British Esports Association

What’s it like being a parent of an esports player and how can they support their child’s interest in gaming?

News - 27 Feb 2018

With more young people getting involved in esports, many parents will be discovering this industry for the very first time. What are the benefits, the challenges to be aware of and how can parents support their children?

We spoke to the parents of several UK esports players in order to better understand the role they can play and the learning process they went through.

Video gaming doesn’t always get the positive press coverage or the praise that it could.

From cognitive benefits to leadership and communication skills, providing jobs, meeting new people, being part of a community or even just sitting down to play and relax for a while as a hobby, esports and gaming can offer many positives.

However, video gaming is still a relatively new activity compared to established sports and other traditional recreational activities. Because of this, it can seem alien, unusual, unhealthy or a waste of time to those new to it. It's not seen as an acceptable career path to everyone.

But as esports continues to grow, more young people are playing and watching games, or getting involved behind the scenes as casters (commentators), coaches, managers, journalists and more. This means more parents and those new to esports are learning about it and becoming more aware of it.

Carol Bird, the mother of British Gwent champion Fred “Freddybabes” Bird, tells the British Esports Association: “I feel so many parents have a negative view of computers and computer games, just because they are a relatively new phenomenon.

“It's about time a different slant was put on things: it's not all bad and in fact there are lots of very positive things to be gained from gaming, even at a less competitive level. I'd far rather they did that as sit and watch TV.

“Esports is a genuine career path, as is streaming, casting, reporting and commenting on it. We don't have a problem with kids who want to be footballers or TV presenters, but there is still a stigma attached to competitive gaming, as if it's just a time-wasting hobby.

“Watching Fred’s progress so far has been scary and humbling in turn. I imagine he feels much the same way!” 

“If you are the parent of a brilliant gamer, encourage and support, but don't push: just believe in them. Take the opportunities when they arise as they may not come round again, and enjoy the experience: it's not always about winning.”
Carol Bird

Mike Atkins, the father of British Brawlhalla player Bill “Lanz” Atkins, who has played for Reason Gaming and competed in the World Championship in Atlanta, adds: “I think where the child shows determination, just as the same as in any other sport, I think parents should encourage it, I really do.

“The biggest single thing is transferable skills. It’s too easy to think it’s just escapism, which it partly is for those casually gaming. But for those in esports, it’s also building a skillset if you like, which is usable anywhere and in other professions.

“It’s also helped with Bill’s time management. And the whole business of losing, learning how to lose and turning it into a positive is very important. It’s a fantastic life lesson.”

Not everyone is this accepting of esports. Doublelift, one of the world’s top League of Legends players, says he was kicked out of home back in 2011 before his pro gaming career really took off. His mother has since better understood esports and now speaks highly of her son. But it can be a difficult situation for parents and their children.

She told Gamespot: “You know, traditionally we thought that playing games is not good for kids. That’s our older culture. But I think it’s wrong – I think we should change our views on pro gamers and esports right now.”

You can see her interview here:

Of course, the world’s top players were once beginners, and parents familiar with esports were once new to it. What convinced them that esports offers a real opportunity?

The learning process

Parents are there to guide and teach their children, but when it comes to new technology or trends it can often be the other way round.

So what’s it like for a parent when their child first expresses an interest in esports? And what would they say to other parents?

Andrew Ward (pictured left at the top of this article), the father of British Vainglory player Benedict “MrKcool” Ward (right), explains: “In my experience, you go through a number of different stages. Initially, you're ignorant and have no real appreciation of what your son/daughter is doing - you simply have that old reaction: ‘You're spending too much time on your screens.’

“There is also no appreciation of the impact of being away from the keyboard, for instance. So for instance if you insist on them stopping playing to go out or have a meal or whatever, at first you don't realise the impact this has on other people playing the game.

“Gradually, you come to realise that it's not a passing fad or just a childish phase... it's important to take some time to actually look at the game, show an interest and perhaps start playing yourself... then it's a matter of educating yourself about the potential benefits of professional esports participation.

