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Interview with Esports Heaven

The Coalition Of Parents In Esports, COPE, is a 501c3 nonprofit founded in 2020 by parents of well-known pros and content creators. Esports Heaven sat down with the two founders of COPE to discuss about the organization, its achievements, and its vision for the future. 

Thank you for taking the time to give us an interview. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself to our readers? Chris Spikoski – Hi, thanks for having us. My name is Chris Spikoski, CEO and Co-founder of COPE. I’m also the father of Sceptic, content creator for Misfits Gaming. (@CSpikoski on Twitter)

Shae Williams – Hello, my name is Shae Williams, Co-founder of COPE and mother of Duster, pro player, content creator, and manager for Optimal Ambition. (@shaemmon on Twitter)

From here on out, Chris’ responses will be labeled as “C” and Shae’s responses will be labeled as “S”. 

When did you decide to start COPE?

C – We were tired of the negative stigma around gaming and wanted parents and gamers to understand the great opportunities in education and career that could come from their love of gaming.

S – When we found ourselves thrown into this esports world, we were skeptical like any parent would be, but after we saw our kids and so many others thriving, learning, and building confidence, we knew we had to help more parents see how to get the most out of their kids’ love of gaming.

Many children wish to get into esports but parents don’t consider it a profession. Where do you think this belief stems from and what are some of the methods you are employing to convince them otherwise?

C – I think it mainly stems from a lack of awareness. People fear the unknown and since our generation did not grow up playing online video games competitively or interacting with people around the world on Twitter and Twitch, it is a frightening place for parents to allow their kids to participate. We aim to teach parents how to navigate the games, the social apps, and the competitive scene for the best experience for them and their kids.

S – Ironically, the industry created the social stigma in the 90s to make gaming cool to kids. Advertising from that era focused on it being something extreme that your parents wouldn’t approve of. Gaming became the rock’n’roll of this generation. Feared by older generations for its perceived threat of melting kids’ brains, but embraced by those very same kids when they realized they could leverage gaming to make friends and learn cool skills. What is just being realized though is its ability to spark interest in education and career opportunities across technical and creative paths.

From your experience, what is the single biggest difficulty of having your child turn towards content creation especially with the toxicity, and the dark side of the internet?

C – That’s just it. The biggest difficulty is the toxicity, lack of holding people accountable, and the ability to skirt around bans/suspensions. Being a mod in my son’s chat and monitoring all of his social media comments, I have seen the best and the worst of both minor and adult behavior when hiding behind a keyboard and headphones. The anonymity of online communications emboldens some to act out. On the other hand, though, I have seen the best in kids come out as they protect each other, stand up for each other and report bad behavior to adults in the community or the platforms.

S – Just like any activity, when you create content for publication or live streaming, you are putting yourself out there to be judged by your peers. It builds confidence and character in teaching how to deal with trolls, but as a parent, it can be challenging to watch your kid or someone else’s get attacked. With more parent involvement to monitor children’s behavior and with more oversight from the platforms, this toxicity can be reduced. COPE doesn’t just want to see rules limiting behavior as that often punishes the victim. We want to see more accountability and more consequences for those that behave badly.

Could you detail some of COPE’s achievements so far?

C –  We recently attended an esports event where COPE’s first-year success in supporting gamers and their parents was a topic of discussion. One marketing professional asked how we could rate COPE as successful if we had not raised thousands of dollars in funding yet. It’s a fair question for any new organization, but Shae and I were taken aback. Since when is a success only about money? Our definition of success when we launched COPE was making a difference. We wanted kids and parents to find resources that weren’t easily accessible previously. We wanted everyone to get the most out of their esports experiences. We may have sacrificed our time and our own money in the first year of COPE, but we have no regrets. We achieved our definition of success. We made a difference. We opened up a dialogue about engaging parents in esports. We created community and positivity. We are now thankful others recognize the value of parent involvement and are joining the efforts with financial support for scholarships and programs.

S – When we launched on Twitter to the gaming community, we feared we would be seen as boomers trying to exert control over youth. We didn’t want to be seen as a nanny organization putting restrictions on gamers and their experiences. As parents and professionals, we were here to help with our collective experience. We were surprised to see that our efforts were instantly welcomed and supported by the gamers and the fledgling organizations. They appreciated our help in ways we hadn’t anticipated. The gamers often feel like David battling Goliath against the corporations, negative media opinions, and even their parents’ disapproval. Having COPE in their corner was a welcome change. 

How many child streamers or esports players are you working with so far? How has the experience been so far?

C – We currently have almost 10k followers on Twitter and there’s no defined number of kids we’re working with. We’ve helped hundreds of kids navigate the appeals processes and tournament winnings for Epic Games, Twitter, TikTok, etc. For a lot of these kids, they don’t have the parental support to turn to for help, as many feel that it’s just a waste of time or the tournaments/publishers aren’t legit.

S – Our immediate network of parents and their kids is global. Everywhere from NA to EU to OCE. And we’ve not only tapped into the Fortnite scene, but we’ve expanded to some of the top pros and creators in CoD, Rocket League, NBA2K, Minecraft. It’s been very rewarding, not only helping out some of the top pros but also kids and families just getting into this space.

What is COPE’s goal in the coming future? How do you plan on expanding?

