By Meredith Flory 

If you find Chris and Ryan Gordon in their home in Evans, Georgia, in front of a television cheering on their son’s competition loudly, wearing team jerseys and posting updates on social media, you might assume that their son is a star athlete in a sport like soccer, basketball, track, or football.  But would you have guessed all this cheering is to support a video game competition?

While tournaments have existed throughout the history of video gaming, E-sports have recently developed a much larger following.  Garrett Gordon, only 16, is a rising star and since competing in his first event a little over a year ago he’s travelled internationally, competed in multiple competitions with his team while being covered by ESPN, and developed an extensive following on Twitter and Twitch.

Garrett, under the handle “GarretG,” plays Rocket League where players compete in a soccer-like competition, on a team comprised of vehicles with rocket boosters that can do aerial stunts, adding another layer of strategy.  The game has won multiple awards and players can play alone or online, on the computer or various gaming consoles. This past year the X-Games chose Rocket League as one of its E-sport competitions in Minneapolis. Just like athletes in other sports, players competed in person on teams for cheering fans with opportunities for prize winnings and sponsorships.

When Garrett decided to join an open tournament with his former team, he never imagined it would lead to a professional career on a more prestigious team.  After doing well in online competitions, he had his first opportunity to compete in an in-person competition in Hollywood but as a minor, he needed to seek permission from his parents.  His mother, Ryan Gordon, shared that because of their good relationship he had communicated with her about competing, but nevertheless, it was a surprise when the company called and she learned just how big of a deal it would be.  In addition to travel there would be significant monetary prizes and sponsorship opportunities for players.  Now sponsored, Garrett has traveled to competitions around the United States and to Amsterdam as a player for NRG E-sports, and has content viewable on Twitch, a video platform for gaming.  His competitions come with a time commitment and income that truly make this a serious professional pursuit, and impressive for someone so young.

Ryan says that “a lot of parents don’t realize how huge” the world of gaming is becoming, and because there is often parental concern about screen time, parents do not always realize the opportunities an interest in video games can lead to – competing, game development and design, or a myriad of other professional game related fields.

Gordon explains that in addition to the travel opportunities she has had while supporting her son, it’s been wonderful to meet and create a community with other parents who have teenagers competing that also “had the same questions.” While success like Garrett’s is rare, she encourages other parents whose teens are interested in gaming to talk with them about it and work to understand why it’s their passion, rather than trying to push their interest elsewhere.  She advises, “for some kids, this is their thing” and like any other hobby, “it’s about balance.” She shares that she had to learn to understand how serious a pursuit this could be and to not worry so much about screen time as Garrett’s requirements for practice increased.   Both mother and son stressed how important communication in their family has been as Garrett thas taken on the responsibility of competing on a professional team, and shared that one of the decisions they made was to allow Garrett to finish high school in an online program so that he could continue to do well in academics, but with a more flexible schedule.

Garrett says that with signing sponsorship contracts, earning prize money, and navigating the time commitment of practice and competitions, he’s learned to treat it “like it’s a business.”  He and his mom agree that he’s learned many skills that translate to other areas.  He shares that just playing the game requires “strategy and critical thinking” but he’s also learned how the importance of developing business relationships and how “everything is about connections” as he navigates contract negotiations, working with a team and marketing himself.  While their experience has been a successful and positive one, it’s not without challenges.  What started out as a hobby and something fun to do is now something that takes up the bulk of his time and can be stressful because he’s competing at a professional level of game play.  He shared that unlike some sports that require access to certain equipment to practice, or are stopped by time of day or weather, he knows that his competitors can practice whenever they like, and there’s a constant need to practice and learn new strategies.

Ryan says that it is “surreal” to watch the number of followers and fans that Garrett has developed online, and recalled the first time she saw someone ask Garrett for his autograph at a competition as an example.  However, because of the growing audience of E-sports, they also have to deal with people critical of his game play.  Garrett shared that dealing with online bullying has been difficult because even as a teenager, he had to learn “you can’t respond because you are representing the company” when you have a sponsorship, adding maturity and restraint to the lessons he’s learning through this pursuit.

Like other sports, however, there’s a fun, energizing atmosphere at competitions and the Gordons are proud parents.  Ryan laughs that she’s “like any other soccer mom” and that the family cheers him on like it’s “no different from being on the sideline of a soccer game.”  The family even has team jerseys to wear to show their support.

Garret shares that he has the “greatest memories” of learning to play video games with his dad when he was younger, and now his dad has cheered him on competitively on television and in person.  Their family’s experiences demonstrate how for new generations of parents, there are more activities that can fill the role of a game of catch in the backyard with dad – supporting your child’s passion may simply lead to an activity you can do together, or may even inspire them to a career.

This article appears in the September 2017 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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