“Vainglory has certainly been full of positives in my experience, once we caught up with what was actually going on: the team working, decision-making, communications skills, foreign travel and friendships, the manual dexterity and speed of thought, these are all positives.”

“I think parents have a responsibility to get involved themselves. I think that’s key to it. Instead of parents’ adopting a negative attitude… If a child for instance wanted to do ballet or riding or take up rugby as a sport regularly, the parent will be involved."
Mike Atkins

Shirley Atkins, the mother of Bill “Lanz” Atkins, comments: “We started very young with Bill. He started wanting to get into these games and play the computer at 7 or 8 years old. I was concerned because I don’t know who’s on there and who he’s talking to. He could spell and read very well so I was concerned what was on there.

“So I thought what should I do? Well, I’ve never played a game in my life and I’m not very good at computers, but I thought I’m going to go on there and have a look. So we joined the game together and played together. It was called Wizard101, a children’s game but a multi-thingybob and we could all play together at the same time. My husband Mike joined the game and we played together, so that’s how we got involved with him.

“Today, through esports, Bill socialises with people all over the world and that’s absolutely amazing to me. He’s got so many friends that he’s met through esports.

“But in the beginning I was very suspicious of it. I’d go in and turn the computer off and say ‘you can’t play!’ Parents have got to police it themselves, like anything. Like any sport, it still has to be kept under control. But I’m very happy with him doing esports.”

Carol Bird comments: “As a family we play a lot of board games and chess, so playing strategic games on a console or PC didn't seem a million miles away from playing chess or Settlers of Catan. Over the years I have spoken to many parents who were concerned about the amount of time their children spend in front of a computer or games console.

“We were always quite laissez-faire about screen time compared to other parents and it helped that Fred was always self-limiting. He is conscientious and hard-working so would always prioritise school work and use gaming as a relaxing way to unwind afterwards. I appreciate that not everyone has such impulse control. But I would point out to the nay-sayers that you can't get good at anything without a certain amount of time investment.

“If someone finds something they passionately enjoy and are good at it seems harsh to excessively limit that enjoyment, provided that other key elements in life, such as school and sleep, aren't suffering.”

This also brings up the important topic of schoolwork and fitting in esports as a hobby or part-time paid activity around academic studies.

Studies and scrims: Getting the balance right

UK FIFA player Shellzz (left) left sixth form to focus on esports full-time, he tells presenter and interviewer Julia Hardy

Ask many people in esports and they will tell you to study first and play esports in your spare time as a hobby, in moderation. However, for some it’s easier said than done.

Some young players have real, raw talent in a specific game, and may receive serious offers from big esports teams around the world to play that game (or work in another esports area) professionally while they’re still studying. The temptation may be there to quit college or university for the chance to pursue a career in esports.

Even if the offers aren’t there, managing scrims (practice matches) with schoolwork can be tricky.

Mike Atkins, the father of Brawlhalla player Bill “Lanz” Atkins, says: “Bill is very capable of self-motivation. He does the same thing with his esports as he does with piano. He’s able to focus very intensely on whatever he’s doing at that particular time. So for him it’s not a problem.

“As parents, we have to trust him that he will get his work done. What he does after that is entirely up to him. We don’t push him, we do make suggestions from time to time that he ought to get an essay or assignment done. But other than that, he’s self-managing, self-policing and I think he’s got the balance right.”

It’s also a good idea to take a break from esports when studies get particularly demanding.

Shirley Atkins adds: “Bill is taking a break from Brawlhalla at the moment to focus on his A-levels, he needs to get three As to get to where he wants to go to. He’s stepping back but he’s not stopping, he’s still practicing, just not at the same level. We haven’t asked him to do that – he’s chosen to do that.

“It’s a release between working on his A-levels, where a lot of students struggle because it’s constant work, work, work – he’s been able to juggle the two and it’s helped him.”

Carol Bird agrees that esports can complement schoolwork, in that it acts as downtime and gives her son a break.

