Video Games

Video Games: It’s time to address drug use in professional gaming

Update: The Electronic Sports League announced plans Wednesday, July 22, to create a formal drug testing policy for competitors at all ESL leagues and events. The league is currently working with international anti-doping organizations to create a fair program.

Beginning in August, the ESL will also give random drug tests at its professional events. The ESL will advise competitors of the banned substances, the testing process and the punishments for violation of the policy.

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It may take awhile, but professional video game players will likely need to pee into cups before sitting at computers to game in front of a packed arena.

The legitimacy of professional gaming sustained a major blow this week when a YouTube video of two pro “Counter Strike: Global Offensive” players talking about widespread drug abuse among competitors spread through the video game media and even trickled up to a few mainstream sources.

In the video, Kory “Semphis” Friesen said his team was all on Adderall, a drug typically proscribed to ADHD and narcolepsy patients that is believed to improve focus and cognitive function in gamers and college students alike.

“I don’t even care,” he said in the video. “We were all on Adderall. I don’t even give a (expletive). It was pretty obvious, like, if you listen to the (voice chat records). People can hate it or whatever.”

Mohan “Launders” Govindasamy, another pro “CS:GO” player, then asked: “Everyone does Adderall at (competitive gaming league) ESEA LAN, right?”

“Yeah,” Friesen said.

“Just throwing that out there for the fans,” Govindasamy added. “That’s how you’re good.”

I would hardly call this an admission. It’s more of a nonchalant boast, and it may not even be true. These are two players talking informally in front of a camera. I wasn’t there, and I haven’t dug up anything beyond the video.

But I am inclined to believe it.

Several pro gamers have made similar claims the past few years. These are a bunch of young people with a lot of pressure on them and a lot of money at stake. I have seen kids pass out Adderall in the library during finals week, so why wouldn’t other teens and twenty-somethings take it with $100,000 or more at stake?

For one local addiction specialist, it is a very big deal. Flindt Andersen is the founder and executive director of Prescription Abusers In Need (PAIN), a Fresno organization centered around stopping drug abuse and referring addicts to treatment and counseling.

“Adderall is basically cocaine with a C rating,” Anderson said. “It’s legal speed. It is just as addictive, and it makes people jittery, nervous and lose their appetite.”

He added that anyone using Adderall outside of its intended use faces similar health and addiction issues to other stimulants, such as cocaine and methamphetamine.

$100,000The first place price at the ESL ESEA Pro League Finals in May.

The Electronic Sports League (ESL), one of the largest pro-gaming leagues in the world and host of the ESEA finals in May, is aware of the video and other reported drug abuse.

Spokeswoman Anna Rozwandowicz chatted with me about it.

She gave me this official statement from the league saying it’s known about performance-enhancing drug use for a while and knew it would be something that would have to be addressed as the league grew in popularity and legitimacy. The league is currently looking into dealing with it at an organizational level.

I believe drug abuse is very much on the ESL’s radar after chatting further.

However, the league is basically telling the wave of reporters asking about this video that it knows there is an issue, but it isn’t really doing anything about it. They are looking into maybe doing something in the future, though.

I should clarify that being on drugs or alcohol at an event is against ESL rules. You can be banned if you are caught using.

Right now, most of the responsibility lies with the various teams. Pro players aren’t employees of the ESL or any other league. They are paid by sponsors and often compete in several leagues. If the ESL or any other league tried to force players into anything, the players could simply pack up and play elsewhere — possibly destroying the league.

Something has to be done pretty soon, though, or we could have hundreds of young drug addicts making millions by performing impossible feats for hungry fans.

Sound familiar?

It’s an eerily similar situation to baseball in the early 1990s. Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and others took enough steroids to kill a small elephant for years before Major League Baseball had a firm drug-testing policy.

Like early ’90s baseball players, pro gamers are faced with a difficult decision. Do I take something that may put my health at risk knowing that my competitors are taking it?

It is especially rough on professional gamers. They aren’t just playing for salaries and sponsorships, as pros in traditional sports typically are. The difference between first and last place can often be the difference between $250,000 and nothing.

The drug problem adds a new wrinkle to the growing pains faced by pro gaming. These leagues are getting huge very quickly. They are throwing around hundreds of millions of dollars, made off of and paid out to a demographic that is almost completely under 25 years old.

These kids need a union to stabilize their income, which will cut the pressure of these events. It would also be able to work with these leagues to set up a drug policy that would punish some to protect the whole. No one will have to take drugs in order to keep a level playing field, which may be an issue now and will almost certainly be one in the future.

I hope something changes before retired gamers are heading to rehab at age 23.

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