports superstars.

It's a crazy world we live in with technology touching every aspect of every industry, and increasingly every home. Esports is not a passing phase, a crazy fad, or a hyped up promotional gimmick. It is a way of life for the modern generation. It's early days and all the evolving issues will mature with the fullness of time. Far be it for me to offer prescriptive solutions to participatory parenting. But I will be so bold as to say, based on what I know so far in this space, parents, we can start by acknowledging the generation gap. Just like our parents tried to scare us off "television addiction" with the threat of developing "square eyes", which never materialized, esports will not have a fatal effect, nor cause any permanent facial damage to our kids. Esports has changed the way human beings interact, it will continue to do so and I believe will be a catalyst to enormous technological innovation that will drive transformation across the sports sector globally. We have a responsibility as parents to understand and empathize with this generation, if we don’t, we will not be able to shake the label: PARENTS SUCK.