The gaming world has always struggled to shake off stereotypes about teenage boys sitting in bedrooms. It might be true that Esports - the large-scale multiplayer video gaming tournaments - are now pretty big business that routinely churn out teenage millionaires and pull huge crowds of fans into massive stadiums, but amongst the general public, the stigma still stands. And to those of you who do have that image of young boys clicking away in their pyjamas, it won’t come as a surprise that marijuana use is still a widely accepted part of our gaming culture.
Gaming isn’t alone or distinct in this - as anyone who’s had even a passing encounter with a teenager can tell you – but as it becomes more and more accepted as a mainstream sport, it does have to start getting real. As the ongoing debacle over doping in athletics shows us, the issue of drug misuse in sport is a major concern for many fans, and gaming can be no exception. The most recent eSports scandal, wherein Counter-Strike: Global Offensive champion Kory “SEMPHIS” Friesen admitted that he and other members of his team took the ADHD drug Adderall, was shocking to many outside the sport because they were competing for prizes up to $250,000. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a complete surprise to those of us familiar with the territory.
Gamers are often derided as overgrown kids with a serious case of arrested development, but we should use this as an opportunity to ask ourselves why our young and talented players feel the need to take ADHD medication, or come in after a hefty few joints to ‘help them concentrate’, during tournaments. The prizes and stakes have never been higher for the increasingly professionalised teams of young gamers and as with all sports, the pressures of top-tier competitive gaming has led to far too many substance abuse suspicions.
In response to frank admissions from well-known players such as Friesen of widespread ADHD med and steroid misuse while in competition, the world’s largest Esport organisation, the Electronic Sports League (ESL), have recently released details of their new drugs policy. Working in conjunction with Germany's Nationale Anti Doping Agentur (NADA) and the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA), the ESL have also decided to include marijuana on the list of controlled substances. This change in particular has proven spectacularly unpopular in the gaming world.
It’s worth bearing in mind that many Esports gamers genuinely are teenagers, with companies like Riot Games fielding some players as young as 17. Most have professional careers that are over by their mid-20s and only a select few manage to maintain a career afterwards as a personality or “Sportscaster”. Gamers are also likely to spend nearly all their time competing in tournaments or playing their chosen game relentlessly and as technology changes, so to do the games. Footballers don’t have to learn a new sport every 3 years but most pro-gamers do, with nearly every new competitive gamer requiring hours of training and strategising to even compete on a global level. With these kinds of pressures, is it any wonder they feel the need for the odd joint or Ritalin pill?
20 best video games in 2015
20 best video games in 2015
1/20 The Legend of Zelda
Nintendo haven’t given too much away so far, but judging by the open world, stunning views, vast maps and ability to attack while Link’s horse Epona rides ahead avoiding obstacles, it’s unlikely to let fans down. Release date: 2015
2/20 Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
Set to follow years after the stunning Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, Naughty Dog’s dramatic adventure will come exclusively to the PlayStation 4, and will promise the mystery of protagonist Nathan’s “greatest adventure yet”. Release date: 2015
Five players: one monster, four hunters, two conflicting aims. The monster can evolve by killing creatures, while the hunters must work together to take them down. This multiplayer looks set to offer something a little more unique, and a real need to cultivate your characters’ skills in order to succeed. Release date: February 10, 2015
4/20 No Man's Sky
When revealed at E3 last June, the sheer scope covered in their three minute video ensured this upcoming title from British video game developer Hello Games made it into several ‘best of E3 lists’. The exploration potential via a spacecraft across the universe is huge, from deserts to dinosaurs to deep oceans. Release date: 2015
Another entry from Nintendo will see a move in a different direction for the gaming giant. This colourful family-friendly shooter seems two teams of four battle it out to cover the ground in ink. Play once, and you won’t want to leave the inky arena. Release date: Early 2015
6/20 The Order 1886
