Matthew Ingram’s voice is completely wrecked. He rasps out a greeting and a callused hand after cheering on his son Euan “Tadpole” Ingram at the Season 7 Rocket League Championship Series World Championship.
The exuberant man Rocket League fans have come to know as Dadpole reeks of beer and sweat. He’s made his way all the way from Aberdare, Wales with his daughter Carys to watch his son compete.
He sits in the front row with a massive Triple Trouble flag sprawled out on the short barrier wall. He leans his round body back and cranes his neck to look up at the screen.
His voice may be gone but his enthusiasm for Rocket League isn’t. He works as a nurse at a mental hospital and had to pay for his own travel to Newark, New Jersey to watch his son play. He erupts from his seat when Tadpole scores the winning goal to send Triple Trouble to the knockout round.
Earlier in the year Tadpole wanted to leave his job in finance to pursue Rocket League full time. It was a tough decision considering Tadpole’s role in supporting his family.
“Financially, we’re not rich,” Mathew told The Game Haus. “We’re rich in family. We give our time and energy to support what our children want to do.”
Matthew encouraged his son to pursue his dream. The power and internet bills racked up, but he continued to urge him forward. When he made the World Championship he knew he was going.
“It’s a lot of electric,” Carys Ingram said with a laugh.
Matthew and his wife gave Tadpole two years to try and become a professional Rocket League player. Tadpole made his way through the Rival Series and earned promotion to the premier division. His Triple Trouble squad shocked the Rocket League world by making LAN in their first season.
After Tadpole’s squad lost in the quarterfinal he made his way back to the front row to sit with his dad. Matthew put his arm around his son. Tadpole’s head rested in his hands and his New York baseball cap covered his face as he stared at the floor.
Three years earlier Wayne Knapman sat next to his campfire in Cow Bay, Nova Scotia. His son Jacob “JKnaps” Knapman sulked out of the cottage toward him. JKnaps had just missed out on qualification for Season 2 of the RLCS and sought the comfort of his father.
“I said ‘Jacob, it’s just a video game. Let it go.’” Wayne recalls. “Then, I remember him showing me his phone and it was the Season 2 qualifier broadcast. I remember him saying, ‘Dad, this is getting pretty big. This is not just a game for me anymore.’ On his phone was the Twitch feed, which I didn’t know what Twitch was at the time, and there were 30,000 people watching. He looked at me and said, ‘Dad, I’m pretty good.”
Wayne was taken aback by the number of people watching the stream and realized that Jacob was not just in his room wasting time playing games anymore. He was on his way to a career in a budding esport and he was going to need to dedicate his time to it.
JKnaps was a very talented soccer player and traveled with a high-level team to tournaments. When Rocket League came out he realized he had a talent for it. There wasn’t enough time in the day to practice both so JKnaps had to make a decision. He chose Rocket League.
“At first I was sarcastic,” Wayne said. “Once I knew that he had an interest in it I got myself a Twitch account and I started watching his streams. From that point on I was fully supportive of him. Eventually, we upgraded the internet at the cottage so he could play.”
Wayne has been to eight LAN events now and his family has fallen in love with Rocket League, too. His grandmother, Hope (also known as NannyKnaps), is Jacob’s biggest fan. She’s 85 years-old and legally blind. When Wayne is traveling for work he takes remote control of her computer and plays the broadcast for her.
“She actually brings her friends over,” Wayne laughs. “They’re all between 85 and 90 and they’re all into Rocket League now.”
Garrett “GarrettG” Gordon was just 15 years-old when he made his first RLCS World Championship. When Psyonix informed his parents that they wanted him to fly from Augusta, Georgia to Los Angeles to play Rocket League his parents were surprised.
“When he told us we were like, ‘Whatever, you’re not going to Los Angeles.’” Chris Gordon said. “None of our family had ever even been to California. You’re not going.”