C – We’ve got a lot of big plans coming up for our future. We tend to think big and push ourselves to see what we can achieve based on the needs of the scene. What we’re focused on now is giving back directly to the gaming community. We’ve established the COPE Community Fund where we are giving back to the community in the form of scholarships for education and career for disenfranchised youth, equipment for kids who might not be in a position to afford it, and expenses for families to attend cons and LANs that they might not be able to afford.

S – One of the most exciting things that we’re working on is with some of the top cons around the world. We’re working closely with PAX and talking with TwitchCon and Dreamhack for our COPE Cabana. When you go to these cons you almost always see parents roaming around looking lost, texting their kids to see if they’re ready to go. The COPE Cabana will be a resource area, preferably with a bar, for parents to network and seek out some of the resources they’re looking for. We’ll have informational panels, health and wellness experts and reps from k12 and collegiate scene, and reps from organizations on hand to talk to, as well.

Walk me through the process of helping an individual that has just found out about you.

C – We receive dozens of Twitter dms daily and our emails are starting to pick up recently. A lot of the dms are from kids looking for advice on how to talk to their parents, or pros wondering what their next steps can be if they’re burnt out on the competitive scene. It’s just a typical conversation with them laying out what options are available and providing them the resources they need to move forward.

S – When parents reach out to us via email or at a convention, we strike up a conversation or hop in a zoom call. We love hearing all of their stories on how they were introduced, as they’re all unique and special. We try to always make time for a face-to-face zoom call and connect them with the right resources that they need or link them to our website or partners.

Your website has a page dedicated to tournaments which are bound to arrive soon. Does having tournaments attract more children and parents to your mission?

C – Tournaments are a great way to get our name out there and to highlight what we do and who we are. It’s a great way to attract kids, especially when it’s part invite and part open qualifiers. It allows kids to play with some of their favorite pros.

S – And when you look at some of the fun tournaments that we’re working on, they’ll involve kids partnering up with a parent or guardian in a duo or team game. It’ll be a fun and unique way to get parents involved and see how much fun their kids are having. We’ve got some big plans for tourneys.

A glance also showed that you plan on giving scholarships to high-performing athletes. Could you brief me on how that will work?

C – Well it’s quite the opposite. The scholarships that we’re providing are more geared towards under-served and disenfranchised youth. Kids and their families will be able to apply online soon for some of the many scholarships that we’ll be offering. 

S – Our scholarships can be for high competitive performance, but they will also reward creative skills, leadership, community support, and personal drive. The funds can be used for education and career, equipment, and travel accommodations for kids and their families to be able to attend conferences and LAN tournaments, which they might not have been able to afford. We have a college scholarship being announced soon through partnering with Intel and BoomTV, which we’re pretty excited about.

Starting an organization of such magnitude requires quite a lot of funding and support. What are the pillars of your foundation which allow you to provide the services you do?

C – One of the initial reasons we started this was to try and eliminate the toxicity in the community. There are so many opportunities for everyone that it’s tough to see all kids trying to tear each other down. Trash talk in-game is great, and nobody is going to get along with everyone, but respect goes a long way in building a better community. It’s time to recognize all the amazing things that kids are doing in this space. The competition, creativity, entrepreneurial spirit, the tangible real-world skills that they’re learning at such a young age. That’s what we love to see and why we’re here.

S – We started this project as a passion project as we saw a need and understood that we had the knowledge to make a difference for other kids just based on our own experiences. We didn’t think much about funding or support when we launched. We were overwhelmed to see the instant outpouring of support from the community. Most didn’t have funds to contribute, but the kids, parents, and industry professionals jumped in with their time and expertise. Now we are matching that enthusiasm on the financial side from individuals and corporations so we can expand our operations past our “all volunteer” operations.

One last question before we conclude, what has been the best part of starting this organization?

C –  We recently met a big marketing person who, when speaking with them, asked us “How much money have you raised, how are you successful?” And that made us think a bit about what defines our success. Initially, jumping in here wasn’t about making or raising money. It was about helping kids and parents find the resources that we weren’t able to find so they could truly enjoy the journey and make the most out of it. There were also a lot of detractors saying we’d never be able to build an organization without the help of so-and-so. So being able to create a brand name that’s recognized worldwide in less than a year has been fun.

S – We were worried that we’d be seen as a nanny organization, looking to put restrictions on gamers and their experiences. But the gaming community has flocked to us and leans on us for help and support. We instantly got their approval as we live in this space with them and see what they go through on a day-to-day basis. But one of the best parts has been talking to families and parents in person at events. Seeing them have their lightbulb moment realizing how many opportunities there are and that this space is legit is truly wonderful.

Once again thank you for taking your time out to answer this interview. The floor is yours for any final things you’d like to say, shoutouts, etc.

C & S – We’d just like to thank all of the people that we’ve met along the way who’ve supported us from day one and have become life-long friends. All the amazing parents, GamerDoc, Amanda Solomon, Bubba Gaeddart, Justin Jacobson. There are too many to list. We’d also like to thank all the parents who support their kids’ dreams. No matter how crazy they may seem. Thank you for the time and opportunity to speak with you.

Kindly support us by following Esports Heaven on Twitter and keep tabs on our website for more interesting content.If you enjoyed this interview of COPE’s founders, follow the author for more content at @AashirAhmed155.