Over the past 4 years, Inven Global has been hard at work bringing top-tier esports coverage, analysis, and interviews to a North American audience. As the majority of our staff is from South Korea and Inven Global was born from the legacy esports portal, Inven.co.kr, our team has felt it was our mission to authentically deliver Korean esports excellence to a Western audience.
And make no mistake, Korean esports are excellent. Thanks to a decade headstart in creating what we casually refer to as "esports infrastructure", Korean gamers learn about esports much, much sooner than their Western counterparts.
You'll esports your eye out.
However, despite everything I've learned about Korean esports and how much passion Korean youth have for it, many Korean parents and authority figures still do not accept esports as a net positive in a young person's life. While gaming (i.e., anything) without moderation can interfere with a young person's responsibilities, it is still mind-boggling to me that Korea, the place with the biggest esports celebrities and the most prestigious tournaments, has an esports acceptance problem.
If that is a reality in Korea, what are North American parents thinking about esports?
The narrative that esports is bad for young people isn't true. I've been an esports fan as early as I can remember and it isn't an exaggeration to say I've spent a clear majority of my life watching, writing about, playing and talking about esports titles. I wouldn't be who I am today without competitive gaming and I am extremely grateful at having been raised in a household that didn't just accept gaming, they applauded and encouraged it.
I've been taught invaluable lessons about strategy, discipline, resilience, patience, teamwork, communication, and more from competitive gaming and I use these skills all the time in my personal life.
Along came the NFL...
So when the NFL Alumni Association contacted Inven Global to see if we wanted to provide an esports component to their Pro-Day Experience (think a field trip where highschool kids get to learn life lessons from pro football players) I knew I had to say yes.
After all, I had spent my entire life bewildered at my friend's parents who all unanimously decided that video games, especially the competitive way in which we played them, were seriously bad news. Every poor grade, every slip-up, and every mistake was blamed on the video games and it was one of the very few negative moments of my childhood: the realization that a bunch of adults is demonizing your favorite thing ever.
I can't go back in time and help my old friends struggling for a narrative to combat their parent's concerns, but now I could go forth and help other teenagers who might be experience the same thing in 2019.
What is a 2019 class room like?
With around four cities so far under my belt and ~2,000 kids spoken too, I've become much more compassionate and empathetic towards how hard it is to be a teenager in 2019. It really is as insane as you can imagine it.
Think about your old high school but now imagine all the popular kids have quantifiable metrics that prove they are more popular than you. In fact, imagine the most popular kids anymore -- they are all wannabe influencers that (at least online) look like adults armed to the teeth with in-jokes, memes, and internet drama.
Now take all that and add the off chance of political arguments breaking out for no reason while also trying your best to not be labeled a boomer because you mentioned the word college.
However, the biggest difference that any 90's nerd can immediately recognize is that video games are very cool and trendy now.
When I asked these students to raise their hand if they considered themself a gamer, routinely 70% or 80% of the hands would shoot up. Boys and girls alike could easily name their favorite game, and when pressed further they would reveal their different genre preferences. Without fail, one kid would always shout out "Roblox" and the entire class would laugh.
I had to later Google that.
There were other predictable moments. In one of the modules, I have a slide about rage, salt, toxicity and how to combat it. E time this slide appears, the room would all start giggling and talking amongst themselves.
"That's totally me."
"My little brother rages all the time
"I once broke my headset!
I'd ask to hear a bit more about their stories and this is usually when a parent or teacher chaperoning the field trip starts paying attention. They, too, have stories about angry kids, slammed doors, and all sorts of negativity associated with gaming.
Then, I go on and explain my theory as to why toxicity is amplified through competitive gaming (in short, it's rapid cycle of positive expectations being obliterated by reality) and how the best way to get over it is controlling your expectations and avoiding the trap of valuing the victory screen more than improving your own performance.
It is almost always the first time anyone in the room has heard esports or gaming be talked about in these terms. Terms that admire the precision and technical ability of gamers. Terms that explain how there are more careers in esports besides streamer, pro player, or caster.
Sports coaches almost immediately see the value of esports and resonate with the lesson. They usually talk to me afterward and express how everything I talked about can be applied to youth sports and, aside from missing physical fitness (that admittedly esports has an issue with) they would like to see some sort of esports initiative in their school.
The light bulb moment.
All the lesson aims to do is provide teenagers with an alternate narrative they can use to defend or feel good about their love of esports or competitive gaming. To most, I'm sure it is just a chill break from math class but, to a good handful of students, it feels like I am throwing them a life preserver.
These are students who more than just know about esports. They actively consume esports content and have always wanted a job in video games but didn't know it was possible. After more and more of these awesome kids would talk to me, I recalled a memory that has since taught me the importance of exposing kids to new things.
The first time I ever learned how to play Chess was in the 5th grade. This nice man came into our class, brought a bunch of chess boards and pieces, and maybe twice a week for a month we would learn how to play Chess. I had forgotten how much I had enjoyed these sessions and, looking back on it, have come to realize that my fondness for Chess exists precisely because an adult took the time to show me something more than Checkers.
An adult explained to me that pieces have value, decisions have consequences, having a strategy is important and winning isn't about luck, it is about preparedness. These concepts were awoken in me way back then and now, esports is my career.
The esports industry loves to talk about how massive are revenue predictions are and how the esports take-over is inevitable, but what about the simple act of teaching young people (and subsequently their parents and teachers) how amazing it feels to play a competitive video game?
Is anyone doing that yet? Shouldn't that be the first step?
Warcraft 3 is my one true love and I will challenge anyone to a game of Super Smash Brothers Melee.