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.”

Video games have always been an outlet that many people seem to enjoy. Perhaps lost in our own excitement, we tend to forget the issues that overly obsessive gamers are faced with. Using a recent article from the New York Times, let’s explore a first-hand account of video game addiction and the underlying problems that may arise from younger audiences.

With the release of the PS5 earlier this week, I think it’s an appropriate time to look back on Ferris Jabr’s Can you really be addicted to video games? submitted for the New York Times. Jabr introduces the readers to a late 20-something-year-old video game addict Charlie Bracke and recounts his history of playing video games for an obscene amount of time, all while crumbling under the stresses that society has thrown his way.

Jabr paints Bracke’s story like somewhat of a drama motion picture, but without the part where it elicits a sense of empathy or sadness. Instead, Bracke’s supposed sob story sounds like the tale of someone who did not even bother to fight through adversity when challenged, but rather succumbed voluntarily. It is made apparent that Bracke used video games to escape from the realities of society and not because of the games themselves. Where I found similarities in Bracke’s story with my own was the lengthy gameplay sessions that would easily proceed well past 12 hours in one day. In my case, I played those ungodly hours until my mind became distorted because of the joy and sheer satisfaction of seeing my progression right before my very eyes.

Titles such as Runescape, Elder Scrolls Online, and Call of Duty, excellent games that are still relatively popular today, were a few franchises that rewarded good players with items or experience. It is also worth mentioning how much more enjoyable it was with friends. Time would escape us and I would only have myself to blame when it came to missed deadlines or a lack of sleep. With that being said, I regret absolutely none of the time I spent playing video games when it was in my best interest not to because the games were tremendously gratifying.

Down the path of no return

Bracke could not keep up with his university studies or maintain a relationship with his girlfriend. These troublesome affairs eventually led him down a path of heavy gaming, in which he could drown his sorrows away in the virtual world while further neglecting his duties in real life. Video games are highly credited for their ways to alleviate the burdens of everyday stress, but when used to completely replace someone’s world, as was Bracke’s case, it should be no surprise that health, career and relationships with others would surely deteriorate.

Fabr then goes back and forth questioning whether gaming is an actual addiction or a symptom of another underlying issue, perhaps depression even. Sure enough, there were many medical professionals that have come to the conclusion that gaming can be an addiction. The World Health Organization went even as far to add a new disorder to the section on substance use and addictive behaviours, citing that “gaming disorder, which it defines as excessive and irrepressible preoccupation with video games, resulting in significant personal, social, academic or occupational impairment for at least 12 months.”

Some of gaming industries biggest leaders, like the Entertainment Software Association, were in complete disagreement with the diagnostic, claiming that it may stigmatize future products that they would release, thus endangering the entirety of the gaming entertainment industry. There are even medical experts who would also disagree with the notion that video game addiction is a real disorder. Andrew Przybylski of Oxford Internet Institute says, “the whole thing is an epistemic dumpster fire,” while Fabr adds that “people enjoy and sometimes form all-consuming passions for countless activities: fishing, baking, running, and yet we don’t typically pathologize those.”

As mentioned before, Fabr does an outstanding job bringing the facts outright for the readers to gather as much information before deciding a conclusion for themselves. Perhaps the most damning evidence to suggest that video game addiction is a legitimate disorder is disclosing studies that “indicate compulsive game play and addictive drugs alter the brain’s reward circuits in similar ways.”

Living through adversity

As technology continues to advance, so will the complexity and immersion of video games. There are titles out there that can take thousands of hours to complete, and some that, technically, cannot be beaten as there is no end game. Regardless, in this day of age, games are built to be addictive. It is simply part of the business route that all studios inadvertently instill in games to make a profit. There is no point blaming the developers for someone developing an unhealthy obsession with their game. If anything, it is a testament to the game’s exceedingly successful replay value.

Bracke would eventually go to rehab to treat his gaming addiction where it yielded positive results. During his time recovering, he would make lifelong bonds with friends who were treading down the same ill-fated path. Together, they fought against their addiction and gradually came back to society with healthy levels of gaming in mind. The conclusion whether gaming addiction should be considered a disorder is still at the centre point for debates among gamers and medical professionals alike, however we should, at the very least, accept that gaming can serve as an infinite sponge to harbor depression or other mental health issues.

Bracke is one of the few extreme cases that made great leaps in recovery and self-awareness. It goes without saying that there are millions, who do not have the luxury to appear in feature articles, that are coping with life’s struggle through video games, resulting in addictions that further adds fuel to the fire.

Video games have and will always be an undying passion of mine, but to claim that it is a hobby, passion or lifestyle without deep-rooted issues would be a slap to the face of everyone who has ever dabbled in the virtual realm. Gamers could easily find themselves insulting others as if there were no repercussions to have on the other side. Insults and trash talking have been prevalent in competitive online games since their inception, it is almost revered as a tradition rather than blatant bullying.

Over in the competitive scene, children as young as high schoolers have admitted to taking performance enhancing drugs to propel their gameplay to the next level. It is a twisted scenario that is unfortunately the reality that we live in. Gamers feel the need to perform at unprecedented feats to the point where sabotaging their life is a risk worth taking.

The truth of video game addiction

Performance enhancement usage to get an unfair advantage in traditional sports has been well documented for decades now, but never would I expect it to apply to online esports as well. Last but not least, the addictive side of gaming is a troublesome issue that many slip into, some without even knowing. They are too caught up in the immersive atmosphere the game has simulated to ever be bothered with real life consequences. In most cases, however, it is used to suppress problems or uncertainties experienced in the real world.

Games are rather amazing when they are played as intended and within moderation, but of course that is easier said than done. Video games have transformed to become more than just comfy entertainment devices. They are alternate worlds for some, a form of relief for the majority and actual careers for others. A lot of people take up the controller, or the mouse and keyboard, for different reasons but we should all remain vigilant of the surrounding issues that are inherently bundled with gaming. Again, gaming is a passion of mine that will never burn out, not even in the slightest, but it is important to remember that it never has been a beacon of purity or a bastion of peace, and it more than likely never will be.