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Justin, a professional Rocket League player, leaning back in a chair.
Jstn at the Rocket League Championship Series.

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The trick to parenting Rocket League pros? Balance

We spoke with parents of professional Rocket League players at the Rocket League Championship Series

Ana Diaz (she/her) is a culture writer at Polygon, covering internet culture, fandom, and video games. Her work has previously appeared at NPR, Wired, and The Verge.

The parents of professional esports players are not in the spotlight, but that doesn’t mean that they play a less important role in the larger esports community. In professional Rocket League, kids can start playing professionally as young as 15, so parents are likely to be much more involved. Whether it is a simple “good luck” text, cooking meals, or traveling around the world, these parents form the foundation of what enables these kids to play.

At the 2019 Rocket League Championship Series in Newark, New Jersey, Polygon chatted with three parents of competitors. Aimee Prior, also known as “Mama Torment,” is mom to Kyle “Torment” Storer, Rocket League World Champion and World Champion MVP in 2018. Jackelyn Matos and Eric Morales are the parents of Justin “Jstn” Morales. Justin is a pro player for NRG and known for his “zero-second goal,” arguably the best play in professional Rocket League.

At first, these parents didn’t even know what esports were. “I didn’t even know this world existed,” Matos told Polygon. Her husband knew a little bit, but it took Justin sitting down with her for Matos to realize professional Rocket League was booming.

“[Justin] came to me and he told me, ‘I’m turning 15. I know you always wanted me to get a part-time job, just for me to get responsible,’” Matos said. “‘I have some orgs.’ And he kind of broke it down for me. ‘I have my teammates and this is what I do.’”

As each parent started to learn more about what their child does, and their interest in competitive gaming, they each had a clarifying moment on how big esports could be. For Prior, it was when she saw Torment compete at the X Games.

“I didn’t really understand it, but then I think it was when he subbed for a team and he went to the X Games, I was like, ‘Well, X Games is huge.’ Then I watched it on TV and I was like, ‘Dude, it’s on TV.’ It was sort of unexpected,” Prior said. “I didn’t think it would get this big. I didn’t think he’d be world champion and one of the best players in the world.”

For Matos and Morales, it happened the first time the latter attended a tournament with Jstn.

“I went to season 4, to take him and to see it,” Matos said. “He was already signing autographs, and I was like, ‘What’s going on here? How do these people know him?’ [Justin’s father] texted me, ‘I think our son is well-known in the Rocket League community,’ and sends me a picture of [Justin] signing sneakers, and I was like, wow.”

Despite the excitement and fame, there are still challenges to supporting a child that grew up playing esports. Concerns like balancing their careers with education are ever-present. As each child’s life changed, their parents had to make changes in family life to support them.

“[Kyle] was still in high school when all this happened,” Prior said. “So it was a little tough to juggle the grades. I eased off of him as far as his grades, I said just pass, just graduate please. We work together to manage that and get them through that. And he did graduate with pretty decent grades too.”

“He wasn’t doing that great going physically to high school,” Matos said of Jstn. “He was missing classes due to travel. But that’s when we decided to get him online schooling, and he’s never had better grades, to be honest.” Now that each family has struck their own balance, they can teach others about esports — especially other parents.

Prior has a more public position on social media, and is a figurehead of the Cloud9 community. She told Polygon that she hears from many other parents that their kid wants to advance in gaming, but they don’t like the idea.

“I hope that by them seeing myself, or any of the other parents that are here and supportive in that maybe they would change their minds about that,” Prior said.

Jstn’s parents do a lot to help their extended family understand what esports are about. The two of them arranged for the extended family to come to the tournament so the family could learn more. Matos told a story about Jstn’s grandmother’s reaction to his first pro contract. “[Justin’s grandmother] kept saying, ‘You guys can’t be signing things. You don’t know what he’s signing. You don’t know what’s going on here.’ Justin was just laughing. He was like, ‘Yeah, she’s just old school, Ma.’ I’m like, yeah, yeah. She’s from another era, understandable.”

When asked what advice they have to parents whose children are considering starting a career in esports, Matos said, “I would tell the parents to support them, and not limit them and what to do, especially if they have a passion for it. They can go so far.”

Prior also takes on a supportive attitude. “I would encourage any parent to let [their child] follow their path.”