By BRAD SALMEN
Don’t let anyone tell you this generation of boys lack work ethic.
The trick, as it turns out, is to hold an Xbox and Fortnite in front of them.
With that carrot dangling on a stick, you can freely violate all kinds of child labor laws.
Earlier this spring, my wife Natalie and I told our son Isaac that we would buy him an Xbox if he earned enough money doing chores around the house.
At the time, it felt like a safe bet. Isaac’s a great kid, but has never been one to voluntarily pick up a rake or a shovel if he didn’t have to.
But once we gave him that go-ahead, he turned into Mr. Landscaper. There were several nights he spent five hours at a time doing whatever chore we could find for him.
With his brother Lars kicking in some money as well, the boys got their Xbox.
However, the gamechanger came shortly thereafter, when we got CenturyLink.
For the first four years of living in our house in the country, we had been stuck with satellite Internet.
We had a 60 gigabyte monthly limit, after which Internet speeds were throttled to a crawl.
Since I work from home during the day, it had been a constant source of frustration, and even anger. The quickest way to tick off Dad was by watching a video without telling him, and sucking up his precious gigabytes.
Then, in late May, CenturyLink finally reached our house, with faster speeds, cheaper pricing, and, most glorioiusly, unlimited Internet.
If I sound like a shill, I don’t care. It felt like Christmas. I told the installer I wanted to give him a hug.
That’s also when the real fun, and the real fights, began with the Xbox.
The first thing the boys did after the new Internet was installed was download Fortnite. If it was Christmas for me, downloading Fortnite was Christmas, Easter, their birthdays, and winning the lottery all at once for the boys.
For those of you who haven’t heard about Fortnite, it’s a massive, multiplayer shooting game where players drop onto an island and battle it out with different weapons and building materials.
It’s also super fun. There’s a reason it’s so popular.
And therein lies the rub. Before we had Fortnite, the boys were playing NHL and Madden, where they could both play at once.
With Fortnite, only one player can play at a time. And that’s where the fighting began.
Isaac, since he paid 75% of the price of the Xbox, should theoretically be allowed to play 75% of the time.
Lars, who paid 25%, should only get one turn for every three turns for Isaac.
Their three sisters, who paid nothing, should be at the mercy of their brothers if they get a turn at all.
Notice a lot of “shoulds” in there.
In reality, it devolved into several shouting matches per day on whose turn is next.
Fortunately, Dad, who should be working, is the arbiter of all things in his house (wife permitting). Sometimes that meant turning off the Xbox for the day and sending them outside.
More often than not, it meant grabbing the controller and playing himself whilst sending the kids to do jobs, so they can cool off before they are allowed to play again.
I’ll freely admit, I enjoy playing Fortnite much more than I thought I would.
Natalie and the kids went to Michigan for six days a couple weeks ago, and on a Monday I gave Nat a call.
“Guess what I spent seven hours doing yesterday?” I asked her.
“I’m hoping you’re going to say, ‘clean the bedroom,’” she said.
She was not impressed with the real answer.
So, what does this have to do with sports? you might ask.
Quite a lot, as it turns out.
Turns out, ESports is now a huge enterprise.
For every major video game out there, there are teams and leagues for each one.
For example, the game Overwatch has a 12-team league, split into the Atlantic and Pacific division, much like you’d see for any “non-virtual” sport like baseball.
You can watch the Boston Uprising face off against the Seoul Dynasty, much as you would the Boston Red Sox vs. the New York Yankees.
There are also tournaments for each video game that net the winners thousands of dollars.
To that point, ESports stars get paid. Like, paid, paid.
One of Fortnite’s top stars, Ninja (real name Tyler Blevins), makes over a million dollars a year from streaming, donations, tournament winnings, and sponsorships.
As a nearly-40-year-old boomer, it used to aggravate me when I saw my kids watching their favorite gamers play on Youtube or Twitch.
Like, you could be actually playing the game itself, instead of watching someone else play! How does that make sense?
And then I realized, what is the difference between watching professional athletes play the (physical) games you love, versus the ESports version of the games you love?
In both instances, you’re not actually playing yourself. You’re watching the top professionals perform for your entertainment and allegiance.
Honestly, what is the difference between watching the Minnesota Twins, or the Minnesota FortniteFabulosos? (I made up that team name, but the point stands).
All that said, there is such a thing as too much video games.
That’s not an indictment of the industry. It’s true for dang near everything.
Everything in moderation, as they say. You should strive for balance, to be a well-rounded person.
And you know what? I think we did ok.
We do, actually, restrict game play and make our kids join the real world. (It’s not just Xbox. Young teen girls, as it turns out, have a tendency to spend a lot of time on their phones).
I’m proud of my kids, and their “real world” accomplishments this summer.
Isaac was a pretty dominant pitcher on his 10A team, and had some big hits. I am very proud of him.
Lars also pitched well, and was the fourth-best hitter on his 11A team. I am very proud of him.
[Oldest girl who does not want to be named] trained all summer for cross country, worked with my mom and dad in North Dakota, and grew wiser right before my eyes. I am very proud of her.
[Second girl who does not want to be named] did well in softball, moving up in the batting order from 10th to third, and emerged as a phenomenal swimmer in her summer league. I am very proud of her.
And Annika, our youngest daughter, made some new friends this summer and was a big help around the house.
She also got her first kill in Fortnite not long ago.
I am very proud of her.