A variety of celebrities have made headlines with their unusual lifestyles, Elvis’ variety of 8,000 calorie “snacks’ included a hollowed-out loaf of bread stuffed with a jar of peanut butter, another whole jar of grape jelly, topped with a whopping full pound of bacon, and Usain Bolt ate 1,000 chicken nuggets before breaking world records at the Olympics and officially becoming the fastest man in the world. Impressive as these people are, it’s a rare trait to be able to treat yourself so badly and be a world leader, particularly in competitive sport, and an emerging movement of pro gamers is taking inspiration from their fellow athletes and ditching the image of a nerdy kid slurping on cola and eating gummy worms at 4 am while “pwning noobs”. As the ESports industry has exploded and morphed from a hobby to a career, so too has the level of professionalism of its competitors who now pack sports stadiums with audiences eager to watch them perform.
The lifespan of an athlete is short and even shorter for ESports competitors, who usually turn pro in their teens, peak in their early twenties and retire a few years later. Often this is because of burnout, it’s a difficult lifestyle to maintain and the level of training is often unknown outside of the gamer sphere. Although gamers are stationary during training, they are putting their bodies and minds under intense pressure. Gaming involves extreme concentration, hand-eye coordination and players have to cope with a muscle strain, carpal tunnel, and stress that have contributed to a need for gamers to take their physical health more seriously. As retired pros have become coaches themselves, they are mentoring with the knowledge of their own past mistakes, particularly rethinking the intensive training season where most competitors share a house with teammates, training 12 hours a day every day together without anything else in their lives.
Ex StarCraft II champion When O’Dell remembers his time in Korea as an intense experience with only two rest days a month. His training routine was so all-consuming that it excluded any activity that wasn’t eating, sleeping and gaming. O’Dell’s experience -a decade later- is looking like old fashioned as sports stars chugging beer the night before a game in the ’60s. Instead, now industry leaders like the UK’s excel League of Legends are moving away from the “game house” model and into a state-of-the-art training facility beside the famous Twickenham Rugby Stadium, where gamers are monitored by diet, mental health and physical performance.
This aims to provide competitors with separate spaces to train and review their performance while increasing their credibility as e-athletes. And more are following the leaders. Mental health problems accompanied the intensive, claustrophobic atmosphere of a 24/7 training routine where players rarely got a chance to decompress from each other’s company. Now, the pros are scheduling in non-gaming social time into their curriculums. Korean is approaching ESports more holistically and comes complete with features of traditional sports including a gym, a sports psychologist and relaxation rooms kitted with the best home stereo systems. With their history of outstanding achievement, it would be unwise not to follow their lead.
When it comes to good mental and physical health, gamers are benefitting from an increased amount of attention given to reaction speed, alertness, focus, and very importantly: clear strategic thinking. To perform at peak levels, ESports athletes are now expected to avoid glucose and other sugars that lead to spikes and crashes of energy, and encouraged to eat food groups like nuts and brown rice that stabilize blood sugar levels to maintain concentration, it’s a different era than the glory days of reaching for a slice of cold pizza. Michael “Flamesword” Chavez is leading the revolution in this, popularizing the idea of nutrition for ESports on his fitness website, and as always, the market has responded by creating product lines of sports supplements particularly geared to ESports.
One pioneer of this field is Dr. Itzik Zur who studies gamers and learns what triggers anxiety and anger, issues particularly common in the combat-heavy worlds of Counter-Strike and Call of Duty in particular. Dr. Zur provides advice on how to develop coping mechanisms to either reduce their emotional responses or refine them for better performance, he cites that response time can actually be improved by anger if is harnessed correctly.
The final frontier for any gamer is sleep, with the exhausting effects of blue light, time spent sitting and stress from playing, and “sleep hygiene” seems to have taken over the gaming community before it even became the topic of wellness blogs. The days of gaming till dawn and waking as the sun goes down are long gone for pros, and amateurs keen to start are taking their advice.
This is the new world of professional gaming, where the lines between a traditional athlete and an ESports competitor have faded, ESports has learned a lot from their track-and-field athletic counterparts, and now their habits and regimes resemble the lifestyle of top athletes rather than basement dwellers. These trends are expected to continue, as we see the gaming industry continue to grow larger, the same way YouTubers are now regarded as professional producers, editors, writers and more. But there’s always room for an Elvis or Usain bolt in a world where some people are simply born with extraordinary talent, for some, the only challenge is waiting for the technology to catch up with their abilities.