eSports Has Its Own Doping Problem
“Where there’s a large amount of money to be made, people will go to great lengths to get ahead. This has been seen in professional sports from Olympic doping scandals and the so-called “steroid era” of Major League Baseball some 15 years ago. Now, as eSports become more widespread and accepted as a legitimate form of entertainment, this growing industry is going through a similar issue.
Here, amphetamines are the big drug of choice. Drugs like Adderall allow players to stay alert for much longer than they would normally be able to, as well as helping them focus much more during a match. While it could very easily give a player an unfair advantage, it’s also not exactly clear what can or should be done about it.
The first time anyone looked seriously at doping in eSports was after Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) player Korey “Semphis” Friesen mentioned that he and his team, Cloud9, had taken Adderall before a tournament. This led to the Electronic Sports League (ESL) putting anti-doping measures in place to try and get ahead of the problem rather than deal with the kinds of scandals that plagued baseball and cycling over the last couple of decades.
A move like this could make a difference within the largest eSports tournament organizer, but they are far from a monopoly. Unlike major league sports, which are centralized under individual organizations for each sport, eSports are fragmented between various leagues and organizers, many of whom are turning a blind eye to the issue of doping.
While there has not yet been a successful attempt to do an in-depth investigation of eSports, reports from players indicate that the problem is widespread. In response to a tweet from eSports consultant and insider Rod Breslau, Fortnite streamer HighDistortion said, “Dude the [Gears of War] community has easily over half the players using it.”
Other reports point to drug abuse among players being an open secret in the eSports world. Adderall and Ritalin are the most common drugs, while even marijuana can give an unfair advantage, helping players calm down intense situations.
There has been some movement to address the problem. The Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC) was formed to deal with this, along with other issues like betting fraud and corruption. It is not the case that no one cares about the doping in the eSports world — it’s that no one is really sure what can be done about it. It’s not a straightforward problem that can be solved with simple drug tests. Traditional sports still struggle with this, even when there’s a single national or international body that governs all of it, and it’s more complicated in eSports for a number of reasons.
First, the cost of screening for Adderall usage makes the idea of implementing mandatory drug tests difficult. ESL has been doing tests for doping since 2016, but it’s an easy cost for a large organization like it to absorb. Smaller leagues, especially ones without support from game publishers, are going to have trouble paying $40,000 a year for the infrastructure necessary to do full drug tests on all competitors. Requiring drug testing from tournament organizers would put a huge financial burden on the smaller ones, a cost they’ll be unable to bear. This would further consolidate the power of the largest tournament organizers, a running problem in eSports in recent years.