Olwyn Beresford holds a degree in Computer Science and a MBA and worked in the software industry for many years. As a mother of teens and tweens she has experienced firsthand the challenges that parents face in keeping children safe online and wants to contribute to education in this area. She has a particular interest in reducing gaming and gambling related harms, and volunteers for the charity Extern Problem Gambling Project and is a regular guest blogger for CyberSafeIreland about gaming. Olwyn is now also one of our CyberSafeIreland trainers, delivering to both schools and parents since August 2020.
Esports & Celebrity Gamers? Part 2: Parental Advice
Given that our children’s interest could last into adulthood we need to ensure that our kids are safe when they engage with the world of esports and celebrity gamers. Here’s a few talking points to get you started when you engage with your kids.
Talk about WHO they watch
The gamers your child watches can obviously influence their views and behaviour, so it’s important to find suitable gamers to follow. Unfortunately even top earning YouTubers and elite gamers have been caught up in racist commentary, toxic behaviour, bad language, dubious product promotion and so on. You only need to check out PewDiePie’s controversial history or that of former pro gamer Félix “xQc” Lengyel who is incredibly popular in the “Just chatting” category on Twitch today. Or maybe take a few minutes to listen to the colourful language of the no.1 Irish YouTuber, Sean “Jacksepticeye” McLoughlin, in his Let’s Play videos. The good news is that there are plenty of other gamers out there who generally focus on the games and keep things clean. If you have a young child then take time to watch together, talk about what is acceptable and find those suitable gamers, rather than leaving them to figure this out alone.
Talk about WHAT they watch
It is a good idea to check the suitability of the games, tournaments and leagues that your child follows, just as you do the games that they play. When watching streams of mature games, kids will be exposed not only to the content of the game, but also to the accompanying chat from viewers who are usually older.
They will also be exposed to lots of advertisements, again aimed at adults, so consider who the tournaments and the teams are sponsored by and educate your child accordingly about what they will see. For example, you could be watching a Betway sponsored ESL tournament and live betting odds will pop up. Younger viewers may not be able to bet legally with Betway yet but this normalises the need to bet on esports, and some young fans may consider using skins to bet on sites where age checks are not enforced.
The themes of the videos are also worth talking about. For example, it is currently really popular to stream mass unpacking of loot boxes. Some of these videos are sponsored and some depend on donations from viewers to keep going for hours on end. This kind of behaviour can glamourise compulsive spending in games. The most popular streams will come recommended so it is necessary to regularly talk to your kids about what they are watching because it will frequently change.
Talk about HOW they watch
Agreeing rules about usage upfront based on your child’s age and interests can help. For example, my youngest currently watches only uploaded videos on YouTube, when he is in a shared/supervised area, and he has an agreed list of YouTubers that he follows. However older children will expect more privacy and will want to live stream. With that comes an increased need to make sure they are prepared for the content that they will likely encounter.
Live streaming on any of the platforms - Twitch, YouTube, Mixer, Facebook - is going to be unpredictable. It isn’t possible to know what your child might see and with unmoderated chat functionality there will always be considerable risks. Parental controls, where present, are limited because these platforms are not suitable for younger audiences. Twitch, for example, has an age rating of 13+ (the app is 17+ in App Store) and the t&cs state clearly that children between 13-18 should access the platform only with parental supervision. To get a small flavour of what your child can access on Twitch check out the hugely popular “Just Chatting” category and you’ll quickly realise that many of the streams are not at all suitable for younger viewers.
Kids will also need guidance on interactions they may choose to have with content providers or other viewers. The usual concerns about predators and bullying apply in this environment. It’s also a good idea to chat about one off payments (donations/tips) that streamers accept and set a rule there too. Kids may feel obliged to support their favourite streamers by donating or they may just enjoy getting a shout out from their favourite gamer when they donate.
On a final note I haven’t included any information here on kids streaming their own gameplay, but that’s a separate conversation for another day!
 Skin gambling websites allow gamblers, some of whom are underage, to bet on real world esports events or to play high frequency games of chance, using a virtual game item referred to as a “skin” in place of real money.
 For example, the Match Attax sponsored YouTube video “Opening FIFA packs for 24 hours straight” has 4.3 million views since bring uploaded 4 months ago. Twitch recently listed a live stream from the aptly named “TrainWreckTV” in its Recommended Channels, as this streamer opened $2,000 worth of loot boxes, while taking donations from the 15,000 people watching.
 With 81 million hours of “Just Chatting” streams watched last December it exceeded all the gaming categories on Twitch so if your child is on Twitch assume they are watching!