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Health and wellness considerations in gaming and esports

This is an excerpt from Esports Business Management With HKPropel Access by David P. Hedlund,Gil B. Fried & Ronald "Rick" Smith.

By David P. Hedlund, Matthew Williamson, Aaron Colaiacomo, Joanne Donoghue, Courtney James, Taylor Johnson, Ronald Kim, Raffaele Lauretta, John McDermott, Sheng Qiang, and Hallie Zwibel

Health and wellness is now a commonly discussed topic in the gaming and esports industry; its impact on both player and team performance is seen as a key ingredient to success. As professional gaming organizations are receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in investments, and the salaries and prize earnings for the players are increasing, the stakes have never been higher. This situation has brought about a shift in how organizations and the players themselves are addressing health and wellness.

When thinking about health and wellness and how it affects performance, a good starting point is understanding the specific demands placed on esports players. A study done by Smith, Birch, and Bright (2019) examined the psychological challenges encountered by elite esports professionals when competing in major contests. They found esports players faced 51 different stress factors, including communication problems and concerns with competing in front of live audiences. Perhaps not surprisingly, these stress factors mirrored the mental conditions experienced by professional athletes in traditional sports such as soccer and rugby. The authors also found that gamers are exposed to substantial stress when they compete in top-flight contests. Isolating these stressors can help players develop effective coping strategies for these stressors and optimize performance while playing at the highest level.

The drive to achieve one’s personal best along with the inherently competitive nature of the industry comes with costs to players’ health and wellness. This result is evident not only in the professional ranks but also at the semiprofessional and collegiate levels. A study by DiFrancisco-Donoghue and colleagues (2019) examined 65 college esports players, showing that the average esports player practices between 5.5 and 10 hours a day prior to competitions. In addition, 15 percent reported three hours or more of sitting and playing without standing to take a break, and 40 percent of the players reported that they do not participate in any kind of physical activity. The largest complaint reported was eye fatigue, followed by back and neck pain, and later followed by wrist and hand pain. The injuries seen in esports athletes are similar to injuries seen in sedentary office personnel. Of the athletes surveyed who suffered from an ailment, only 2 percent sought medical attention (DiFrancisco-Donoghue et al. 2019).

These research studies begin to highlight some key areas to explore that will lend themselves to the broader scope of how to address health and wellness of players. Another area gaining more attention is the mental health and burnout of esports players (Radcliffe 2019). To date, scant research has examined these issues. A further area of need for exploration and research is the potential for esports and gaming to be addictive (Hattenstone 2017).

The current situation presents an opportunity to have an impact on an emerging sport and industry by taking what people know about traditional sports and adapting that knowledge to esports. New areas of research will need to be conducted to continue to explore what is actually happening for esports athletes. It is blending science and esports and creating a new field of esports science and research. Researchers must keep in mind that first and foremost, models of performance should be player centric, meaning that strategies and tactics should be developed based on an individual’s needs. In addition, a responsibility exists to promote positive values and offer the tools and resources to allow each individual to become their best version of themselves. A holistic approach to training is needed—one that encompasses key areas such as a balanced lifestyle, psychology, nutrition, movement, and recovery. This balance not only can have an immediate impact but will also be crucial to long-term development and success.

The future of health and wellness and its impact on performance in gaming and esports has never been more exciting and open for discovery. Those who choose to pursue a career along the lines of esports performance and esports science will have the opportunity to have a positive impact on the foundational wellness of an emerging sport and generation. Challenging questions face the esports and video game industry, but further investments in research will help shed light on some of the most important health and wellness issues for players, teams, and organizations.

More Excerpts From Esports Business Management With HKPropel Access