“That’s when it all became a reality when we got that first phone call,” Ryan Gordon said. “It was like, okay, this is a thing. We knew that competing had been a dream for him on that level so we were excited for him and we embraced it. We started planning the trip to go and support him.”
The Gordons dove head first into Rocket League and embraced the monikers PapaGarrettG and MamaGarrettG. They even had jerseys made up that they wear to every event. In the four years since Garrett started playing they’ve traveled the world watching him play.
“I didn’t go to LA because I don’t like flying,” Chris recalls. “When Amsterdam came around I thought ‘I kind of want him to make [LAN], but I kind of don’t because that’s a long flight.’ After that flight I was fine. Since then I’ve flown eight more times at least.”
In an esport where players can begin competing as early as 15, pursuing a career in Rocket League is often just as taxing on the parents as it is for the players. Becoming a Rocket League parent means sacrificing time, money and energy in pursuit of a dream.
It also brings the family together in ways that only a hectic life of dream chasing can. Most Rocket League pros wouldn’t ever make it without the support of their parents, and many parents aren’t willing to take the steps needed to help their child become a pro.
They are the unsung heroes behind the scene. There would be no LANs without accompanying guardians. There would be no pros without high speed internet and quality PCs. Rocket League Esports would be nothing without the support of Rocket League parents.
The Role Parents Play in Rocket League Success
In 2003 Eric Morales sat his 2 year-old son, Justin, in his lap while he played Battlefield 1942. The self-proclaimed computer geek from Long Island wanted to pass down his passion to his son.
A year earlier he had set up an email account for Justin. In 2004 Eric bought Justin his first gaming system, a Nintendo DS. Six years later when he set up his own Twitter account he made a second one for Justin. Eric thought technology was the way of the future and he wanted his son to be immersed in it.
“I had a XBOX set up in the house and in the car,” Eric said. “When we’d be driving somewhere he’d be playing on the screens in the back of the seats. He grew up around video games.”
Justin was 12 when Rocket League came out for free on PlayStation Network in 2015. He started playing it on his PS4 and quickly developed a talent for it. Within a year he was playing it constantly and had started to make friends with high ranked players.
One of his friends, a fellow up and comer named Mariano “SquishyMuffinz” Arruda, talked to Justin and Eric about his future in the game. Squishy told them that if Justin wanted to continue playing at the highest level, he needed to get a PC.
Eric was born in Frankfurt, Germany to military parents. They moved back to Puerto Rico when he was young and to Long Island, New York when he was 14. He’s a hard-working man willing to do anything for his family.
He is also a computer technician, so he got to work and built Justin a gaming computer. It’s the same PC that JSTN plays on today.
JSTN just turned 17 earlier this week and has to attend LANs with a legal guardian because he’s still a minor. Eric shoulders the burden of the travel and has to battle to get work off to take him. Eric doesn’t mind. The time he spends on the road with his son makes for quality bonding time.
Now his son is one of the most prolific Rocket League players in the world. Eric is quick to acknowledge and reinforce that JSTN did it on his own.
“I wasn’t there pushing him to be a pro,” Eric said. “As long as he did his homework he was allowed to play. He woke up early for school so I had no problem with him staying up late to play. He was very responsible and he did it all himself. I never had to tell him anything.”
Most Rocket League pros spend time streaming on Twitch. Parents like Eric and Wayne Knapman watch their son stream and ensure that everything is positive in the comments. It’s a roundabout way of connecting with them. It’s like watching your son on TV. For some parents it didn’t come as easily.
“[Garrett] would play the game and then watch other people play,” Chris Gordon said. “I didn’t understand that at first. That was kind of different for me because I was like ‘You’ve been playing in here for hours and now you want to watch somebody play?’ It took me a while to understand it but I get it know. It’s like watching his favorite baseball player.”
Parents must be willing to adapt and encourage their children to continue to embrace a healthy life balance. Providing structure but allowing space for potential pros is crucial in their development as players and people.
It can be difficult for parents to comprehend how much time goes into becoming a pro. There are scrims to be scheduled, new mechanics to be learned and team chemistry to build. All of that eats up time that typical teenagers would spend around family.
