By Alex Leckie-Zaharic of the New Zealand Esports Federation
Hearing your child wants to become a professional gamer may be a shock to the system — why would they want to spend hours in front of the computer every day instead of being outside kicking a ball around with their friends?
However, esports has exploded in both popularity and support in recent years, with professional gaming being firmly established as a career path with as much potential as competing in the highest levels of traditional sport. Children can often begin their careers playing as part of a school team or with their friends in local tournaments, and the ease of accessibility means it’s an option for anyone with a computer and an internet connection.
What is esports?
Much like your child might play both rugby or football socially with friends and as part of their local club, esports is the competitive side of the video games your child might play at home. However, very similarly to multidisciplinary sports such as athletics or swimming, esports isn’t just a single game — there are dozens of games with significant competitive pathways that your child could participate in.
The accessibility of esports also plays a huge factor in appealing to young children — that anybody, anywhere can turn on their computer and start playing means they’ll never be stuck waiting around for other people to show up. Traditional sports also often have trouble ensuring that competitors are on an even skill level, but most if not all esports utilise some form of rating system to give their players the fairest games possible. Often these games also have ranked ladders or leaderboards built right into them, allowing anyone to see who the best players are at the click of a button.
Many schools across New Zealand have established their own esports teams and often engage in weekly online competitions against other schools from across the country. School teams have even been able to go overseas and represent their school and their country proudly. The University of Waikato has even offered esports performance scholarships in recent years, with education providers such as NZMA and Yoobee now offering full esports courses led by industry professionals to demonstrate that esports is a viable career path.
With esports being officially recognised in 2020 as a sport, by Sport New Zealand, support at all levels is being established so anyone can begin their journey as an esports professional.
Benefits of esports
While many stereotypes immediately come to mind about children languishing in dark rooms staring at screens for days on end, esports has a myriad of benefits for your child that can drastically improve their social skills and confidence.
Much like traditional sport, communication is key in competitive gaming. Being able to actively strategise in the moment and process multiple sources of information from teammates are skills quickly honed — boosting your child’s ability to problem solve and communicate those solutions, both of which are valuable traits applicable to the world at large.
Esports is no longer a field pursued by antisocial persons, but one chased after by social and confident players who strive to showcase their skill on the global stage. Unlike traditional sports, your child can be playing with others from around the world all at the same time, exposing them to a myriad of world views they otherwise wouldn’t get.
In this day and age, playing competitive video games isn’t a lonely pursuit. Many young aspiring pros find like-minded youngsters on their journey, often teaming up to train together to maximise the potential of every player involved. However, that does come with its risks, as the veil of anonymity the internet provides means there are dangers to your child from malicious actors.
Simply having a conversation with your child around basic internet safety may not be sufficient but there are further steps you can take to keep them out of harm’s way. For example, your child should preferably choose a username that can’t be used to identify them, such as not including their name or the year they were born. Additionally, your child should avoid offering identifying/personal details whenever they’re online.
For some esports, however, voice chat and in-game communications are vital to success. Applications like Discord and TeamSpeak provide platforms for gamers to communicate easily, while some games have in-built communication systems which players can use to strategise with each other during matches.
Again, it is important your child keep in mind that they should not be offering identifying information — some other players may also choose to be deliberately provocative and offensive in attempts to garner a reaction, so knowing your child knows how to use the mute functions in a game will keep them safe. For more resources around online safety for children check out these resources.
Online Child Safety – New Zealand Police
Online Safety – Police Manager’s Guild Association
How to show support
It’s important to remember that like any competitive endeavour, success won’t happen for your child overnight. Their pursuit of esports professionalism should be treated like any sporting activity — just playing the sport won’t get them all the way. Instituting healthy habits like frequent breaks and healthy eating go a long way to unlocking your child’s full potential.
Much like rugby or football players would watch game film, replays of esports matches are readily available, allowing your child to watch both their own games and those of skilled players around the world. Setting time up to review these replays builds habits of self-reflection — and you could even watch along and prompt your child with questions like, “What would you have done different at this point in the game?”
These questions require no specialist knowledge but will have massive benefits as your child learns to critically evaluate what they need to do to improve. Getting them to explain their thought process to you will boost their learning well past what they would get working on their own.
Sometimes your child may ask for a new keyboard or mouse to enhance their gaming. These do have a tangible impact on the gaming experience and should be treated much like the purchase of sporting equipment — as often a player can get better much quicker with upgrades like a new monitor or a faster internet connection. However, aside from a faster connection (which is universally beneficial), these equipment upgrades are not always necessary so be sure to have a candid conversation with your child as to whether they’re truly needed.
Lastly, facilitating opportunities for your child to compete will give them the opportunity to prove themselves and potentially get scouted to teams. Third-party organisations often hold tournaments with small cash prizes, so planning with your child when they could compete in such competitions could very easily be the spark that ignites their esports career.