This is part two of The Game Haus’ feature story on Rocket League esports’ unsung heroes, Rocket League parents. If you missed part one, it’s available here.
Your Son Does What?
Having a child who dedicates their life to a video game leads to some interesting interactions with friends and family. While esports is a growing industry, it is still largely anonymous when compared to network television and mainstream popular culture.
“I know a lot of parents who don’t understand this industry,” Ryan Gordon said. “It’s fun getting to explain that to family and friends.”
When young Rocket League pros are rising through the ranks they often have to go through the ordeal of explaining it to family and friends. It isn’t always fun.
“It was iffy at first because they didn’t really know about the esports side of things,” Justin “JSTN” Morales recalls. “Especially my grandma. She thought it was like a scam or something. When I started to get more followers on Twitch and stuff they started to understand more.”
Many Rocket League parents don’t understand the magnitude of becoming a professional gamer. Most parents did not grow up gaming, and if they did, they did it as a hobby. There’s a generational gap that isn’t easily bridged with a short explanation.
“If you were to ask me five years ago if I’d be watching my son playing a video game,” Wayne Knapman paused to chuckle. “It’s incomprehensible. When I tell people what [his son Jacob] does they give me the same reaction I would have given five years ago.”
JSTN found it so difficult to explain to his extended family that he kept his burgeoning talent under wraps until he received a professional contract offer from NRG.
He played an entire season in the Rival Series without explaining to his family how serious his infatuation with Rocket League had become. They knew he played and that he played a lot, but they had no idea the extent of his talent and how it would change his adolescence.
The pursuit to connect with their children and enable them to follow their passions had led many non-gamer parents have become Rocket League fanatics. They pick up RL jargon and know the game’s intricacies.
Wayne told The Game Haus about a time when his son, JKnaps, was “tilted” after a tournament. Would he use that adjective under any other circumstance? Rocket League bleeds into the parents’ lives.
“I never would have seen some of the places [we’ve visited] without [Rocket League],” Chris Gordon said. “Probably never would have gone to Europe but now I’ve been three times.”
“To be able to do it with him and have those experiences with him makes it that much better,” Ryan Gordon smiled at her husband. “We always tell him to not take it for granted because he’s so focused on competing but we remind him to try and enjoy the sight seeing because not many kids his age have these kinds of opportunities.”
It’s true. Not many kids vacation halfway across the world after competing in a video game tournament. Matthew Ingram thought he’d never see New York, but when his son qualifed for Rocket League’s Season 7 World Championship in Newark, New Jersey, he knew it was the chance of a lifetime.
“To think that we’d be boarding a plane for eight hours to come to America to watch a video game? No way,” Matthew told TGH. “But as soon as [Tadpole] qualified we were booking that plane no matter what it was going to take.”
The only time he’d ever played a video game was Pong and a failed game of Pac-man. Moments later he explains the need to steal and manage boost on offense. Before Tadpole went pro the Ingrams were unsure about his career path.
“As a family we didn’t know anything about [Rocket League],” Matthew said. “We knew he played a game on the computer, and that was it. About two years ago we went to [DreamHack] Leipzig. To go and see the setup and what was going on in the background and how professional everyone was, I was thinking, ‘Wow, I understand where he’s going now.’ Up until that point we knew nothing.”
Many parents found themselves in similar positions. Wayne Knapman loved watching his son play midfielder for his province’s soccer team. His coaches complimented his vision and ability to pass with precision. Now Wayne sees those same qualities in his son on the Rocket League pitch.
The level of Rocket League knowledge that pro parents have speaks not only to their investment in the game, but their investment in their children. They’re driven by the connection that they can have with their children through a video game. It’s an unexpected but powerful path.
That connection extends beyond just the immediate family. Extended families often congregate at the players’ house for viewing parties.
“When I’m playing at home during League Play and stuff I’ll score a goal and I’ll hear them all start yelling and stuff downstairs,” JSTN said. “I have my door closed and everything but my teammates can still hear me through the headset because they’re really hyped and going nuts.”
The Ingrams watch with similar excitement. When Kassio scored the goal that sent Triple Trouble to LAN they ran upstairs to congratulate Tadpole. The video blew up on social media.
— Carys 🏳️🌈 (@Carys_Ingram) May 12, 2019
“Well, he’s playing live and we’re watching the stream,” Tadpole’s sister, Carys Ingram said. “He’s like 20 seconds ahead and we can’t hear any screams from him or anything and we’re thinking ‘What’s going on?’ Then they scored and we were,” Carys paused to look at her Dad, “excited.” She smiled. “We never even saw the goal. We just went straight upstairs.”
When asked about if he could have ever foreseen such a passion for a video game, Dadpole simply responded, “Oh God no.”
While Tadpole was playing in his first World Championship, across the world in Wales his grandparents started crying when his team, Triple Trouble, advanced beyond the group stage. Three generations of Ingrams all connected by one video game.
The Parental Community
Many Rocket League pros spend time playing ranked with their RLCS rivals. There isn’t much animosity among pros beyond friendly rivalries and once the ball hits the ground at zero seconds the competition is over. It’s no different among their parents.
Top teams like Cloud9, NRG, G2 and Renault Vitality are all invited to the same tournaments and their parents see each other at nearly every LAN. They have started a small community of friends who have been in the same trenches together.
They swap stories of managing classwork and the tourist spots they’ve visited on the road. Outside of Rocket League their paths would likely have never crossed, but they now sit together at every LAN and exchange messages often. When time provides they meet for dinner and a good laugh.
“That part is awesome,” Ryan Gordon told TGH. “We secretly cheer for some teams because we want to see those parents back at the next tournament. They’re great people and it’s so nice because they get it. Other friends and family we have don’t fully understand. They’re so friendly and fun.”
