The Hidden Cost of Dedication
The mental aspect of professional gamers has been examined many times over. The discipline, the strategic intelligence, the need to win; these qualities have all been covered and are celebrated as requirements to excel in esports. But rarely is the physical strain of competitive gaming ever seriously discussed aside from the occasional mention of carpal tunnel syndrome and the like. After all, how much physical involvement is there in sitting down staring at a monitor and pressing buttons? It's not like they run the risk of serious long term injury playing competitive video games... right?
In the last few years, we've seen something of a concussion epidemic spreading through professional sports, which has exposed stunning amounts of previously undiagnosed injuries. Evidence of rampant brain trauma primarily made its way through heavy contact sports such as Ice Hockey and American Football, prompting both leagues to take defensive measures. The NFL, for example, installed g-force counters in the helmets of players in order to monitor for potential concussions, and the data highlighted the frightening amount of high velocity impacts that players suffer, even in low-contact practice sessions.
Players in both the NHL and NFL are considered to be tough athletes, and pain, in one form or another, is part of the job. They are paid well to "suck it up" and "take one for the team", and the culture surrounding them expects it of them to some degree. Up until recently, the long term damages of such choices have been unknown, but the fact that they exist is now beyond question. This almost excessive dedication has a very real cost later in life, a cost that is immeasurable in mere dollars, and the same might very well be true for our competitive gamers. What if we are subjecting our esports athletes to harmful amounts of practice without knowing it?
We can all agree that the training regimen adopted by organizations in conventional sports are both demanding and fierce, optimized to hone athletes for competition. But there are physical limitations to how far you can push the human body, and these limitations become blurry when we approach esports. The requirement to rest does not apply to the same extent in esports as it does to conventional sports, meaning that a football player cannot effectively practice as much as a professional StarCraft player can. This fact has some interesting, and potentially damaging consequences, especially if you add the inherent competitive nature of youthful males.
The competitive gaming scene has been free to bask in the near limitless energy found in young men with a need to prove themselves against their peers. Often times, the one who could practice the most would emerge victorious, leading to a culture of impressive amounts of practice found in few other human disciplines. Competitive gaming did not have wise old mentors who could moderate their schedules, for this was and still is relatively unexplored territory. Even in the instances where old men stepped in to assist, they, just like any other organization, picked players for success, naturally wanting winners on their side to promote this new industry. This resulted in an exceedingly high average amount of training, unhindered by either physical exhaustion or the wisdom of old age.
Only in a few years will we more accurately know what the physical ramifications are for a long career in professional gaming. At the moment, nobody really knows what the accumulated cost of 200+ actions per minute, day in and day out might be, which is both fascinating and frightening. Off the top of my head I can mention MVP, Thorzain, and TLO as sufferers from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome or similar repetitive strain injuries, due in part to the high amount of practice required of them to be competitive. Unfortunately, we all know that the amount of players with these physical issues is much larger than the mere three I mentioned. It is an almost common ailment -- even the Brood War legend Flash had to have surgery last year in order to alleviate his discomfort.
The unusual amount of practice is probably not the only cause of these troubles, as a general lack of appropriate physical stretching and poor posturing can likely have an equal if not more important role in instigating these injuries. Thankfully, many large tournaments have begun to keep professional masseuses at their events to promote awareness of these issues among gamers. Many will fondly remember "Martin the Masseur" from Winter Assembly 2012 as one of these new and highly appreciated additions. As the industry grows, we will hopefully see more of these experts around to help spread the word and prevent injury.
EG's HuK has on more than one occasion celebrated the fact that the pro-gaming house he practices in employs a maid who takes care of the cooking and cleaning so that he may focus entirely on his practice without having to worry about chores. But perhaps HuK ten years from now would have been better off with a physical therapist instead of a maid, just to make sure he doesn't ruin his arms (and grows up to be a slob). Down the road he might appreciate the effective use of his arms in order to do the dishes properly.
Organizations within esports have an ethical obligation not to carelessly take advantage of the relative youth of its players. Although there are many youngsters who would gladly gamble future pain for a moment in the sun, we should all actively encourage further efforts in mitigating and preventing the injuries which are affecting the current generation of eSports athletes.
/ Written by Joel “Offsajdh” Hakalax
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