“Fred very much uses gaming as a counterpoint to stress,” she explains. “When he wasn't gaming as much but mainly focusing on school, you could see his anxiety levels rising.

“During the A Level revision period he played games a lot. As a parent it is very hard to stand back and let your child do their thing, but we decided to trust his judgement when many other parents probably would not have. As it turned out he got the grades he wanted at A level plus he qualified for a major Gwent tournament.

“For him it was the right thing to do even if it looked the wrong thing to us. He has been lucky with the timing, which has allowed him to attend tournaments that older participants with jobs struggle to make.

“His university was incredibly supportive of him taking time away from his studies during term time and I would hope to see this become the norm in schools and colleges, as esports becomes more established and accepted.”

“Gradually, you come to realise that it's not a passing fad or just a childish phase... it's important to take some time to actually look at the game, show an interest and perhaps start playing yourself... then it's a matter of educating yourself about the potential benefits of professional esports participation."
Andrew Ward

Andrew Ward has had a similar experience with his son’s school: “MrKcool has a very supportive and forward-thinking headteacher – I think it's really helpful to educate your children's teachers about esports!

“He has acknowledged all the positives I mentioned earlier and stated that he sees MrKcool's representation as the equivalent of other pupils who play cricket, rugby etc at a high level.

“It's also worth noting that MrKcool's headteacher is also of the opinion that universities will be impressed by what he's achieved in his future applications to them, for some of these very reasons.

“Practicing with players from different timezones can be a problem. Having said that, the occasions are very rare and therefore of pretty limited impact; we try to be as flexible as possible and of course each team will have its own set of preferences and priorities. Working together to find the best compromise is all part of the game.

“We have kept an eye on homework delivery and grade scores, and in our case MrKcool has never been adversely affected, so it simply hasn't been an issue.”

Shaun “Shellzz” Springette, an 18-year-old UK FIFA player who plays for Unilad, left sixth form to pursue a career in esports full-time. How did his parents react?

Shellzz told Julia Hardy in a recent interview: “My dad wasn’t too happy. My mum is happy I’m doing what I’m doing, but at first, when I made the decision I was leaving sixth form, they were like: ‘Woah, this is major.’

“They knew it was alright but they didn’t realise how big it could be, and how good I am. Because I could just say I was the best, and they could believe it – or they’re not really going to believe it!”

Parent support then, is key, and clearly has massive effects on young people and professionals in esports:

The parents who host LAN tournaments in their house

Mike and Shirley Atkins says being proactive as a parent and getting involved with their child's passion for esports is key

We already touched on the topic of parents encouraging their children and trying out esports themselves. But there’s getting involved and playing the game or watching it, and then there’s hosting actual LAN tournaments in the home: something that Mike and Shirley Atkins are familiar with.

Mike Atkins explains: “We’re fortunate we have the space here and the technology and the knowhow. We set up LAN camps here at home, we invited all of Bill’s contacts and friends. They come here and stay here. We make it a positive experience for them.

“We’ve had 12 here at one time. We’ve had players from Norway, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Surrey, Bournemouth, all over the UK. They come here and stay, and it’s brilliant. We settle down with them too, we have space to have barbecues and so on.”

Shirley Atkins adds: “It’s not a business, it’s just about getting friends together – it’s about practicing and enjoying it. That’s a great experience in life.

“They roast marshmallows around the fire pit, and make a mess! They’re all very good actually, it’s something I feel it’s a memory for them in years to come. They will look back on it. We let them get on with it.

“These kids are such bright kids, they’re so intelligent. Diakou has really high A-levels and he’s on a very high level as well, the same as the lot of them. We had him here for three weeks with us! He didn’t want to go home, he loved it.

“They asked me when we finished the last one if they can come back next year! We’re happy to. There’s no distractions around here and we like having them here, they’re nice people.”

