For Zerpting, High School and Professional Gears of War Is A Life of Balance

By: Zachary Lange

On an average school day, Michael “Zerpting” Rodriguez wakes up at 7:30 a.m. to be in class an hour later, moving through the usual morning routine. After following a standard assortment of six classes, lunch and the ride back home, a new day begins.

Up until 3:15 in the afternoon, Mike is a standard 16-year-old high school junior, but by 6:00 p.m. he is beginning his nightly scrimmages with his teammates as a main slayer for eUnited’s Gears of War team.

And if you were to ask a standard classmate who or what a Zerpting was, they wouldn’t be able to identify.

“I don’t tell everyone, but I will tell my friends,” Zerpting said. “I don’t really tell anyone that I don’t know, like I wouldn’t go up to someone and say anything about it.”

It’s a bit of a double life that many esports professionals live, keeping their in-game personality separate from other things and people in the wider scope of their daily lives. According to Zerpting, many of his friends didn’t know what esports were when he told them he was a professional Gears of War player, who most recently placed 9-12th in the MLG Las Vegas Open in June.

“My friends have said that since I’m making this large amount of money at this age that they want to get into it, if it’s just playing video games and making money,” he said.

Of course, it’s slightly more than that.

The balance of a daily life filled with an education and professional gaming can be hectic. For Zerpting, each school day is a rigid structure that is planned out to make sure homework and scrimmages with teammates are kept in check. Homework comes around 3:30 p.m. with a jog or hanging out with friends around 4 p.m., and sometime before 6 p.m. is dinner and free time.

But with a fixed schedule comes trade-offs. There isn’t much time for anything else, like friends wanting to catch a movie.

“I just have to tell my friends that I can’t,” Zerpting said. “I have a job, basically, and I can’t just leave a job because I want to go do something.”

But it isn’t all rough. Having this job allows for trips to places otherwise unreachable for many his age such as Mexico City, where the next tournament in Season 2 of the Gears Pro Circuit is scheduled to take place. It’s a big change in scenery from his home in Fargo, North Dakota.

Every review of Zerpting from his teammates is glowing. Despite Zerpting’s age, which some may unfairly label as a negative, he absorbs information given to him by veterans in the scene.

“The best thing I see in Zerp is his willingness to learn and adapt to any situation,” said veteran teammate Ryan “Wildebeast” Gant of the young slayer. “I haven’t had to repeat myself too many times to him for him to learn. He always listens to advice and does his best to put it into his gameplay and it has definitely been noticeable.”

One of Zerpting’s most vocal supporters is his mom, Denise. On social media, “Mama Zerp” can be found tweeting support for her son, with her Twitter bio stating, “Mamas let your babies grow up to be gamers.”

“To think now that he is amongst these pro players, even playing with professionals like Lava and making a name for himself in this circuit really just makes us so darn proud,” Mama Zerp said.

“It’s really nice having her show her support, and she understands that this can be a pretty good thing for my future in esports,” Zerpting said. “And she really likes the game.”

One of the biggest proponents of supporting kids and their dreams in esports, Mama Zerp, a mother of three boys, felt that support is the best thing that parents can offer their child.

“I have actually had young gamers message me asking how they could convince their parents to support them,” Mama Zerp said. “And I think it’s pretty simple, just support them in what they are passionate about. There won’t be a lot of kids in school and/or other parents that can relate to what your son or daughter. So it’s up to you as a parent to encourage him or her in the gaming world.

“Make it a priority to go to a LAN event, it’s one of the coolest things to see your child at their profession. Oh, and don’t worry about trash talk, all these gamers can talk a mean talk, but when it comes down to it they support each other when it matters and usually are laughing afterwards.

“Like any other thing your child does, research it. I knew Michael loved to game, and I knew he was passionate about it. However, I didn’t really know anything else, so I decided to Google esports and I was surprised at how huge it was, from esports scholarships for college, to gamers actually making careers of it. I knew I had no choice but to support him just like I would with any other sport and that’s what we did, we treated it like any other sport.”

As a young professional esports athlete, Zerpting makes a salary with tournament winnings that could be compared to many middle-class Americans all while wondering about plans for homecoming. It’s puzzling to many, but it makes sense with the right outlook to Mama Zerp.

“No matter what, you have to have a positive attitude, and you will be told no,” Mama Zerp said. “People will continuously say you have to prove yourself, and whether you’re a pro or amateur a bad attitude won’t get you anywhere. So dig deep, bring out your positive attitude and I believe it will determine your outcome.”

Another thing in the mind of a 16-year-old is college. It’s still a couple of years away, but it has crossed Zerpting’s mind.

“I haven’t really thought about college much because I still have two more years (in high school). But I definitely think I’m going to go to college, I’m not sure about right away– right after high school, but I’m going to go to college.”

As for now, Zerpting and eUnited will continue to tour the world playing Gears of War for hundreds of thousands of fans online and in-person, all while making sure that the math homework from chapter 12 was turned in on time.

The Gears Pro Circuit Mexico City Open will start exactly one month from today on Friday, October 13th.