It’s an exciting time to be a fan of eSports—organized multiplayer video game competitions. In the past two years, eSports’ popularity has gone off the charts, and so have the prizes for its athletes. The Electronic Sports League (ESL) awarded over $2.5 million in 2013, over $10 million in 2014, and over $18 million this year. In short, eSports has joined the big leagues.
And like the big leagues in traditional sports, the electronic leagues are facing their own drug scandal, as some “e-athletes” turn to chemicals for an extra edge in performance. The ESL has announced it will address the problem the same way other professional sports leagues have: drug testing.
A stimulating competition
In eSports, the drug of choice appears to be Adderall, a stimulant prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Why would “e-athletes” take it? They don’t rely as much on physical skills as they do on the ability to concentrate on the game, and Adderall supposedly helps with that.
But does it really? Adderall affects everyone differently; for people with ADHD, it can have a calming, focusing effect, but abusing stimulants when you don’t have ADHD can disrupt your normal brain communication, raise your blood pressure, disrupt sleep, and cause hostility and paranoia. (And contrary to what you may have heard, Adderall doesn’t lead to improved academic performance, whether or not you have ADHD.)
Even if Adderall helps some e-athletes focus, it’s dangerous to abuse it or other stimulants. That can lead to addiction.
As if that risk wasn’t enough, taking stimulants for an increase in performance isn’t fair—it’s cheating, just like when athletes in traditional sports take steroids.
The use of stimulants in eSports has been suspected for a while, but this past July one of the top players, Kory “Semphis” Friesen, admitted he used Adderall in a major tournament earlier this year, and he said a lot of other players do the same.
Soon afterward, ESL announced it would begin testing players for stimulant use. It also started a prevention-education program for them. ESL (based in Germany) developed their policy with Germany’s Nationale Anti-Doping Agentur, and asked the World Anti-Doping Agency for input.
A spitting image
The testing takes random samples of players’ saliva. In addition to Adderall and amphetamines, the test can detect certain pain relievers, heroin, marijuana, “synthetic marijuana” (spice or spike), cocaine, and several other drugs.
The first tests were given at a tournament in August, and none of them came back positive for drug use. Maybe this means ESL’s education program is working already, or maybe fewer e-athletes than Kory Friesen thinks are using drugs to seek a performance boost.
Either way, it looks like drug testing in eSports is here to stay. As the audience for the games grows, the players’ reputations will grow, too, because everybody will know the competition is fair. And the players will have the biggest prize of all: they’ll be healthier.