Drug Use in Esports: Why Nobody Talks About It

Abhimannu Das
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<div class="paragraphs"><p>Drug Use in Esports</p></div>

In June 2021, Call of Duty 2020 World Championship winner, Cuyler ‘Huke’ Garland opened up about Adderall use as a professional esports player to cope with the competitive pressure. He eventually adopted a “positive lifestyle” to stay clean. FaZe Clan’s Doug ‘Censor’ Martin lauded the player and said, “I hope we can have a system to drug test players - not so much to make an even playing field, because I don’t care if my comp takes it, more so for their long term health.” But just how deep does the esports drug problem run?

AFK Gaming reached out to Dr. Ian Tan - co-founder of The Gaming Company (TGC) and Esports Business Network (EBN). He introduced himself as a fully licensed medical doctor who has been a part of esports and esports marketing. He shared his insights on drug use in esports and talked about how challenging it is for stakeholders in the esports industry to control drug use.

Disclaimer: Dr. Tan’s opinions are personal and given in his capacity as a medical professional. They do not reflect his position as a co-founder of Esports Business Network (EBN).

What is Adderall and why do esports players use it?

According to WebMD, Adderall is a combination medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder - ADHD. It works by changing the amounts of certain natural substances in the brain. Vyvanse and Ritalin are alternative drugs that are used instead of Adderall in some cases. But the unintended use of these drugs is not limited to students alone. It now seems like professional esports players are also in on it, as these drugs can act as performance enhancers and can improve their reflexes.

The use of such drugs raises a lot of questions about the competitive integrity of esports and if tournament organizers and publishers are doing enough to stop drug abuse. There is also the debate on whether prescribed substances can be regulated by professional leagues in the first place - a question that can be difficult to answer.

Dr. Ian Tan - co-founder of The Gaming Company (TGC) and Esports Business Network (EBN)

Tan revealed that, “any drugs that are able to improve focus can be deemed as a performance enhancer. Because most games, if not all, require a high degree of focus that syncs up with the muscle memory of the hands.

How common is drug use in esports?

There are multiple instances of pro players talking about how common drug use is in competitive esports. Overwatch League’s Timo “Taimou” Kettunen claimed in November 2018 that there were over 20 players in the League that used Adderall. Interestingly, the Overwatch League, which was very big in the 2018-2019 period, did not have any form of drug testing. And things have not changed in three years since Taimou and multiple media outlets brought up the issue.

Professional CS:GO player, Kory “Semphis” Friesen, admitted in a YouTube interview that his entire team made use of Adderall during a major event which featured a prize pool of $250,000 USD. Jimmy “HighDistortion” Moreno who is a former Gears of War (GoW) pro claimed that over half the GoW community has players using Adderall.

It is impossible to gauge how common the issue is unless esports professionals openly talk about it and there is currently no way to find out how common the issue is in esports.

What are esports organizations doing to stop drug use?

The Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC) has an anti-doping code which includes prohibited substances and it does include Dextroamphetamine (Adderall and Adderall XR) as well as other non-stimulant medications for ADHD and other anxiety medications. However, the same cannot be said for other esports entities.

The ESL Pro League for CS:GO had testing for performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs), but whatever progress stakeholders made towards controlling drug use has come to a halt with the COVID-19 pandemic making LAN events a thing of the past. Drug testing is challenging in the current climate with players competing from different parts of the world, making it easy to fake tests without proper monitoring.

Tan revealed that drug testing is not widely done as of now globally and the most recent experience he had was in the Philippines where it is mandatory for players to get tested prior to a tournament. While it is necessary, he feels that “it is impossible” to do so online, as drug tests need to be done within a controlled environment where there is no opportunity to be consumed after a test.

What can the esports community do to control drug use?

Esports event organizers have quite the challenge in their hands if they want to put a stop to drug use. There is no real way of rigorous testing as organizers would need to verify if some players actually need Adderall or not. However, if the esports industry stakeholders do not come up with a solution, things will only get worse. Drug use in esports is not just about an unfair mean to win prize money and glory. It affects the health of young individuals who find themselves using substances to keep up with the competitive pressure.

Online tournaments are too difficult to control. Tan stated that a “document can be forged, or a player can stay "clean" prior to testing, and still consume the drug prior to game without repercussions. In a controlled setting such as on-ground events, it is possible to conduct "spot checks" and even post event drug tests to check for infringements.

According to him the best way to tackle drug use in esports is through “strict enforcement by each country's national esports association that is governed by a unified global body.” He feels that it is the best way to legitimize esports to become a sport.

I want the freedom as a gamer to exercise my right,” said Tan, “But for legitimizing the sport, we must all come together as one regardless of game genre, race or gender, to fight doping in esports together. For players with genuine afflictions, I understand their plight. This should always go up to a governing body to decide on the matter.” He hopes esports achieves an equal ground where players can compete based on skill and hard work, without the need for enhancements to gain a competitive edge.

If some form of testing becomes more commonplace and guidelines similar to ESIC’s anti-doping code are implemented in more esports events, we can potentially see a decline in drug use. But the ESIC’s anti-doping regulations are also open to criticism as players who genuinely need these drugs can feel isolated and discriminated against since it outright bans the use of substances, including prescription drugs, that can boost performance. Stakeholders will need to properly evaluate players and have a flexible anti-doping code in place if the industry is to seriously tackle the issue.

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