Substance abuse – A terrifying reality for esports0

Esports has blossomed into the mainstream spotlight with teams and players earning up to millions of dollars in prize winnings. However, as the competition continues to heat up, athletes resort to anything to secure the victory, even if it means taking performance enhancements.

Video games have always been a passionate hobby of mine. I have been gaming for what feels like an eternity now, almost as if a controller was placed firmly in my hands the moment I was born. They serve as bundles of entertainment, with each game bringing a different feeling or sensation that may not always be replicated with other hobbies or activities.

Depending on the title, games have the ability to incite powerful reactions that leave players feeling excited, accomplished, saddened and even extremely motivated. These works of fiction act as gateways to worlds that we could never hope to venture in real life, at least not in this lifetime. However, as I grow older and as technology continues to take its inevitable course on the gaming industry, there are some serious issues that we need to address before they get out of hand. I have and will continue to believe that video games serve as the ultimate remedy to counter most of life’s stresses and are truly good in nature. Unfortunately, gaming has inherited a multitude of problems that will continue to persist, with some requiring the implementation of strict regulations or laws.

The esports problem

The rise of professional esports has opened a path that leaves thousands of aspiring gamers willing to risk their health in pursuit of successful performances in their respective titles. With professional contracts on the line and expectations at an all time high, pressures build up and some esports athletes resort to performance enhancements to heighten their senses in-game. It is ludicrous to think that someone would sacrifice their physical well-being and reputation for momentary glory, but that is the case in the highly competitive esports scene. The article ‘Nobody talks about it because everyone is on it‘ brings a focus to the prevalent substance abuse problem esports has kept hidden away.  

Washington Post writer Coleman Hamstead starts his feature with an anecdotal view of an aspiring semi-pro gamer and his weekly routine involving his favourite game, Fortnite. The gamer makes sure to take his Adderall, a pill usually prescribed for patients with hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), just before logging in because he feels as though it gives him an edge on the battlefield. With esports being a relatively new scene, it has gotten a lot of traction regarding its athletes using performance-enhancing drugs. 

Competitive gaming leagues have grown into a billion-dollar industry where it can actually rival traditional sports leagues in terms of popularity and revenue. However, as esports continues to become commonplace in society as opposed to an outlier, there are some grey areas that must be addressed before it gets problematic. The most commonly used drug among gamers, Adderall, a pill containing amphetamine, is often prescribed to those with both impulsive and attention disorders as it helps enhance focus by increasing the effects of dopamine and serotonin found in the brain. Esports athletes who play titles that heavily rely on their reflexes and ability to react to fast interactions, such as the first-person shooter genre, are notorious for taking Adderall to give them superior levels of attentiveness. 

No rules means no limits

Regulations and rules vary depending on the esports title, but most of the popular leagues, including Overwatch, League of Legends and Dota 2, have completely nothing that bans nor allows the usage of performance enhancing drugs. This absolutely questions esports athletes regarding their integrity and professionalism among their colleagues. Adderall has been proven to help players line up their crosshairs in first-person shooter titles.

With that being said, it should no longer be swept under the rug when addressing the empirical advantages it gives over athletes who do not rely on medical interventions. Hamstead reassures us that no one is willing to openly talk about drug usage in esports because, well, everyone is on it. In the feature, former and current esports athletes from Overwatch, Call of Duty and Counter Strike express the overwhelming usage of Adderall among their communities and that drug abuse was one of the reasons why they stopped playing competitively. No one can fully prohibit Adderall from being used in esports leagues simply because it is a prescription drug, and there are some athletes who truly need it to be on an even playing field with the rest. Despite that, there are no fines or post game drug tests that esports athletes most undergo to ensure that they are drug-free.

Enforce new rules

The negligence shown in regulating performance-enhancing drugs is yet another way to encourage players to take the plunge and swallow the pill, without any fear of the consequences given out by the higher-ups. It sets a precedent that anything goes, as long as there is no one there to enforce or stop it completely. Not only does it damage the athlete’s health over time, but it ruins the spirit of the sport and the comradery shared by the player and the fanbase. 

In the end, Hamstead is a crossroads with how to properly handle Adderall. “An outright ban on ADHD medications risks hurting players with legitimate prescriptions. But if organizers begin testing for Adderall but allow those with a prescription to use it, they risk encouraging players to seek a prescription illegitimately,” he writes. Although the usage of drugs in esports is indeed in a state of ambiguity and unrest, esports leagues need to do their part in providing absolute transparency as to what is and what is not allowed in terms of using drugs, prescription or not. For the time being, esports athletes and those aspiring to become professional will continue doing “whatever it takes to make it big in esports.”

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Wrence

Wrence Trinidad is a current Bachelor of Journalism student at Toronto's Humber College and ZoneSix's anime and game writer. His favourite genre is slice-of-life and comedy but is willing to watch anything that even remotely resembles Japanese animation. He hopes to provide different perspectives on certain shows and to spark friendly discussions amongst fans of all geek culture. His username on MAL, AniList and Kitsu is surprisingly just his first name, Wrence.

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