It’s hard to explain to the uninformed why they family is taking off work to go to Montreal or Valencia. Having like-minded friends that already have built a bridge over the initial “Your son gets paid to play videogames?” moat is a relief for many.
They also connect with regards to the game. For non-gamers, like many Rocket League parents, Rocket League is easy to watch and understand. There aren’t in-depth inputs to remember or complex strategies to keep track of. Many parents raised their son in the world of athletics, so Rocket League makes for an easy transition.
The game’s simplistic nature is also ideal for parents who don’t want their children playing violent video games.
“I call them the shooting games,” Ryan Gordon said. “There’s all these great games that I know a lot of kids like. I think it would have been more difficult for me to support like that versus Rocket League just because of the nature of the game. I’m fortunate because it’s easier for all age levels to follow.”
The time they’ve spent watching Rocket League has created a community of Rocket League geniuses over the age of 35. Have they ever wanted to pick up the game themselves?
“When I play with [JSTN] I can’t even touch the ball,” Eric Morales said. “He even takes it easy on me. I’ve got one hour logged on PS4 and he’s got something like 2500 hours on PS4 alone.”
The Gordons are yet to play and Matthew Ingram claims he’s 30 years too old for video games, but they are still fluent in the game’s language. They spend a lot of time talking about Rocket League with their children.
Wayne Knapman enjoys watching replays of G2 games with his son and talking through each moment. JKnaps pauses to explain what went right leading up to a goal and goes on long tangents about his team’s shortcomings in their last match.
“When he won ELEAGUE in Atlanta, he had just won $75,000 and we got back to the hotel and I said, ‘Jacob, where do you want to go for supper? Let’s go to a nice restaurant,’” Wayne said. “He said, ‘Dad, I think I’d like to just grab a Subway six inch and come back and watch the videos.’ So we just watched the VODs from our room and hung out. It’s great father-son time.”
Now Wayne watches all the Rocket League he can get his hands on. He follows Collegiate Rocket League and is a regular viewer of the Rival Series for North America and Europe.
The parents also have front row seats in watching their children mature before the world. Their children are treated like stars and must grow up quickly.
“I love watching him take time for the fans,” Chris Gordon said. “He goes out of his way to sign autographs and spends time after meet and greets to meet everybody.”
In high school GarrettG was not outgoing or thirsty for attention. He’s adjusted to the attention that his Rocket League fame brings and handles media requests and fan interactions like a seasoned pro. Watching him stand on stage, it’s easy to forget he’s only 18 years-old. His mother recalls her most proud moment of watching him play.
“The first interview he did on stage with thousands of people watching,” Ryan said. “Before this Garrett would have never done something like that. He was very shy but on stage he was so comfortable and confident.”
Rocket League’s most iconic moments are accompanied by the jubilant screams of parents in the stands. When the event comes to a close the best players in the world head back to their hotels to celebrate with Mom and Dad.
When Pierre “Turbopolsa” Silfver scored to put Dignitas in the lead with four seconds remaining in Season 5’s epic Grand Final, Eric Morales was despondent. He had resigned himself to second place. The game was over.
“Then when the game started it just kept going,” Eric Morales said. “It felt like the ball was in the air forever, but it was only like 13 seconds.”
Rocket League fans remember the energy in the arena as JSTN dove back to his own corner to play the ball off the wall. As soon as the ball touched the ground the game would be over. Jasyon “Fireburner” Nunez connected with the ball at the same time as Turbopolsa and the ball shot out into the ramp on the side wall. The ball bounced up perfectly for JSTN who had just enough boost left in the tank for the shot.
“When [JSTN] goes up, I thought, ‘Okay, he’s got a good try,’” Eric said. “I never would have thought it would have gone in.”
JSTN rose up over the defense, flipped his car belly side up, and hit the ball downward. Alexandre “Kaydop” Courant jumped off the backboard but the ball was too low. As it headed toward goal it flirted dangerously with the grass but crossed the goal line cleanly. It was the most iconic moment in Rocket League history.
“When [the shot went in] I jumped and started hugging everybody around me,” Eric continued. “I was hugging people I didn’t even know. In my brain I thought they had won. I couldn’t comprehend it because I was jumping and hugging everyone.”
Rocket League’s most memorable moments become chapters in family history. Wayne Knapman remembers running onto the stage to hug his son when he won ELEAGUE in 2017 in blur of joy and pride.
He’s a gruff man who has spent 29 years working for Canada’s federal police department. He wasn’t always receptive to JKnaps’ career but came around quickly.
He looks back on the last three years of travel and Rocket League with a warm heart. The time he’s spent with his son is more valuable than any trophy or prize pool. The connection Rocket League parents form with their children lasts and it takes dedication from both sides.
They’ve also made friends with other parents and have formed a tight-knit community of middle-aged Rocket League enthusiasts. It’s hard to foresee the bonds parents will form when an aspiring pro is climbing the ranks, but it inevitably happens.
Many pros don’t build their Rocket League careers on the stable foundation of parental support. After all, this is still the shaky world of video games. It’s a young profession that many see as a waste of time. The fact is that Rocket League changes the lives of the players and their parents, but it takes understanding and tenacity from both parties.
“We don’t know how long this window of opportunity within Rocket League is going to last,” Wayne Knapman said. “We had conversations about going to school after and how to financially prepare for that. Jacob has been very smart with his money and has been given financial advice for when his career is over. I tell him to enjoy it while it lasts and you don’t know what the next years are going to bring. Just continue to do your best and you’ll know when the time is right to move on.”
Wayne hopes that time will never come, but when it does, he’ll always remember sitting in his hotel room eating Subway with his son filled with pride. All because of Rocket League.
Featured image courtesy of u/hisham8383.
Follow Connor on Twitter: @connorssanders.
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