Esports is a growing industry attracting thousands of players every year, and with high schoolers so notorious for playing video games, it’s not surprising that many teens have begun shooting for the pros.
For parents, this poses a long list of questions and concerns. While it’s important to support teenage ambitions, esports are relatively new to the scene, meaning success is tentative, regulations aren’t set in stone, and the long-term effects of esports aren’t ready for study. There are definitely risks to supporting a teen’s career in esports, but there’s also no doubt esports represent a chance to make a living as a professional gamer. For parents debating on how to approach their teen’s newfound desire to make it pro as a Fortnite player, here’s a comprehensive guide to the pros, cons, and opportunities provided by esports.
What Are Esports?
Esports is an umbrella term used for any video-game related competition or revenue stream. Some games, like Fortnite, are played tournament-style, with the winner taking home a grand prize. Others, like League of Legends are team-based, and players are paid a salary on top of potential prize money.
Aside from prize money, professional esport “athletes” are often sponsored by gaming companies. They’ll stream themselves playing on platforms like Twitch and YouTube, where they make money by selling ad space, using sponsored products, and accepting donations from viewers. Amateurs might not make a lot of money this way, but it’s a serious option for the world’s top gamers.
Virtually any video game can be used as a platform for esports, from the Madden franchise to Call of Duty, but the top-earning video games in esports are, in order: Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Fortnite, League of Legends, and Starcraft II. All of these games rake in millions of dollars each year for top players, and it’s estimated Dota 2, the top-earning esport game, awards players over $200 million each year (not including sponsorships).
Think of esports the same as any other sport. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry where players are sponsored, expected to act as public figures, and paid for their skills. Only, instead of a physical sport, it’s a video game.
The Pros of Esports
Before taking a look at why parents need to be wary of supporting a career in esports, it’s important to know why esports is actually a legitimate path for some young gamers. Here are the Top three reasons parents should consider letting their teens pursue esports.
Tyler Blevins, a.k.a. “Ninja,” is the world’s top-grossing gamer. From sponsors, streams, donations, and ad revenue, it’s estimated he makes about $16 million a year. He’s 28 years old, putting him at the tail end of age for professional gamers. The average esport gamer is closer to 22 years old, meaning young men and women could be raking in some serious coin very early on.
Aside from sponsorships and streaming opportunities, tournaments offer some good money, too. The Fortnite world cup from last year offered $30 million in prizes. Every player received a minimum of $50 thousand, and the winner received $3 million. With numbers like this, it’s clear that a truly gifted gamer can certainly make a living competing in esport tournaments and garnering sponsorships.
High School Teams
The reality is, many high schoolers aren’t athletically inclined and simply like playing video games more than physical sports. They might feel the fast-paced, high-stakes games offer a bigger thrill and like the sense of accomplishment they feel after a tough win is more rewarding. While video games used to be somewhat of a taboo in homes—a waste of time and potential—many teens feel they’re worth putting energy into, and esports has opened up a new path for them.
High schools are starting to recognize this. The National Federation of High School Associations has officially recognized esports as a legitimate sport, and high school all over the country are beginning to put teams together. This is a great way to make gaming teens feel like they’re part of a larger community and feel validated for their passions, leading to potential increases in self-esteem. It also means esports are being monitored and regulated more closely, ensuring that matches are free from the demeaning trash talk often present in video games. For teenagers who aren’t driven to try out for more physical sports, esports are an awesome way to get them interacting with their peers and striving toward a larger goal and build mental strength.
High schools aren’t alone in recognizing the skill and drive required to be a successful gamer. More and more colleges have officially recognized esport teams, and organizations like the National Association of Collegiate Esports are set on offering millions of dollars worth of scholarships to incoming college students to play on their various esport teams. Getting an esport scholarship could significantly decrease the loan you or your teen will have to take out in order to afford college, and if your teenager is serious about their gaming, there’s a chance they could be recognized as a division one athlete for their skills!
The Downsides of Esports
While it’s true esports is a growing industry and a lifestyle for parents and teens to consider, it’s just as true that esports has proven downsides. Here are the main reasons esports could be a harmful path for teens and parents to choose.
Studies show increases in screen time have negative effects on teenagers, leading to serious mental health and stability issues. In fact, a study reviewed by Time claimed teens who spend over seven hours a day on non-school related screens are more than twice as likely to develop serious depression and anxiety and are more easily distracted, too.
If seven hours a day seems like a lot, it’s not. At least not to professional gamers. If anything, that’s the average. The pros play constantly, either in tournaments, on streaming platforms, or to train, and players from Team Liquid, a League of Legends team, told Business Insider they played a minimum of 50 hours a week.
Spending so much time on screens also means your teenager won’t be spending as much time getting physical exercise; instead, they’ll be sitting on the couch, inside, completely enveloped in their videogame. This kind of inactivity can lead to both immediate and long-term health problems. Health problems aren’t unique to esports (football is notorious for concussions and physical injury), but rather than overexertion, esports might lead your teen to becoming physically inactive.
Violence in video games has been a hot topic ever since video games first hit the market. It’s never been proven that violence in video games promotes violence in real life, but it has been shown that overexposure to violence in the media—particularly video games—is negative overall, leading to a potential lack of empathy and a weak moral compass. The top 5 esports games are all combat-based, meaning your teen is going to spend a lot of time shooting and fighting if they choose to pursue esports. If this is the case, you need to make sure they know what is and isn’t appropriate, and the potential harms of being overexposed to violent behaviors.
Video game communities are notorious for being filled with racist, homophobic, sexist, and downright threatening trash talk. The competitive aspect of video games, the violent nature of the games, and the anonymity of online communication creates the perfect storm for teenage boys (mostly) to let out their pent up rage, and unfortunately, it comes in the form of threats and swear words. Even worse, three of the top five esports—League of Legends, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Dota 2—were voted by Ranker to be some of the most toxic online communities ever. If your teenager is going to pursue esports, you have to talk to them about how to deal with this kind of harassment, and make sure they aren’t taking part in it, too!
So, Is Esports Right for Your Teen?
I’m sure this comes as no surprise… but that’s up to you. As a parent, you should have a serious conversation with your teenager about the possibility of playing esports professionally. It’s essentially the same commitment as trying to go pro for something like baseball or soccer; it takes determination, relentless training, sacrifice, and a certain amount of luck. But while physical sports have clear benefits and often lead to healthy lifestyles, the same isn’t true of esports. If you and your teen decide esports is a good choice, you need to find ways to keep them active and mentally healthy, even if they’re staring at a screen and shooting at opponents seven or eight hours a day on the weekends.
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com, ghostwriter at WriteItGreat.com, and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.