Mike Atkins comments: “I think parents have a responsibility to get involved themselves. I think that’s key to it. Instead of parents’ adopting a negative attitude… If a child for instance wanted to do ballet or riding or take up rugby as a sport regularly, the parent will be involved and taking the child to their venue and so on, that would be a constant commitment.

“With the computer, unfortunately kids are often left to get on with it themselves without too much direction. If parents aren’t prepared to see games as a sport, as a positive reinforcement of life benefits… if parents are able to get involved, I think we’ll have a very healthy and positive scene. But it’s down to the parents to be proactive in this.

“You’ve got two choices as a parent, you can either go with it or reject it, and go up against your youngster, and you’re going to be battling all the way.” 

"Today, through esports, Bill socialises with people all over the world and that’s absolutely amazing to me. He’s got so many friends that he’s met through esports. “But in the beginning I was very suspicious of it."
Shirley Atkins

Shirley does want to point out some of the challenges and potential negatives around esports or gaming culture.

She says: “At the lower level, I do have a lot of concerns, especially with eight or nine year olds that play, like my grandson, who’s very much into Minecraft and Roblox. He’s picking up things I’m not happy with and most of that he’s not picking up from the game, but from YouTube.

“That’s having a major effect on our youngsters, and we’ve had to stop him on some of the things with the language he’s coming out with. A lot of that is about policing by the parents.

“Then there’s esports teams. As a parent, you have to make sure you know who wants to sign up your child, where they come from and what they’re signing.”

Mike adds: “In esports you have to be able to shut out what’s going on around you and focus. That can be very frustrating as parents, sometimes we’ll call Bill and he won’t answer us, not because he doesn’t want to but because he literally can’t hear us because he’s so focused on what he’s doing. It’s like any sport.”

But the positives outweigh the negatives, explains Shirley: “When we went across to America [to play in a tournament], we went out to have something to eat, there must have been at least 30 young people in the restaurant. Every time anybody came in, they’re all up and greeting each other, they all know each other.

“It doesn’t matter where they are from around the world, that spirit between them all, I just found that amazing. I loved it.

“If one wins against the other ones, it doesn’t matter, there’s no anger there. They say well done to each other, it’s really nice to see that.

“The one thing I find that’s really important is when they’re playing, or when they’re here, the drink content is very low, whereas a lot of people that age – around 18 or so – they’re very much into trying the drink out. But they don’t do that because they can’t play if they do. We don’t have alcohol at our LAN event, they will have the odd beer with a meal or whatever, but there’s no excess drinking because they want to stay on top of their game.”

Reaching the top

Fred Bird is one of the best Gwent players in the world and his mother says there are many positives to take from esports

Playing esports and games for recreation at an amateur level, but reaching the top-tier professional ranks comes with its own set of challenges – and opportunities.

What should parents bear in mind here?

Carol Bird states: “Millions of people play computer games but not everyone has the ability to be good at it. If you are good don't waste your talent: use it!

“If you are the parent of a brilliant gamer, encourage and support, but don't push: just believe in them. Take the opportunities when they arise as they may not come round again, and enjoy the experience: it's not always about winning.”

“I don't think Fred ever set out to be a successful esports player, but after several months at the top of the pro ladder he started to think about it as a possibility. He kept asking if we would allow him to go to a tournament abroad if he qualified and since he had turned 18 there seemed no reason why he shouldn't – and it always seemed such a crazy impossibility anyway.

“I imagine many parents in a similar position would have been horrified at the prospect but it has been an amazing way for him to grow as an individual. He gets to hang out with people who share his passion, compete with people he has admired for a long time online, and because of his skill he is taken seriously regardless of his relative youth. How can that not be a positive thing?”

Carol concludes “I do think it is really important to support your child even when you don't understand their passion. Parents are struggling with the comparative newness of the digital age and how swiftly everything is changing. But new doesn't have to be bad and technology isn't going to go away.

“Isn't it better for our children to master technology than for us to be stubbornly trying to limit their use of it, just because we did something different?”

For more info on esports check out our advice hub here