Allow me to paint a picture, which I assure will strike a chord with many of you. You have had a long day at work, full of stress and utter chaos. With a brain reduced to mush, all you can think about is closing your eyes and resting. You get into bed, feeling the softness of the pillow, and the warmth of your sheets. As you close your eyes, everything slowly disappears into nothingness. Suddenly, you hear loud screaming and shouting. On the other side of the wall, your kids are laughing, screaming, and speaking what sounds like gibberish to you. Irritated, you storm into their room, and what a surprise… they are playing video games.
Those of you who can relate, I know your pain almost too well. However, I implore you to ask yourself this, “Do I truly understand how important gaming is to my children?” Now, this may seem odd for a myriad of reasons. As a parent, it is difficult to see past what can be seen on the surface. For a long time, I thought video games were simply just a means of entertainment, a distraction from reality – nothing more, nothing less. I was mildly surprised when my son, Kristian became the president of the Esports Club at the University of Toronto.
At the time, I knew he was an avid gamer, and a passionate one at that. Throughout his childhood, I remember seeing his face glued to the screen day to night. He would look up cheat codes and buy strategy guides, simply to beat a game to 100% completion. Outside of gaming, he was quite competitive. In elementary school, he was often playing sports with others, but struggled to make long-lasting companions.
Esports, otherwise known as competitive gaming, is a field that myself and many others have been ignorant to. Typically, it takes the form of organized, multiplayer video game competitions, particularly between professional players, as individuals or as teams. Although organized competitions have long been a part of video game culture, it has been unnoticed by mainstream culture until the late 2000s. Through live streams, participation by professional gamers and spectatorship in these events saw a large surge in popularity. By the early 2010s, esports became a significant factor in the video game industry, with many game developers actively designing and providing funding for tournaments and other events.
By the late 2010s, it was estimated that the total audience of esports would grow to 454 million viewers, with revenue increasing to over $1 billion USD by 2019. The increasing availability of online streaming media platforms, particularly YouTube and Twitch, have become central to the growth and promotion of esports competitions. While viewership being approximately 85% male and 15% female, with a majority of viewers between the ages of 18 and 34, female gamers have also played professionally!
Here are some factoids: Every year, the most popular game, League of Legends, hosts a World Championship, with a viewership that surpasses the NBA Finals and the Superbowl. Rick Fox, a former NBA pro, started his own Esports organization, due to his son’s interest. It should be noted the esports industry has a high promise of growth both in the commercial and in the non-commercial context. The number of enthusiasts and occasional viewers are growing fast, and capital injected into esports by different investors starts to be in a similar range as it does in traditional sports.
One day, I decided to ask my son, “What is it about esports that you love so much?” Although he was surprised, I could tell how much it meant to him. With passion in his eyes, he told me, “Mom, esports is more than just playing video games to me… in a way, it’s one of the only places I truly feel like I belong somewhere. Since I was a kid, I have always struggled to make friends. In high school, I began to play League of Legends, which is one of the best decisions I ever made. Through the game, I made so many real friends, who I know from school and online. Back then, my excitement came from going home after school, and knowing I had people who wanted to play with me. Now, I want to make a safe space for others to have impactful and memorable experiences like I did.”
For the longest time, I had always thought of video games as an hindrance, a distraction to his academic success. In my son’s eyes, that was his saving grace… it brought him everything he ever needed – friends and a safe space to be himself. This is a moment I do not think I will forget. After all, this is what I sought to do in my own life, in my own work… I desired to make a place for people to be themselves, and to live their best lives. While not in the same way, it is incredible to see how the values I instilled in him impacted his approach to gaming.
In some ways, I think this is something we as parents fail to realize – what we think is unimportant can mean the world to our children. With our heads in the clouds, we idealize what we deem as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ for them. What follows is a feeble attempt at ‘protecting’; shielding what we think of as unhealthy and toxic from them. In reality, this is nothing other than restricting our sons and daughters. Seek to embrace who they are and who they will come to be as individuals and guide them on that journey.
Personally, it inspires me to see how devoted Kristian has become to something he genuinely loves. I can see how important it is, not only in what says but the actions he has taken to actualize his vision. To those part of it, esports is more than just a game… it is a community full of passion, dedication, and love.
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