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.”

The past two weeks have been monumental for Esports, particularly in Canada.

August 27-28 saw the League of Legends LCS Summer Split Finals take place at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario.

And just this past weekend, Fan Expo Toronto hosted the Northern Arena LAN Finals for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.

These examples and many more highlight the continuously growing Esports phenomenon…

BUT…

What does this mean exactly and why should anyone outside the realm of Esports care?

 

Esports Legitimacy

For starters, Canada can now be legitimized as a viable locale. We can host Esports events or tournaments and kick ass doing so.

Just watch what Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng of Team SoloMid had to say about the Canadian crowd.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhbNZiRkiR0#t=0m34s

Beyond the exposure of our cultural identity, another consequence that emerges is the legitimization of Canada as a source of fandom.

And if history is to be trusted, where fandom exists, booming business opportunities are sure to follow.

First, some context: the League of Legends Summer Grand Finals match raked in a sold out venue of 15,000 fans with 32 million more streaming online.

With demographics like these, small wonder that I was able to find some League of Legends merchandise on the Fan Expo show floor, both official and unlicensed.

But that’s just the small fry.

lol-good-game-bar esports

Local businesses are not just refashioning their business models to account for the rise in Esports but some others have built businesses to cater specifically to the Esports demographic.

 

Ever heard of Good Game Bar?

 

Here—located in Toronto—one can have a non-Bubble Tea, alcoholic drink while comfortably enjoying the live stream of the Evo Grand Finals match. (#notracist)

And all this… this is just the beginning.

 

Social Transformation

A bar streaming Esports matches could mean that Esports is—perhaps above all—a social phenomenon.

Gone are the days when video games were just for the nerds or the closeted gamer. It is for everyone.

lol-otaku-neet

Take the attendance at the LCS League of Legends Final, for example. I expected the image of the socially awkward, physically unfit, otaku-NEET to be the dominant one in attendance but the case was the exact opposite.

Hot, muscular guys weren’t dime a dozen, but I must confess that maybe I’m too much of a socially awkward otaku-NEET (at least, in appearance) to have approached one.

People came in groups of three to seven, with no discrimination in appearance, class, ethnicity, and even age (though the majority would definitely be millennial).

Sure, the female demographic sits at a dismal (but hopeful) 10-15% for Esports overall, but huge strides have transpired in its almost two-decade existence to bring that number to where it is now.

 

A Millennial Venture

That said, Esports is a millennial phenomenon.

lol-tsm
TSM fields teams not just for League of Legends, but also for Hearthstone, Super Smash Brothers, and Counter-Strike: GO.

Starcraft and an innumerable amount of fighting games paved the way for the rise of Esports but arguably, League of Legends solidified its cultural presence.

LoL heavily influenced the creation of an Esports subdivision on TSN, its team organizations were successful enough to branch their brands out to other games (Counter Strike: GO, Smash Brothers, Heroes of Warcraft. Etc.), and even attracted business people outside of the industry to invest their resources into Esports.

 

 

 

 

Did you know that the NA team Echo Fox is owned by ex-pro NBA player, Rick Fox? Or that Susan Tully, the CEO of the European team, H2K Gaming, was also the CFO for Kanye West?

lol-gordon-hayward
Pro NBA player Gordon Hayward, showing his love for League of Legends.

A job in the Esports industry does not just mean that one aspires to be a professional gamer nor does it mean that it is a business just for gamers—as it is, the possibilities for career exploration are endless.

Those with backgrounds in sports casting, TV production, engineering, event organizing, marketing, journalism— and many others—are welcome to shave off the tip and trail blaze into the Esports iceberg.

For the last seven years, Riot Games, the organization behind LoL, did not explore Canada as a pit stop for one of their hugest events. But when it happened two weeks ago at the Summer Split Championship, somehow on a subconscious level, these millennial opportunities became attainable.

As if what was being said was, “This is happening. This world is real. And you are most welcome to jump in.”

So come on, Canada, let’s get more of us out there.

 

O Canada

Gonna be honest—attending the League of Legends Summer Finals Split was one of the best moments of my life.

More than what it showed was possible in the future, it highlighted its massive impact in the now.

lol-wildturtle

When Toronto native Jason “Wildturtle” Tran, the “AD Carry” (a game role in LoL) for team Immortals, walked out into the ACC stadium draped with the Canadian flag…

THE HOUSE ROARED INTO AN EAR-SHATTERING CATERWAUL!

The results were not dissimilar when two more Canadian players—Andy “Smoothie” Ta of Team Cloud 9 and my fellow University of Toronto alumni, Vincent “Biofrost” Wang of Team SoloMid—emerged the following day in the grand final.

The impact wasn’t necessarily about having Canadian representatives in the game but more about having been able to partake in the Canadian collective pride, in the same vein that one might do so in a Blue Jays game or in the Olympics.

For someone who does not care much for traditional athletic sports, being able to finally feel Canadian pride over this newish, video game-based type of sports was…

… and I’ll say it again—it was monumental.

And I don’t think we’re done yet!