Photo by Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images
Parents are supporting their kids through intense but potentially lucrative careers
Fifteen-year-old Martin “MrSavage” Foss Andersen is one of the biggest personalities in Fortnite. He competed in front of thousands in the solo and duos competition at last year’s Fortnite World Cup, has more than 1.5 million followers watching his every move on Twitch, multiple YouTube videos with hundreds of thousands of views (where he has more than 1.3 million channel subscribers), and recently signed on to the prestigious esports organization 100 Thieves in February.
But at home, Martin still “needs to empty the dishwasher,” says Johnny Troset Andersen, Martin’s father.
The Andersen family is one of many navigating a new world of helping young esports and streaming stars balance responsibilities between career, schooling, and, yes, even chores. Many of these rising players are only teenagers; the average age of a Fortnite World Cup competitor was 16, with some as young as 13. And esports competitions are offering ever-increasing amounts of prize money — in the thousands or even millions of dollars. Martin won $30,000 at the DreamHack Anaheim Fortnite tournament in February and $50,000 for his solo and duos appearances at the Fortnite World Cup. The winner of the World Cup, Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf, walked away with $3 million, a big slice of the $100 million Epic gave in prizes for competitive Fortnite for in 2019.
It’s not easy to get to the level of earning that kind of money. Pro esports careers require hours of practice and competing in many tournaments. Johnny, Martin’s father, estimates that his son practices Fortnite almost every day, training for about six or seven hours on average. Martin also spends about 30 minutes on content for his social media channels. And when he chooses to stream on Twitch, those sessions usually last from three to six hours. (He did a nine-hour stream on Friday, June 12th.)
Martin is still in school, though he attends a Montessori school that’s “really flexible” with Martin’s esports career, Johnny tells The Verge in an email. Martin is usually at school for about two and a half days per week, and given the COVID-19 pandemic, those school days have recently taken place at home. His mandatory schooling will end late this month, which means he’ll probably move to become a full-time esports player, according to Johnny.
Helping Martin balance his career amid his intense schedule doesn’t just fall on Johnny’s shoulders, however. He hired an agent to help with things like Martin’s sponsorships and negotiations, and Martin also has a full-time manager who is the point of contact with 100 Thieves and also travels with Johnny and Martin to tournaments and events.
However, Johnny is aware that his 15-year-old son may at some point change his mind about his career path. “We tried to keep as few as possible people reliant on him continuing gaming,” he says. “He shouldn’t feel the pressure as a 15-year-old.”
Other parents I spoke to also mentioned the need for outside support in managing their kids’ careers. Sue Earnest, the mother of 27-year old Colin “Solo” Earnest, a member of FlyQuest’s League of Legends team, told me she sought out a lawyer early on in Colin’s career to help read through the team contracts and support with negotiations. Now, Colin has an agent as well. Getting an agent helped Sue because “I don’t have the connections in the industry to handle switching teams or making sure that someone’s out there promoting him as a player and looking out for opportunities,” she says.
And given how relatively young the esports industry is compared to more traditional sports, parents don’t have a lot of role models on how to best raise a child to be successful. Sue Earnest says she and her husband built out Colin’s support network “from scratch.” Johnny Troset Andersen tells me, “We don’t have a recipe for this. We need to kind of learn as we go.” He also uses the career of Magnus Carlsen, the Norwegian chess prodigy and multiple-time world champion, as an inspiration for how he should structure Martin’s life. “I try to organize things around my son in the same manner that Magnus Carlsen’s father does it.”
Executives at esports organizations are noticing that parents are very supportive of their kids’ careers. Jack Etienne, the founder and CEO of esports organization Cloud9, says that in 2013 and 2014, parents “had a lot more questions about the industry, how we made money as a company, who am I, and my background.” But now, “the parents are coming educated. They know that this is a pretty exciting industry, that it’s growing, and that there actually is a professional career for their child.”
Those thoughts are echoed by Darren Yan, Faze Clan’s vice president of talent. “Three years ago, my conversations with parents were completely different than they are today,” he explains. He also says that kids are consuming esports just as regularly as more traditional sports and that “they probably have posters or merch of their favorite streamer or Ninja or Faze clan.” Because of that, “parents are now learning that this is a big thing, it’s real, and their kids can make money off of this or build a lucrative career out of this.”
