Pro-Gamers Turning to Performance Enhancing Drugs
Looking for a competitive edge, some pro-gamers turn to marijuana, amphetamines, and more
Doping scandals in the world of sports are nothing new. As far back as 1889, James Francis "Pud" Galvin, the first pro-baseball pitcher to win 300 games, was advertising an elixir of monkey testosterone which he regularly took. Today, in sports as diverse as baseball, cycling, mixed martial arts, and track and field, athletes are regularly banned and suspended for drug use.
Now, there's a new professional sport that's drawing these timeless tough questions -- professional gaming. While some don't consider pro gaming a "sport" per se, they cannot deny the facts -- top pro gamers are professionals who are making a good deal of money, and regularly use their prestige to create lucrative brands.
In the U.S. alone there are two major leagues: Major League Gaming, which offers up to $100,000 a tournament in prize money and the newly created Championship Gaming Series, which has offered as much as $500,000 in tournaments. These leagues have big sponsors. Internationally, pro gaming is even bigger than here in the U.S. with elite gamers in countries like South Korea gaining celebrity status.
And like any sport where there's money involved, some people look to illegal or unregulated, but dangerous means to enhance their performance. GamePlayer, Australia's leading gaming site ran an interesting piece on the topic where it identified commonly abused substances. It identified, marijuana, amphetamines (speed), Dexamphetamine and Methylphenidate (Ritalin), Caffeine, and FpsBrain, the German drug cocktail previously blogged about here on DailyTech, as common drugs used when players want to gain an underhanded edge.
All of these drugs have serious consequences, particularly speed, which is known for its high fatality rate (no pun intended). But is this use really going on? GamePlayer wrote a follow-up piece in which it interviews Alex Walker, the director of a major international gaming tournament, the Australian World Cyber Games Tournament.
When asked if he knows of players abusing drugs with the intention of enhancing performance, Mr. Walker acknowledged:
Worldwide, there seems to be a silent consensus that this is occurring, be it players using illegal drugs or abusing legal ones, such as caffeine pills. While its certainly questionable whether these drugs overall truly give players an unfair advantage, or if a placebo effect from thinking they have an advantage comes into play, the fact remains that this is a surprisingly serious issue for this fun-centric sport to address.It's funny because it's true. I know a lot of people through games that take drugs, although that's not related to gaming. It's more a social thing. But get any large group of people together, add drugs, and someone's bound to push the limit.
I noticed that you made a mention about people claiming they were better after having a bong or two. That's true. I've seen a number of players at national tournaments who came in "baked" (that's stoned for the uninformed) purely so they could play better. In most cases they did, although obviously they couldn't just pull out another joint midway through.
In one WCG, a player I knew took amphetamines an hour before his match to boost his reflexes. His team ended up losing the match, although it certainly had an impact - his performance helped his team to win one map out of three - it kind of hits home that only the really talented will come out on top in the end.
It's going to be tough to find a solution, as experts point out. Drug testing can be very expensive, and gaming leagues already struggle under lower profit margins and less sponsorships than most major league sports. Furthermore, casual usage of substances such as marijuana has often been associated with the gaming culture and enacting strict drug testing could create a backlash among gamers.
Directors like Mr. Walker, have seen people in the past gaming in an obviously altered state. In these occurrences, perhaps a kind reprimand and request to leave would be sufficient. At least then pro-gaming would not have to suffer the negative PR from reports that it is turning a blind eye to drug abuse.