clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Let’s all calm down about professional Fortnite coaching

New, 53 comments

The newest outrage is here

If you buy something from a Polygon link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Two characters look at an explosion, one is holding a container of Slurp Juice Epic Games

Did you hear that parents are paying for coaching to help their children get better at Fortnite? That some of these human adults are also taking part in Fortnite lessons? Good Morning America is talking about it, and so is the Wall Street Journal. You are seemingly invited to have strong feelings about these stories, because it seems like everyone else does. It feels like at least some of them are meant to stoke that anger, but the targets don’t seem that deserving of the scorn.

And I’m a bit baffled, having thought about this particular controversy all morning. It’s hard to understand why people are so angry, and the argument against this practice isn’t being verbalized well by critics. Their complaints seem boil down to: paying someone to teach your kids how to play a video game is bad, because of course it is.

But why is it? Let’s all take a second to calm down and actually think about this.

What’s the downside, exactly?

Parents are goofy in general and tend to do goofy things for their children. I say that as a goofy parent with a lot of kids. Paying for coaches to help a child study mindfully and improve at something they enjoy isn’t that strange, in the grand scheme of things.

It seems like the only reason people are talking about Fortnite coaching at all is that they know we’ll click on Fortnite stories. There’s a strong incentive to recycle parenting stories that have played out across sports and games, like chess and even cheerleading, to focus on the hot new thing.

And yet, if you replaced Fortnite with private lessons for nearly any other activity, you would likely get a less emotionally charged response. You can get tutors in magic, you know. There’s no public outcry about parents who pay to help their kids get better at juggling.

There’s potential danger of overdoing it here, just like there’s danger in over-indulging any hobbies that parents decide should be taken seriously. But if parents are pushing children too hard to get better at something, the issue is the parent — not Fortnite, or chess, or juggling. The game is just a symptom of parental behavior that could be damaging to kids, no matter where the money is going. Parents paying for private clarinet lessons in the hope a kid is going to make it into a symphony are just as serious as the ones getting Fortnite coaches. They just can do it with less public ridicule.

As big as Fortnite is right now, it’s still just another video game to a large portion of the public. It’s easy to see how someone with preconceived notions about gaming (or parenting) would read about Fortnite coaching and come away aghast. Let’s read a piece of the Wall Street Journal story as an example:

Each Sunday night, JD Giles and his 10-year-old son, Blake, look forward to their “Fortnite” lesson with a coach they know as “Convertible.” Mr. Giles initially sought lessons for Blake as a birthday gift. Then he got hooked.

“Our skills were nowhere near where we needed them to be,” said the sales executive from Cumming, Ga.

He has spent $45 on three one-hour sessions and has committed to at least three more for himself and Blake. The investment is already paying off.

“Within one week, I actually got a solo win,” Mr. Giles said. “The other dads I play with congratulated me. I earned a little credibility with my son and his friends—and my wife and daughter made fun of me.”

Well, these certainly sound like horrible people, spending time together and getting better at a fun hobby while the rest of the family pokes a little fun at them.

Should these children and parents just go outside? We don’t know that they don’t also play outside, but if they’re serious enough about getting good at a video game to spend more than $100 on it, I guess the assumption is that rest of their lives aren’t balanced.

We don’t lobby the “go outside” criticism at kids who spend a significant amount of time reading or learning a musical instrument. Parents who spend thousands to train their prospective future Olympians are often seen as supportive, not as wasters of time and money.

But still, paying for Fortnite tutoring is bad. Because it seems bad.

Twitter

Each of the stories and reactions to the idea that children may be getting coaching for a video game seems to implicitly, or very explicitly, suggest we should be sneering at this concept. Which is why so much of the reaction seems to negative, without any further reasoning to back up the attitude. Why would they need to explain themselves, after all? We all know video games are bad.

The whole talkback cycle thus far seems designed to get you angry at these parents, as if it’s expected of you. But getting outraged is a waste of your time, because practicing Fortnite isn’t all that different from practicing anything else.

The odd thing to me as a parent is that teaching children the importance of practice is valuable, no matter what they’re practicing at an early age. Society often tells children that they’re naturally good at some things, and maybe not so great at others. The important lesson, that you can get better at just about anything by practicing, is often skipped over.

Twitter

Sure, people can just practice on their own to get better. But anyone who has ever worked out on their own knows what a difference a personal trainer makes. I produce terrible music out of my basement and have paid for “secrets” from the pros to try to figure out how to get better at it, but that behavior isn’t likely to evoke the same fear and loathing that paying for Fortnite help inspires.

I’m sure there are bad Fortnite coaches and good Fortnite coaches, the same as there are with private lessons for any skill. But paying a tutor to help a child play Fortnite isn’t better or worse than paying a tutor to help a child play basketball, in terms of damage to society at large. But basketball is a sport, and Fortnite is something that kids like, so it’s to be distrusted.

And none of these are great career paths. The percentage of people who turn playing Fortnite into a career is likely about the same as those who go onto play baseball professionally from their little league team. It’s not like you can argue that one might lead to a job and the other won’t. They’re all long shots, but they can also just be fun on their own. And getting better with the help of a coach can absolutely make the game or hobby more fun.

The reaction to this story tells us more about our relationships to class, play and trends than it does about what these parents and kids might be doing wrong. So many of these dismissive or hostile responses are still based on the idea that other hobbies are OK, while there is something inherently wrong about taking video games seriously and wanting to get better at them.

It’s 2018, and video games are bigger and more important than ever. So let’s all try to calm down about this particular topic; it doesn’t seem to be making our culture any worse. Fortnite coaching is just another example of parents wanting their kids to be the best, whatever it takes.