eSports players need better health protection

31 : 05 : 2019 ESports : Gaming : Health

While the negative stigma around gaming is gradually fading, eSports is still some way from becoming a recognised competitive activity.

MSI Gaming. Imagery by Extraweg Studio, Berlin MSI Gaming. Imagery by Extraweg Studio, Berlin

A recent study revealed eSports players regularly experience eye fatigue and neck, back and wrist pain, yet only 2% have sought medical attention (source: British Journal of Sports Medicine)

Livvy Houghton, junior creative researcher, LS:N Global

eSports enthusiasts are proliferating throughout the world. The latest figures from Newzoo suggest the global audience for eSports will reach 557m by 2021, while in 2019, the global market will generate revenues of £863.5m ($1.1bn, €971m).

Some gaming fans have begun to turn their all-consuming passion into a full-time career, allowing them to earn up to £200,000 ($252,000, €222,685) a year (source: esportsearnings.com). Acknowledging the potential of this nascent sporting category, more than 50 colleges and universities in the US have established varsity eSports teams, while 22 now offer scholarships to train players into professional eSports athletes (source: National Association of Collegiate eSports).

While eSports tournaments are winning a younger, and in some cases, larger audience than some traditional sports, it is not a level playing field behind the scenes. The strain and pressure faced by eSports athletes is often dismissed due to lack of visible injury. In reality, the intense and repetitive nature of the activity leaves players extremely vulnerable to both mental and physical ailments. According to a recent study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, players regularly experience eye fatigue and neck, back and wrist pain, yet only 2% have sought medical attention, suggesting that eSports professionals do not have – or feel unable to express – their health concerns in the same way as conventional sports players.

In 2018, for instance, Boston Red Sox pitcher David Price was diagnosed with a mild case of carpal tunnel syndrome – an uncommon injury in baseball but common in eSports. While fans and the media quickly linked Price’s injury to excessive gaming that was unrelated to his vocation, Price soon returned for the rest of the season. Had he been unable to pitch, however, he could have still collected the remainder of his seven-year contract, which equated to £170m ($217m, €192m). The episode attracted its share of critics, who noted that Price’s financial security would not be available to most professional eSport athletes, despite them being even more susceptible to such injuries.

Xbox game controller redesigned to your hand for better comfort by Yeong Seok Go, South Korea Xbox game controller redesigned to your hand for better comfort by Yeong Seok Go, South Korea
The average eSports athlete retires in their mid-20s after what’s known as ‘the grind’ – a fast-paced career that ends in game over

At present, the health and wellness territory in eSports remains underdeveloped. While brands are beginning to introduce products to improve players’ nutrition and comfort, this could be considered an opportunity for profit, rather than a necessity to protect performers. If such brands are comfortable capitalising on the growth of eSports, shouldn’t they – and the industry itself – be working to better protect those who created such an opportunity? Without the athletes, the market wouldn’t exist.

To manage players’ needs, the correct training, medical care and treatments need to be in place. Dubbed the eSports doctor, Dr Levi Harrison offers services to professional gamers and has recently opened the first eSports-focused medical practice in the US. ‘When it comes to eSports players, the brain is the first instrument players use to strategise, and the second instrument is the body – using your hands, wrists, elbows and arms,’ says Harrison. ‘But your body and eyes can only take it for so long. By the time [these athletes] turn 23 or 24, they’re a relic in this industry.'

Unfortunately, this early-age burnout happens far more often than most would expect. The average eSports athlete retires in their mid-20s after what's known as ‘the grind’ – a fast-paced, high-stress career that ends in game over. Notably, they are much younger than those retiring from traditional sports, who average about 33 years of age. One reason? eSports players tend to chase short-term, impactful goals and ignore the necessary maintenance or pacing required to achieve longevity in play.

A possible lack of health education and strategic care highlights the need for eSports teams, wellness brands and institutions to better provide these players with the same access to nutritionists, psychologists, training and medical staff that other professional athletes receive in a heartbeat.

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