Behind every famous esports player lies a familial foundation. It’s no secret that kids pursuing gaming careers can sometimes be a source of tension between children and parents. The core of that tension is simply that parental drive to want the best for their child. For Valerie Turcotte, the mom of Tyson “TenZ” Ngo, her son’s gaming career was simply about supporting a passion that bloomed into stardom.
“I was really supportive of his gaming passion,” Turcotte said a few days after TenZ and Sentinels qualified for Masters: Iceland. “When he started to get older, as a teenager, he wasn’t out partying or drinking, he’s just gaming, so that was awesome ... I was 16 when I was pregnant with Tyson, so I was like, ‘oh thank god my kid’s nerdy, karma’s not a bitch.’”
At the same age that TenZ was starting off his esports career, Turcotte was busy raising Tyson.
“I was a young mom, I was a single mom, so I raised Tyson myself,” Turcotte said. “I had a lot of family support. I have an amazing family -- I have three brothers, there’s three brothers on his dad’s side, there’s grandparents, my parents, there was so much family support. I could work part time and have my brothers babysit Tyson and still be a really active, full-time mom.”
From an early age, TenZ was playing games like CS:GO. That naturally expanded to other titles like Halo, Call of Duty and GTA as the years went on.
Photo credit: Valerie Turcotte
“When you’re a mom, on your own, you kinda give them everything they want,” Turcotte said. “But he never took that for granted, he wasn’t a jerk of a kid. If he was a brat, I would have stopped doing that, but he was always so humble and kind and sweet, so I really didn’t mind giving him everything.”
Anyone who has watched one of TenZ’s streams knows those aren’t just motherly platitudes. TenZ is humble, somewhat reserved, and really, really, really good at video games. According to Turcotte, he always had the talent, but she realized just how good he was when, at 15, TenZ attended his first LAN event, a Nerd Street Gamers CS:GO tournament called Fragadelphia.
“That first LAN, that was really strange for me because I didn’t know anything about esports or gaming or that people even made money from it,” Turcotte said. “I initially wasn’t going to let him go, but one of his teammates, an older player, talked to me and told me ‘your son has a future in gaming, he’s amazing, he’s going places.’”
Although the promise of a future career is always nice, in Philadelphia, she saw a new side of TenZ that set his gaming passion in stone.
“When we were in Philadelphia, Tyson was so happy. He was outgoing, and as an older teenager he was more of an introvert, but I saw the funny, outgoing side of him that I would see when he was with his friends come out around strangers. He was like a different person, born to shine in front of people,” she said.
With every pro player, that first LAN represents an important milestone. It’s when online skill becomes a reality, when gamertags get faces after hundreds of hours. Most importantly for Turcotte, it was a place where she saw TenZ’s eyes light up.
“It was around middle of Grade 12  when I knew gaming was what he was going to do,” Turcotte said. “He had teams approaching him that year, but I just wanted to make sure he graduated school. He could have left middle of Grade 12, but I was like, ‘you’re not doing this Tyson, you need to graduate, my whole life I’m bringing you to school, scooping you up from school, you’re graduating high school man.’”
Photo credit: Valerie Turcotte
Three days after he graduated high school, Cloud9 called. He moved to Los Angeles and his career had officially taken off. TenZ quickly became a common name among a group of rising CS stars. When he switched to VALORANT, he quickly became a popular pick as one of the best players in the new esport. While an ascension to stardom is the goal for players, for his mom, it brought a new sort of pressure: combating the toxicity that always seems to follow popularity.
“There’s a lot of negative stuff on the internet,” she said. “When you’re 15, 16 years old, that stuff really affects you. I could see that it would bother him, and sometimes he would open up to me about. I’d say, ‘you have to be strong mentally in this career. You need to not let what people say bother you. Athletes, actors, they all have haters and they all have fans. You have to be strong mentally and also don’t be toxic back either.”
Although every celebrity has had to deal with haters, professional gamers often deal with another level of toxicity. Their careers live online, subject to often anonymous social media platforms. Imagine if an NBA player had to see a live reaction to every missed shot, even when they are just scrimmaging with teammates at a practice. That’s what pro gamers face with Twitch chat. Couple that with most gamers being teenagers or close to it and it’s a tough situation, especially for a mom where every toxic comment triggers an innate parental instinct.
“It was hard for me to watch the comments,” she said. “If you perform badly in one game you’re the worst player all of a sudden, but when you’re good they love you. I had a hard time with the negative comments, I had to really hold back from yelling at people I don’t know on the computer, but that mama bear instinct kicks in.”
There’s a flip side to the negativity. While those comments can stand out, especially to a mom, TenZ’s community has been a source of positivity for Turcotte.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Tyson,” she said “I always told him that God gifted him this talent for a reason, so always be humble and kind and be grateful for these amazing opportunities he has. When I watch his streams, I read a lot of comments in the chat, and it melts my heart how many people look up to him and love him. A lot of them say he’s their inspiration or made their day happy just by watching him. You never know what people are going through in their life, and just tuning into their favorite streamer can have an impact on them and help them.”
TenZ, who just celebrated his 20th birthday, is officially on his own now according to his mom. He’s excelling at VALORANT, in a happy relationship with his girlfriend Kyedae Shymko, aka Kyedae, and gaining more fans with every match he plays.
“As his mom, I’ll always be there for him,” she said, and you could practically hear the smile over the phone. “I have no more gaming advice for him, but if he ever needs Mom, I’ll always be there. He’s doing his thing. He has his girlfriend now in the gaming thing and that support, so they can tackle it together and be a power couple.”
Tenz’s relationship with Kyedae, a popular content creator who recently signed with 100 Thieves and self-proclaimed personal bodyguard of TenZ, has taken some of the weight off Turcotte.
“She defends him so mom can just sit back and watch,” Turcotte said with a laugh. “I’ll go back and forth, watching them stream, and just laugh at how different the streams are. I love their streams together. My evenings are free, so I just sit there and watch them stream. I love it.”
From raising him as a teenager to accompanying him to Philadelphia to guiding him through the mental challenges of stardom, TenZ’s mom has been alongside him the entire journey. TenZ faces a massive challenge alongside his Sentinels teammates in Iceland in late May, but first, Turcotte, TenZ and Kyedae will celebrate Mother’s Day.
Lead photo credit: Valerie Turcotte