The PlayStation 4 exclusive is set in a dark and mysterious London, where monsters (half animal, half man) roam the streets. The third-person shooter from Ready At Dawn shared a new trailer on Christmas day, with a glimpse of the terrifying werewolf-esque creatures to put everyone in the festive mood. Release date: 20 February 2015
Set in the gothic city of Y'harnam where a strange endemic illness spreads through the streets in the form of mobs and monsters, the new action RPG release from the makers of Dark Souls was one of the hit trailers from E3 2014. Release date (UK): 27 March, 2015
8/20 Batman: Arkham Knight
The fourth in the Batman: Arkham series will see our dark superhero confront The Scarecrow, and it’ll be the first time fans get to drive the Batmobile – which can be summoned to the player’s location. Release date: June 2015
9/20 Mortal Kombat X
22 years since its first ever release, the tenth title in the fighting series is set to be gorier than ever, with brutally detailed X-Ray moves. The story is set to begin at the end of the last game released in 2011. Release date: April 2015
10/20 Yoshi’s Woolly World
The latest outing from Mario’s dinosaur sidekick takes the lead from Kirby's Epic Yarn, where everything is made of wool. For the Wii U, the game will promise some utterly adorable side-scrolling from Nintendo. Release date: Early 2015
11/20 Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number
The sequel to the surprise hit from Devolver Digital will see an unlockable ‘hard mode’ for those who find attacking those enemies too darn easy, and also a ‘level editor’, where players can create their own tricky challenges. Release date: early 2015
12/20 Kirby and the Rainbow Curse
Our greedy pink friend will need rainbow lines to be drawn on the GamePad in order to go forward, and the Wii U game will support Nintendo’s Amiibo figures. Release date: late 2015
13/20 The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The third in the action role-playing series based on the fantasy novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski is set to be '30 times larger' than the previous games, for monster hunter Geralt to explore. Release date: 19 May, 2015
14/20 Star Fox
The first in the series to be released in nine years will use the Wii U’s GamePad to allow the player to view the cockpit in the Arwing fighter. Release date: 2015
15/20 Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
Following on from last year’s Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, the new game from Konami follows the mercenary leader Venom Snake as he ventures into Africa, 17 years after the series began. Release date: 2015
16/20 Tom Clancy’s The Division
Inspired by, real-world events which "revealed how vulnerable we've become", Ubisoft’s open world third-person shooter will see players act to control disease spread because of germs on banknotes. Release date: 2015
17/20 Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege
Ubisoft’s first-person shooter will feature counter terrorist scenarios - it’s all about tactic and team play (and explosions). Release date: 2015
18/20 Battlefield Hardline
With the ‘war against crime’ a focus for the new game in the series, EA’s first person shooter will feature a ‘cops and robbers’ gameplay style. Release date: March 2015
19/20 Halo 5 Guardians
The sequel to 2012’s Halo 4 by 343 Industries will require players to ‘solve a mystery that threatens the entire galaxy. Its release will coincide with the Halo television series produced by Steven Spielberg. Release date: late 2015
20/20 Dead Island 2
The survival horror from Deep Silver is the fifth instalment in the series, and will be set in a quarantined California, where the zombies roam free. Release date: Mid-2015
Meanwhile, the popularity of competitive gaming continues to skyrocket. Estimated viewing figures of Esports for 2013 showed that they were reaching nearly 72 million people worldwide. Multiplayer online battle arena (Moba) games such as League of Legends and Dota 2 continue to dominate the field and play host to their own lavish sports tournaments, most notably the International Dota 2 Championship Series and League of Legends World Championship which offer multi-million dollar prizes to the champions and the much desired bragging rights that come with it.
Perhaps the lesson we should take from this is that without addressing the underlying pressures of the uniquely stressful sport itself, teenage competitors are going to seek ways to alleviate that stress. Instead of just screening for another substance, we need to tackle the root of the issue. Gaming is now taken seriously by millions, whether other sportsmen like it or not; taking a serious look at our tactics – and our doping - is a natural result of this, so we need to resist shying away from the dialogue.