RALEIGH, North Carolina — Chicago native Prince Walker, 23, heard the same refrain from his father almost every day before heading into school.
“Have fun,” his dad would say. “Be happy. Be successful. Keep up the great work. Keep being joyful. Be grateful. And have a great day.”
The former Division 1 athlete-turned-entrepreneur always had a close relationship with his dad, 47-year-old Robert “Pops” Walker II, a writer who describes himself as a lifelong gamer and champion of his children’s success. They made gaming one of their quality time activities almost as soon as Prince was old enough to hold a controller.
“Me, my brother, Pops and my uncle used to play Smash Bros. 64 all night every time my uncle would come over,” he said. “They’d let me win like two times a night. I didn’t know that then, but now I beat their butts.”
Today, the pair make up both halves of PrincePopsPlay, a Twitch channel they share that’s dedicated to fostering community and promoting positivity. They play all sorts of games together on stream, but Halo is by far their favorite. More often than not, viewers will find them playing Slayer or Oddball matches in Halo 5: Guardians or Halo Infinite. For Prince and Pops, the draw of Halo is its teamplay aspect and unique combat style.
“I watched him play Halo 2 and Halo 3,” Prince said. “I started playing Halo 3 when I was seven or eight and then we started playing ever since then.”
After having immersed themselves in the franchise for years, Prince and Pops decided to dive in a bit more. Last week, the unlikely Halo streamer duo made the 12.5-hour drive from Chicago to Raleigh, North Carolina, in order to attend their first esports event: the Halo Championship Series Kickoff Major Raleigh 2021.
How Halo became a family affair
Pops met Prince’s mother, Carrie Walker, an assignment editor for NBC Chicago, when they were both teenagers; the couple recently celebrated 32 years together. Aside from Prince, they have two other children as well. Their oldest son is a 28-year-old comedian, streamer and one of Prince and Pops’ biggest inspirations to start their Twitch channel; he’s even one of their moderators. They also have a 20-year-old daughter who’s still in school and competes in dance.
When the Walkers aren’t going to comedy shows or dance competitions, one of their favorite things to do as a family is travel together.
“Ever since I was young, I wanted to be a good father,” Pops said. “If you really understand the idea of someone coming from you, you want to do everything for them. … Anything to connect with my family, I’m gonna do more of it.”
Having grown up in a split home and surrounded by violence within his own community, Pops adopted the mindset of rising above the barriers and expectations placed on him by others from an early age. He worked to instill those values within all of his children, too. From sports to gaming to business and even TikTok, Pops placed an emphasis on engaging with his kids’ interests.
The Walkers connected through those shared passions. That’s why when Prince’s older brother presented the idea of PrincePopsPlay during the COVID-19 pandemic, the pair started planning immediately. They launched their channel in April 2021.
The vibe of a typical PrincePopsPlay stream probably isn’t what average gaming fans, especially those of Halo and similar first-person shooter titles, would expect. It’s all about lifting people up and building community.
“We just like to spread positive vibes, not in a preachy way; we just like to bring goodness to everyone’s day,” Prince said. “Every follower, we’ll pull a motivation card for them, and for every subscription, we’ll read a great quote from a book.”
The PrincePopsPlayground, as they affectionately call their community, is a place where people can feel empowered to do whatever they want in life. The name is a nod to sandbox modes in games, which give players a “playground” where they can experiment and have fun in a nearly boundless virtual world.
“We understand that is different. But we’re all different, and we’re all rare,” Pops said. “Usually, people get on the same page about what they hate, and not about what they love.
“We have no judgment. Whatever a person wants to do, you know, that’s cool, man.”
Prince and Pops run their stream setups with two cameras and two capture cards so viewers can see both their gameplay and real-life perspectives. Sometimes, they’ll even play different games at the same time while simply enjoying each other’s company and interacting with chat. When Halo Infinite was still in beta, for example, they would sometimes run a stream with one of them playing the Halo Infinite beta while the other would play Halo 5.
“It’s all natural,” Pops said. “This is what we do, and that’s why we can stream. We can talk about it at any time. Like, I’m here with my son who’s 23, and he still wants to be here with me. I’m 47.”
The streamers brought their fans along for the ride at the Halo Championship Series event as well, with streams from the Raleigh Convention Center throughout the day and post-game day streams from their hotel at night after dinners at Waffle House. Prince and Pops streamed from the front few rows for Cloud9’s grand final win against eUnited, and as the father-son duo walked out of the arena, Prince shouted out viewers who popped in to see the action from a different perspective.
“That tournament was crazy,” he said.
Then, Prince set down the phone so he and Pops could take a photo, Energy Swords in hand.
Play games, make friends and be happy
— Yoshescool(Yoshiko) (@tmv_Yoshescool) December 18, 2021
Prince and Pops began streaming on Twitch just eight months ago, but their channel has well over 300 followers and is surprisingly well-known in the Halo community; they even reached Twitch Affiliate status within two months of beginning their journey on the platform. At HCS Raleigh, Prince and Pops were stopped multiple times by fans who recognized them. That’s partly because of the matching shirts they had made at the last minute (mom’s idea) before heading out to the event.
“We were just looking at the open bracket stations, and we were just walking by this kid, he was 17,” Prince said. “He just said, ‘I love what you guys do. I love your guys’ stream.’ That was amazing to me. Even if you don’t think they’re watching you, somebody’s watching, so it’s amazing how you can affect somebody that you’ve never talked to, you’ve never even seen their name. That’s what makes me want to get more into the community and just see how many lives I can affect.”
Maybe it’s because the concept of a father and son playing video games together is as wholesome as it gets for many, but the PrincePopsPlayground includes many demographics and backgrounds. Take Twitch user xxogsanxx, for example, a 65-year-old man living in Hawaii who hops in almost every day to game with Prince and Pops.
“We have as young as 14-year-olds that will come in the stream and all in between — different races, ages,” Pops said. “One of our moderators is from Australia, so she’ll get on opposite times of us to come in our stream.”
Prince and Pops would love to be able to stream full-time on top of their other personal projects and business endeavors; Prince is currently studying entrepreneurship online at Arizona State and has his own business, Reaching Each Vision, that aims to provide holistic coaching and mentorship. Streaming was never about the recognition or potential monetization opportunities for the family, though. As long as they’re able to do what they love together while staying true to who they are and inspiring others along the way, they’re happy.
“We do us, man. This is us,” Pops said. “PrincePopsPlay has been PrincePopsPlay since Dec. 11, 1998, the day he was born. It’s always been father-son.”