Ryan Gordon remembers the early days, “We certainly had conversations where I had to tell [Garrett], ‘Get out of your room. You’ve been in there long enough. Come eat dinner. Come hang out.’ But he continued to show a good balance.”
Eventually playing Rocket League takes on a new meaning for both player and parent. As a player rises through his ranks, priorities change and parents have to accept that.
“We recognize that it’s like a job for [JKnaps],” Wayne said. “If we’re going out for supper we’ll plan to go earlier so he can be back in time for scrims that he’s scheduled. It’s the little things like that. If we want to take trips we make sure he’s home on time for scrims and stuff like that.”
He and his family have to respect when JKnaps needs to go to work. Sometimes parents just want to have dinner with their children, but in the professional esports world, there’s not enough time.
Sacrificing family time is one thing, but sacrificing school is another. Every parent preaches the importance of school work and learning to their children. Skipping school is a capital crime among high schoolers, but many Rocket League players simply can’t make it to school.
Between DreamHack events, World Championships, ELEAGUE and other in person events, Rocket League pros miss a lot of school. There’s no rescheduling LANs, but many schools aren’t accommodating to traveling pros.
“I remember when he talked to me about not wanting to stop going to public school and that he wanted to do online school,” Ryan said. “That took a lot of thought on my part because I wanted to make sure I made the right decision. Talking through it with him we got to the point where, number one, he’s always been a good kid with straight A’s and good attendance, and two he just didn’t enjoy the social aspect of high school because he’d rather talk with his friends from all over the world every night.”
Eric Morales confronted the same issue.
“We had no choice but to move to online school,” Eric said. “We were traveling so much the school told us he was absent too many times. So we enrolled him in the same online school that Garrett attends. I didn’t want to do that since JSTN was going to go to the same high school that I went to, but it just wasn’t going to happen.”
For the Ingrams the sacrifices came financially. Tadpole had settled into a job working on the financial side of a building company in his hometown of Aberdare. Part of becoming a pro meant leaving his job.
“Knowing that [Tadpole] wasn’t enjoying his job made it easy, but it was also very difficult because unemployment in Wales is really high,” Matthew Ingram said. “So to be able to find another full time job is very difficult. That’s always been in the back of the mind as to whether he can find something if [Rocket League] doesn’t work out.”
It’s especially difficult to support a son who is without an organization to back him up. Many pros leave jobs and school once they can rely on the steady salary from an esports org, but beyond a short stint with Red Reserve, Tadpole has been on his own.
Matthew understood how rare the opportunity for his son to pursue his dream was and encouraged him to press on. Making the World Championship was incredibly cathartic for the family. All of the time and effort invested into Rocket League resulted in reaching Season 7’s climax and the moment was not lost on Matthew.
“You never know what is around the corner,” Matthew told The Game Haus at the World Championship in June. “You don’t know if the team will get signed. You don’t know if the team will go in different directions because of the success now so you have to make the decision that we were going to come and support [Tadpole] to the best of our ability. It’s not just about him. It’s about the team and the community and the bandwagon. It’s a massive family. It feels like a family dynamic.”
His quote is impactful, if not prophetic, given how Triple Trouble crashed and burned their way to disbanding after Aldin “Ronaky” Hodzic and Andy “Kassio” Landais left the team.
Esports careers are incredibly short. Some never come to fruition. Many of the game’s best players three years ago don’t even play Rocket League anymore. It’s hard to tell when the game is going to move on without a player, so parents have to dive in head first alongside their children. If they don’t, it makes life for the pros much harder.
“It didn’t take convincing,” Tadpole told TGH. “It took understanding. As soon as they understood what I was trying to do the support they’ve given me is incredible.”
End of Part 1. Part 2 will be available on Saturday, August 24.
Featured image courtesy of Dion Harris.
Follow Connor on Twitter: @connorssanders.
“From Our Haus to Yours”