It’s great news that eSports leagues like ESL are starting to roll out stricter rules against the use of performance enhancing drugs, but it’s also a disgrace that they’re only beginning to take this seriously now.
eSports league organisation ESL has announced it will administer randomised performance enhancing drug (PED) skin tests at the ESL One Cologne event in August, and at every Intel Extreme Masters, ESL One and ESL ESEA Pro League event going forwards. These are simple skin swabs that won’t require a blood sample.
According to Afinil Express reviewed by Modafinil.org, it has also teamed up with NADA and WADA (no I didn’t make those names up – they’re the Nationale Anti Doping Agentur and World Anti Doping Agency) to help research and determine an anti-PED policy that is “fair, feasible and respects the privacy of the players, whilst simultaneously providing conclusive testing results” – before rolling them out worldwide.
So why now?
Kory “Semphis” Friesen, who used to play for Cloud 9’s Counter-Strike team, admitted this month in a video interview that all members of the team were taking the performance-enhancing drug Adderall during ESL tournaments, to improve their reaction times.
eSports tournament organisers already had some rules in place around drugs, obviously. But until now there have been no solid rules around regular drug tests on a widespread basis, like there are in other sports.
MLG says it defers to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s standards, and Gfinity says “there has never been a case of us finding out a player took drugs during our events, and as such we never had to punish anyone for it,” reports Ars Technica. Gfinity did say drug testing is something it feels will be introduced “sooner rather than later” however.
How that is an excuse for not testing players already is beyond me. It’s a scandal that something has not already been enforced.
Eurogamer wrote this piece about eSports drug problems earlier this year, with players admitting to taking drugs to get a performance boost while playing. This should not have been allowed to happen – full stop.
It’s another reason why we need an eSports governing body if the sport is to progress and flourish like it has the potential to.
I know there are still many people that look down on eSports and don’t even regard competitive gaming as a sport. There are also fans of eSports that don’t take the scene too seriously – after all, it involves video games, right? Some would say the more fun and silly gaming – and eSports – is, the better. But at the risk of sounding like Mr Mackey from South Park, drugs are not fun or silly.
My older brother almost died after getting addicted to Heroin when he was younger.
Drugs are serious.
They should only be used when prescribed for medical conditions, or within reason when taken for recreation (I’m not moaning about the occasional drug use, the odd beer here, or coffee there, or cigarette or cannabis smoking or whatever – I’m talking about use of serious pills, drugs and other performance enhancing drugs on a more regular basis that can wreck someone’s career or tarnish a sport).
I know Adderall is not Heroin. And this article is about eSports, not drug addicts. But my point is: while Adderall can temporarily increase reaction times, cognitive control and muscle strength, it can also cause shortness of breath, irregular heartbeats, severely high blood pressure, tremors, numbness and malnutrition.
And the International eSports Federation (IeSF), as reported by Wired, said drugs like Adderal and Propanalol could have side effects including diarrhea, hair loss, hallucinations and sexual and erectile dysfunction.
So aside from giving an eSports player or team an advantage, it will also damage their health in their long-term. I don’t want to see matches getting unfair through drug use, hear of players not being able to perform off the stage (ahem) – and I certainly don’t want to see them with ill health, or having to end their already short careers even earlier.
I don’t care if you want to do drugs or other legal highs – that’s entirely your prerogative and it’s your body, but I don’t know many recreational drug users who can honestly say they know exactly what is in their next batch.
Regardless of whether you do them in your spare time or not, if you’re a professional sportsman or woman, you shouldn’t be doing them at all.
For me, eSports is no different. If it wants to be taken seriously, it needs to start acting seriously. Not when a player admits to taking drugs, not when a scandal is reported on – leagues should have had all the rules and enforcement (AND regular tests) in place already.
We don’t yet have a proper governing body, so for now, games developers and leagues should come together to ensure that drug use becomes one less problem that eSports doesn’t have to worry about.
Let’s get our act together and put an end to this nonsense.
Dom is an award-winning writer and finalist of the Esports Journalist of the Year 2023 award. He graduated from Bournemouth University with a 2:1 degree in Multi-Media Journalism in 2007.
As a long-time gamer having first picked up the NES controller in the late ’80s, he has written for a range of publications including GamesTM, Nintendo Official Magazine, industry publication MCV and others. He worked as head of content for the British Esports Federation up until February 2021, when he stepped back to work full-time on Esports News UK and offer esports consultancy and freelance services. Note: Dom still produces the British Esports newsletter on a freelance basis, so our coverage of British Esports is always kept simple – usually just covering the occasional press release – because of this conflict of interest.