No, really. That’s exactly what they did. Mike and Hunter Peebles, parents of 16-year-old Blake, eventually gave in to their middle child’s wheedling and let him quit school to focus on a career as a professional video gamer.
Pick your jaw up off the floor (that’s what I had to do).
It would be easy to rewrite that first paragraph in snarkier fashion, putting "parents" or "career" in scare quotes, or adding a throwaway line questioning their sanity. The story isn’t that simple, though. Blake seems like a bright kid, and his parents didn’t just let him drop out. He’s being tutored at home, gets high marks and has acquired, according to his parents, a remarkably improved disposition since the change.
The Raleigh News & Observer covered the story late last month. The reporter notes that Blake has only earned (or won) about $1000 so far, most of that in merchandise and food. The only other pro gamer interviewed has earned about $25000 over eight years. Not exactly a path to riches and glory, though Major League Gaming says top gamers can earn $80K a year plus endorsements. They claim an average player makes $20-30K, so let’s allow that it’s possible Blake might be able to turn a living out of this, even if it might not be a very good living, and possibly only for a few years.
The N&O’s reporter Matt Ehlers still seems a little credulous to me.
Inside his upstairs bedroom, Blake’s environment is set up specifically to make him a better gamer. There is a PlayStation 2, a Nintendo Wii and an Xbox 360. He also has a stack of plastic guitars, but no real ones. Blake doesn’t play an actual guitar, a skill that doesn’t really transfer to playing the virtual kind, anyway.
The frame for his bed is on the back porch, with the box springs and mattress on the bedroom floor. That puts his bed at a more comfortable level for sitting to play "Guitar Hero III" for extended periods. At the moment, he plays just a few hours a day, but that number will increase as the California competition nears.
Blake seems happy with his home school arrangement, as you would expect from a teenager who is allowed to stay up into the wee hours to play video games. Sometimes, when Mike heads to the gym before 5 a.m., his son is still playing video games. Blake calls it working "the late shift."
That sounds a great deal like my first post-college apartment. Hardly a work environment, even for a gamer. But chalk that up to journalistic license, I guess.
Another take on the story comes from American Public Media’s The Story, under the snappy title Homeschool of Rock. The story includes more commentary from Blake himself, but is otherwise just as credulous in some respects (MLG’s tournaments have "all the buzz of the Super Bowl"? Really?). Neither the N&O story, nor The Story’s Aaron Henkin really seem to question whether Blake’s fairly obvious talent for Guitar Hero actually translates into a general talent for video games — the kind that might allow him to make the leap to that top tier of players who actually make any money. Blake’s parents, though, say he’s demonstrated skill in multiple games.
Mike Peebles says his son laid out a careful plan for his video-gaming career. Hunter points out that when Blake’s older brother wanted to focus on football, they got him a trainer and the help he needed along that path, so why not give Blake the same chance? Their decision seems like a considered one, and both point out that even if Blake fails in this attempt, he’ll take valuable lessons away from the experience. Blake, in fairness, says he doesn’t see this as a lifelong mission, just a stepping stone to another career, perhaps in video game design (unsurprisingly).
Blake competed this weekend in the World Cybergames Pacific Regional, reaching the final, but ultimately dropping two games straight to Annie Leung. Blake said going in that he had only a small chance of winning the tourney, so maybe this isn’t as big a disappointment as one would think.
I have to tell you that as a Dad, and a dilettante gamer myself, I’m torn about this. On the one hand, I’m old-school enough to want to say it’s a dumb thing to let a kid do, and will turn out to be a waste of time. On the other hand, who am I to say? He’s getting good grades, earning at least something along the way, and has put together enough of a plan to convince two parents who seem like very sensible people (and who were skeptical from the word go).
So what do you think? Sound off in the comments: Is Mike Hunter a bad dad, letting Blake trip down the garden path and set himself up for disappointment? Or is Mike a Bad Dad™, a guy making a smart decision to let Blake explore this path on his own without closing off other options, even though the rest of the world might think he’s a little crazy?
(h/t Kotaku, photo credit Corey Lowenstein)