There are typically age limits for streaming and competitions. To play in the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), Riot Games requires participants to be 17 or older. (The minimum age is 16 for the developmental LCS Academy League.) Epic Games doesn’t allow anyone younger than 13 to participate in its competitive Fortnite events; if they are younger than 18, a player must have permission from their parent or guardian. And Twitch doesn’t allow streamers to be younger than 13.
Faze Clan ran afoul of Epic and Twitch’s age limits in signing Fortnite player Patric “H1ghSky1” Bragaru. Another well-known Fortnite player, Turner “Tfue” Tenney, alleged in a May 2019 lawsuit about his contract with Faze Clan that the organization had signed an 11-year-old. “Upon information and belief, Faze Clan has not only lied about the minor’s age, but has also pressured the minor and his family to do so,” the allegation read. In March, Faze had introduced Patric as the organization’s “youngest Faze member ever” but didn’t specify his age.
Two weeks after Tenney sued Faze, Twitch banned Patric. After Patric was banned, his father, Petru Bragaru, says he and his family talked about what to do next in Patric’s career. “[Patric] was like, ‘Dad, this is not a problem. Nothing is gonna stop me. I’m gonna move on. I’m gonna move forward. I have a dream. I love gaming,’” says Petru.
Patric was streaming Fortnite on YouTube a day later, though under the supervision of his mom, Viorica Bragaru, in accordance with YouTube’s rules. In the video, Patric clarified the Twitch ban. “My Twitch account was suspended due to me being underage,” he said. “And yes, I am 12. I only lied so that I can fulfill my dream of being a streamer. It’s been my dream for a long time and I worked for like a year and a half for it. And I’m sorry that I lied.” He continued, “I had to lie. I was too young, and it held me back, and I just couldn’t wait two more years.” Off-screen, his mother can be heard saying, “you are a genius, you are amazing.”
Patric was also banned from competing in the Fortnite World Cup. “Following an Epic investigation and player admission to falsifying age information, we have disqualified a Fortnite competitive player from the events that the player had participated in, including any prize distributions,” Epic said in a statement to Polygon.
Patric, now finally 13, has a Twitch channel again with more than 170,000 followers. (He also has more than 1.7 million YouTube subscribers.) Like Martin, he has a similarly Fortnite-filled schedule to help him stay competitive, his parents said in an interview with The Verge. Patric attends school online and does schoolwork for the first three or four hours of his day. Once done, he spends some time walking or biking near his house, and after that, it’s “grinding and grinding again,” says Petru. “If you want good to be good at something, you’ve got to put the time in.”
The Bragaru family also relies on Youssef Ali, Faze Clan’s head of digital, who serves as Patric’s manager and helps with brand deals that Patric may be involved in. He’s also just a general resource for them. “If we need anything, if Patric needs anything, we’re gonna call [Ali] and he’s going to arrange everything, he’s going to send Patric all the stuff he needs,” said Petru.
Parents I spoke with believed in their children’s careers, despite the uncertainties of the field. And a large part of their belief may have been the drive their child showed to earn them a professional spot in the first place.
Eunjung Ra, the mother of Edward “Tactical” Ra, a player on Team Liquid’s League of Legends team, said that she was worried about Edward’s decision to try to become an esports pro, which he decided while finishing high school. He had already been accepted to colleges, but he wanted to pursue his competitive gaming career. “But because he was so passionate and he has really great ambitions about the career, we let him [try it]. We trusted him on the process, and we let him try becoming a pro gamer for a year,” Eunjung said through a translator. Edward got offers from pro teams after he graduated high school.
Sue Earnest, Colin Earnest’s mom, tells me that when Colin opted to forgo college to pursue an esports career, he still held a job and still paid rent. “So he was very responsible along the way.”
Sometimes, though, the role of a parent in an esports player’s life is to just be a parent. Edward told me that while stuck at home in Los Angeles during the COVID-19 pandemic, his parents, who live about an hour outside of the city, have brought him food. Sue told me about how she will help Colin find new doctors when he switches teams and has a new health plan.
And when Johnny travels with Martin and his manager, Johnny is around as “the old guy,” making sure that his son gets food, fresh air, and that “the fame doesn’t go into his head, as you say in Norway.”