Competitive video game tournaments have grown exponentially in both prevalence and commercial popularity over the past decade. Previously, game franchises such as Madden and Halo received the most attention from the gaming community, but in recent years, that has shifted dramatically. Now, professional gamers are vying for top prizes in games like League of Legends, Starcraft II, and DOTA 2. Games like Counter Strike and Call of Duty have had some success on the professional level, but the first person shooter genre has been on the decline, largely from repetitive entries that have done very little to revolutionize the gameplay. MOBA, or Multiplayer online battle arena titles such as League, Dota and the newcomer from Blizzard, Heroes of the Storm, are games that take an immense amount of skillful strategizing, dedication, and intelligence to play at a high level, while Starcraft remains the premier real time strategy game for serious players.
Like it or not, professional video game players are now considered by many circles as athletes, as tournament gaming is now known as eSports. Even though gamers are not demonstrating athletic ability in their field of play, they have to train for as many hours as athletes in traditional sports, study opponent's tapes, implement new facets to their game in order to keep up with the constantly growing talent pool, and have to maintain mental and physical endurance during competition. Streaming services such as Twitch and Youtube have even created an audience for competitions which has in turn led to corporate sponsorships and other similarities with traditional sports. There are some coaches that make up to three hundred dollars an hour training gamers, announcers that pull in livable incomes for dictating tournament action, and tournaments that boast prize pools in the millions. Gaming is also very much like other professional sports in terms of the likelihood of turning pro. Only the best that specialize in the most complex games available are capable of making a living solely from gaming, sponsorships, and streaming opportunities.
And now, eSports share another rather troubling trait with traditional professional sports, the implementation of drug testing procedures for performance enhancing drugs. While most athletes that dabble with performance enhancing drugs are typically using anabolic steroids and HGH, professional gamers are using drugs that, in large part, are prescribed to those afflicted with ADD or ADHD.
Even though it has been widely speculated that professional gamers that play in excess of a dozen hours in a row at one time use more than just energy drinks and nicotine to stay focused, it was never something that tournament officials and the ESL (Electronic Sports League) had looked into or investigated with any serious concern. Now, that the audience is present, as even ESPN has had professional gaming broadcasts, and many of fans are kids or young adults, there has been a growing pressure for E-Sports athletes to maintain a level of integrity and honest play, not to mention, the health risks of using drugs to help play video games at a high level for a long stretch of time.
A team of professional Counter Strike players recently admitted that they used Adderall during competitive play, even stating that everyone does it. Up until then, it was an unspoken thought among professional gamers that drugs used for focus were just went along with profession. It is likely that a lot of gamers that are competing for top prizes do not have much of an opinion on performance enhancing drug use in gaming or a problem with it because it appears to be rampant. The ESL will now implement random drug testing at events administered in the form of skin tests.
It should be noted that the ESL has always stated that performance enhancing drug use in any capacity by its competitors is tolerated or acceptable and can lead to banishment from the league. However, simply stating a rule does not mean it will be followed if it is not properly enforced. An argument can be made that with all of the progress of gaming in main stream culture and removal of the stigma that comes with being labeled a gamer, that the ESL was hesitant to take a stand because of the fear of losing all of the positives that took years to build up outside of the previously niche community. While it would be unlikely that gaming would share the same fate as baseball in the aftermath of the steroid era given that it has been a common yet undiscussed fact that gamers are doping to a certain degree, and the amount of people opposed to it is a lot smaller than the ones who either are in favor of it or do not have an opinion in the inner circle. But of course, public opinion from casual gamers and outsiders now that drug use in professional gaming is being heavily reported on, would likely slide back into an unfavorable position of the medium and the culture it represents.
The drugs that are prescribed for attention deficits are most commonly Adderall, Ritalin and Modafinal. On college campuses, unprescribed Adderall use is especially prevalent in order to pull all-nighters studying for finals and writing term papers, because of the drug's ability to act as a so called "smart drug." While it does not actually make a person more intelligent, it provides a boost in concentration that can be maintained for prolonged periods of time in low doses.
In the highly competitive world of professional gaming, the more time spent honing skills is directly related to success. The competitive edge that drugs such as Adderall provide is debatable in that they cannot actually make you better at a game like traditional performance enhancing drugs in other sports, but the when looked at practically, it makes sense why they are popular among top level gamers. The act of staring at a computer monitor or television set for long periods of time causes eye strain, fatigue, and even difficulty concentrating. Professional gamers are in front of screens for most hours that they are awake, and since they are performing a task that requires focus, hand eye coordination and quick response time, the effects of the screen are not ideal for their play.
Drug use among professional gamers is hard to describe as performance enhancing, and is probably better defined as a way to maintain the level of play that a gamer has at the start of a tournament until the end. A number of questions arise from the implementation of a testing program. Some players are likely to have valid, doctor prescribed prescriptions for drugs like Adderall because they need it in their every day lives. It will be interesting to see if the ESL will adopt the policies of other sports where exemptions can be given for Adderall and other attention deficit drugs when needed. If so, the likelihood that players that use Adderall without a prescription will attempt to garner a prescription and seek exemption from the rule. Random testing at events will be difficult because the drugs that players are using leave the body very quickly and there is the possibility that gamers will just take their dose after the first few rounds of tournament play, making the idea of testing every player, multiple times throughout a tournament the only real solution to a accurate and fair testing.
Ironically, random drug testing in gaming will likely make the playing field less fair rather than equal because the ones who are not tested could very well be on Adderall and playing against an opponent that did not take Adderall because of the fear of testing. Drug testing in gaming is a good thing, but it will likely take awhile to actually level the playing field, and with the current group of drugs used by gamers, it is complex because of the numerous loopholes and external factors at play. Today it is drugs like Adderall, but tomorrow it could be a new drug that provides serious performance enhancing benefits for gamers, and when that day comes, an established testing system will be useful for cracking down on cheaters. Until then, professional gamers will likely continue to find ways to take attention deficit drugs in competition, and given that its prevalence has been widely known for years, the gaming community, at least the ones actually playing, does not seem to have a problem with it, however right or wrong that may be.