If there’s talk about esports and gamers, one does probably not think of sports or athleticism. How much competitive sports is actually involved? Are the current clichés about gamers actual facts or just a myth? What can gamers learn from professional athletes? Why should every professional gamer have a competent and holistic Performance & Health team? And last but not least, what is necessary to finally get Esports to become a recognized sport? These and more topics will be discussed critically in this two-part Blog.
After the first part of this Blog, it should be obvious and clear that esports is an actual sport and that pro gamers train just like “traditional” competitive athletes. Skill or Soft Skills like aiming accuracy, problem-solving abilities, communication, and teamwork are all mandatory skills for gamers who are playing in higher leagues or who want to impress with their skills. If you want to be on the top, you have to train a lot, like a whole lot (see 10000-hour rule). It’s all just training, training, training and rest, rest, rest, to achieve being the best. As you can see, esports is a sport, no matter if you’re seated or not. What does this actually mean? With what kind of changes and developments do we have to reckon?
Esports and professionality
Esports becoming more and more professional is the most obvious of developments. Pro Gaming is no one-man show and it hasn’t been for a while! Every athlete should be part of a multidisciplinary team (see mYindset, Fig. 2). In America, a talent agency called IMG opened an academy for esports players. “We are happy to welcome complexity to the IMG Academy to train mental as well as physical skills”, states Tobias Sherman, the head of E-Sports at WME/IMG. “Since the sports industry continues to recognize the parallels between E-Sports and mainstream athletes, the IMG Academy was a natural addition to provide facilities and coaching, which shall benefit the training of E-Sports franchises in the future.”
Fig. 1: IMG Academy
These international developments acknowledge this way towards growing professionalism similar to the NFL or NBA. However, in Europe developments and institutions like these are a rarity and we currently still have to tackle obvious problems.
In a recently published study conducted by Rudolf et al. (2020) it was found that many of the tested gamers suffered from a lack of sleep, an unbalanced diet, and poor fitness (85% reached the WHO recommendation of 2.5h/week). These things have only been on the esports agenda recently and are gaining more and more importance for players.
They train together and regularly compete against each other, and sadly do not have any professional institutional support like the traditional sports teams. When we think of an E-Sportsperson, we normally don’t think about a medical GO to “return to play”, a seated activity with a low risk of injury. On the contrary, these athletes suffer from rising health concerns and chronic overload injuries. It’s en vogue for sportspeople to sustain injuries that end their whole careers.
For this reason, longevity is an important topic. Even if a player is in his twenties, he’s already approaching the end of his career. This means that we have to find ways to prolong players’ careers and to stay fit mentally and physically. It’s about quality, not quantity. Clichés like “too much training – eight hours of playing and after a pizza tops it with one more round”, or playing with injuries (for example tenosynovitis) and not taking them seriously are sadly the norm today. 15% said that they play for 3 hours or more without getting up or taking a break. 40% of players said that they do not practice any physical activity. The most common discomfort was tiring of the eyes, back- and neck pain came in second, followed by the wrist- and hand pain (Worsley et al. 2018). Only 2% of the questioned people went to see a doctor. It’s about longevity and therefore also about awareness! Open your eyes and wake up!
A fully functional fine motor body is needed to be able to play successfully. If someone doesn’t take this into account, they’re going to run into problems. To stay healthy and successful in the long term and to be able to cope with the pressure and the long training session, esports athletes need to work together with Personal Trainers/Physical therapists. To stay fit enough for competitions, teams should practice a consistent fitness routine. It’s about the optimization of physical and mental performance! Body and mind are one.
As I have already mentioned shortly, injuries are rising where esports athletes are concerned. A study in the British Journal of Medicine found that players have just as many musculoskeletal overload injuries as mainstream sportspeople, however, there is no specific health management model to treat these sportspeople adequately (DiFrancisco Donoghue et al., 2019).
It’s a fact that esports have to tackle the injury problems they’re facing! The most common injuries are not surprisingly wrist problems, especially carpal tunnel syndrome (compression of the nervus medianus). These wrist injuries have become performance hindering and sometimes even career-threatening problems for pro gamers like „Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovács and Olof “olofmeister” Kajbje, who showed substantially below-average performances at Majors (Brautigam 2016).
Injuries in esports will be an economic strain in the near future. The medical treatment is expensive, but health benefits are not common in player contracts. Also, there is no committee that concerns itself with this aspect of player protection, and teams that have passionate medical personnel are still a pipe dream.
The sudden retirement of Cloud9’s Hai caused headlines. “My wrist injury is something I just cannot ignore”, he said in a statement to his fans. (“My wrist injury is something that I simply cannot ignore, it limits my ability to play as much as I need to and my ability to improve. I cannot keep up with the amount of Solo Queue games my teammates play and it’s not fair to them”).
Esports players who want to play on a semi-professional or professional level need to take their job seriously! It’s about professionalism. It’s about longevity and maximum performance. Body and mind are one. Professional gamers need to be part of a multidisciplinary team (Fig. 2). Playing 10h of LOL a day is not enough and hasn’t been for a while now!
Sports activities and physical training are a helpful way of training in E-Sports for most of the players, even if it might not look like the players are using their muscles. Taylor (Team Envy, TNW) said: “If you take care of your body – be it your diet, the amount of sleep you get, the activities you spend time on when you’re not training – all these things contribute to being the best possible version of yourself and the best player”.
Yes indeed, movement is a miracle cure:
- Improved endurance, a heightened ability to cope with stress
- Movement improves the cognitive functions (compare with executive functions – control and self-regulation)
- Movement also improves motor functions like reaction time and hand-eye-coordination
- Reduction of stress, anxiety and depression
These benefits allow players to perform on a higher level, which in turn makes them a stronger opponent, especially in the long term.
And no, you do not need a gym or the perfect non-plus-ultra training routine – it’s not the specific exercises that count, but the consistent routine and implementation.
Exercises that improve your general posture like rowing, pull-ups, squats, back extensor, etc. are more than enough!
The most important part is to stay active in your daily life and keep a balance of general physical fitness activities: lifting, cardio, coordination etc. to stay in a good physical condition.
Listen up E-Sports people! Movement – Sleep – Diet – Mindset will help you to improve your performance. Motivation, trust, and compliance are the tenets to a successful and sustainable development/performance.
Fig. 2. E-Sports Health & Performance Management at mYinsanity
Brautigam T, 2016. Esports needs to face its injury problem. Available from: https://esportsobserver.com/esports-needs-face-injury-problem/ [Accessed 18 Sep 2018].
Rudolf K, Bickmann P, Froböse I, Tholl C, Wechsler K, Grieben C. Demographics and Health Behavior of Video Game and eSports Players in Germany: The eSports Study 2019. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. 2020; 17(6):1870. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17061870
Worsley PR, Rebolledo D, Webb S, et al. Monitoring the biomechanical and physiological effects of postural changes during leisure chair sitting. J Tissue Viability 2018;27:16–22.)
DiFrancisco-Donoghue J, Balentine J, Schmidt G, et al. Managing the health of the eSport athlete: an integrated health management model. BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine 2019;5:e000467. doi: 10.1136/bmjsem-2018-000467