Even as gaming enters the mainstream media, there is still a large stigma around gamers, their way of life and some of their career aspirations. Thankfully, the Coalition of Parents in Esports (COPE) aims to change that by educating parents about the benefits of gaming and the legitimacy of esports while providing resources for kids to grow in the space.
We were lucky enough to talk to Shae Williams, the Executive Director of COPE, as well as Chris Spikoski, COPE’s Director of Marketing, who gave us some insight into the organization and its goals.
For many parents, the concept of esports and gaming is foreign, and the fact that a job could come out of those spaces might as well be in another galaxy. Some parents decide to cut off their children from playing games, especially when kids get heavily invested into fine-tuning their skill or grinding out daily streams, without fully understanding how big the industry is.
“That’s exactly what the mission of COPE is: trying to put a more positive image of what gaming is out there,” said Williams. “Right now, the biggest issue is that they just see it as screen time, and parents have been taught that screen time is bad… They should look at the positive aspects and try to encourage the positive aspects as opposed to just pushing back on it and really listening to their kids. Seeing what they are getting out of it, why they are passionate about it.”
For Williams and Spikoski, COPE all started with sharing their own personal experiences with other parents in the esports scene at events and on social media. After realizing that parents all over are facing the same issues without access to information that can help them, the Coalition of Parents in Esports officially set out in the summer of 2020 to be an asset.
“Parents feel lost here,” Williams said. “They generally don’t understand gaming, they don’t understand esports, they don’t use Discord, so all of these things are completely foreign to them and they are kind of scared of it, they are pretty hands-off… I found that my best information was coming from other parents, parents I either met at these LAN events or parents that I found on Twitter… As I got into it more myself, that turned around and parents started coming to me.”
COPE is truly there to help gamers by providing a number of resources on everything imaginable in the esports realm. Some topics COPE has covered include how gamers can talk to their parents about gaming, how they can make a unique personal brand, how they can manage their own social media accounts and how they can find the best coaches to improve their in-game skills. Finding information about the ins and outs of esports usually comes through word of mouth, but COPE is trying to streamline the process to make help more accessible.
Even past understanding the industry, parents and people everywhere still look at video games as a pointless time-wasting activity. Because an adolescence in gaming isn’t necessarily the childhood parents had growing up, they have concerns about their kids being active, engaging their brains and, particularly, socializing.
“The thing that comes up the most is social life,” Spikoski said. “A lot of parents still kind of feel that their kids aren’t engaging with friends. They don’t have that social life. They don’t have that experience that they might’ve had as a kid because they aren’t spending all that time outdoors. That lack of understanding is kind of the biggest thing we get.”
The truth is that some of these kids have more of a social life than most people. Much of the pushback about video games comes from how much time kids spend in “isolation,” but these games allow collaboration from people all over the world. Spikoski realized that at events, his son Griffin “Sceptic” Spikoski would hang out with online friends from all across Europe and North America, something that most kids, let alone adults, don’t ever get to experience.
Beyond social life, esports teach a lot of the same lessons traditional sports do, an analogy that COPE uses all the time because they show so many similar characteristics. It’s especially brought up when parents ask about the anger and frustration shown from competitors while in-game, which is accepted and sometimes encouraged in traditional sports, but somehow looked at differently when talking about esports. Just like baseball or basketball, improving at an esport takes a lot of time and practice.
“A lot of parents will push back on their kids and say, ‘Well you didn’t win that tournament, why are you wasting your time doing this.’ And I say, ‘We don’t take that stance when we put our kid on a soccer field or let them play little league baseball,’” Williams explains. “And also getting them to respect it in that way. A lot of kids will complain that right in the middle of a major tournament, their parent barges in and says, ‘Grandma is on the phone, you need to talk to her’ or ‘Dinner is ready, you need to come out right now.’”
There are real relationships being made and lessons being learned in an online setting that should not be looked at differently from those being made on a little league baseball field or soccer pitch. For some kids, being online is even easier because of the low-pressure environment social gaming can create, especially if their parents fully support the activity and understand all the positive aspects it can provide.
“At first I was like every other parent, I didn’t pay that much attention to it,” Williams said. “Then I realized that not only was he winning tournaments, but he was making closer bonds with his online friends then I felt like he had with his school friends… The more I got into it, the more I realized that he was really thriving here. He was building self-confidence in this space, he was building great connections, he was building a brand and he was really learning things.”
Not every kid will become the next Ninja or Bugha, so COPE is also about helping kids realize that there are other opportunities outside competing and content creation. The space will continue to grow to a point where jobs in business, operations, marketing, coaching, video production, social media and many more areas will be made more available than they already are. To further that point, COPE is working to help provide college scholarships to those in esports who need it.
Currently, most education happens in one-on-one discourse between parents and COPE, but as the organization continues to grow, so will its outreach into big events. Both Williams and Spikoski highlighted that parents have been left out of the industry’s growth and something needs to be done to connect them to the information they need. That way, they can help and encourage their kids who aspire to participate.
“We are really lobbying for all these big conventions to have a parent area, because right now that’s one of the things we see as a real issue: parents don’t know what to do when they are at TwitchCon,” Williams said. “Parents have really been left out of this whole space. We need to give them a place to hang out and use this time to educate.”
COPE is still a very young organization, but it has already earned the support of many major companies which want to see gaming better understood by parents. It has also added a long list of parents to its Board of Trustees, including parents of Benjyfishy, MrSavage, EpikWhale and more.
“The more parents we reach out to and more people we speak with, the more support we get,” Spikoski said. “We’ve seen nothing but support from every parent that we’ve spoken to and they’re always pitching in wherever they can help, whatever they can do to help us. It’s a nice community that we’ve formed and we all bond over the same thing and we all have the same experiences.”
As a 501(C)3 nonprofit organization, COPE is starting to raise money to grow its outreach into the community, not only to help parents and kids, but also to provide gaming experiences to schools and towns that wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford it. You can read more about COPE and donate on its website, and you can also add COPE as your charitable organization on AmazonSmile so a small portion of your order price will be donated.
We thank Shae, Chris, and all the other representatives at COPE for their fantastic work. Here’s to all the good things to come for this organization.