Esports & its play on mental health

August 31

The pressure upon you while clutching on to the gamepad during your battle to success is inescapable. So are the side effects of pressure on your mental health. How good a gamer can you be with no control over your brain and mind?

The growth graph of esports industry is skyrocketing showing rise in competitive gaming and its popularity. With such growth comes greater responsibility and strain in maintaining the competitive edge. Hours of intense scrimmage sessions make them exhausted and the pressure to win, negative feedbacks & the fear of failure pulls down the players mentally risking their wellness. For all that a gamer expects is winning and cheering for his performance.

Poor mental health and stress management is a paradigm within this community. And with the World Health Organization including “gaming disorder” in their 11th Classification of Diseases list, the above-said statement is a solid one. Put yourself in the shoes of an aspiring pro gamer. With training and gaming starting from his childhood all he knows and likes would be games. Such a tiring schedule but his life depends on it. Imagine how bad it would be when all his struggles miss the mark. That, in short, is the crux of this matter. The mental fatigue and early burnout burning down the player is what is seen lately and the players suffer such illness in their adulthood onwards.

Let’s see the influence of mental illness on the lives of players:

  1. Detachment from life: Constant gaming leads to addiction and gaming disorders. Becoming a video game addict the player becomes disorientated and confuses virtual space with the real world. A player loses his ability for character development. The other side of detachment is caused when they don’t receive enough support from their parents as they are often forced to move away from their home to their team at a vulnerable age.


  1. The short tenure of gaming period: Players undergo training period from their childhood, some even before they turned thirteen like Vainglory player Benedict “MrKcool” Ward. Training ruthlessly goes on for not less than 6 hours at a stretch per day. “Your brain is changed structurally, functionally, biochemically, even genetically after you have engaged in those behaviors for a protracted period of time,” says Dr. Celeste Napier, head of the Center for Compulsive Behavior and Addiction at Rush University. When a player loses his flair in gaming he is forced to resign at an early age, say 25, causing career anxiety. Seventeen-year-old ‘veteran’ Alessandro Palmarini decided to take a year gap to focus on his esports career. He believes such breaks are necessary for a balance in life.


  1. Death notes and suicides: The extreme end of mental illness forces a player to take his life forever. Losing mental stability can be very tricky and its influence on a person is very high because the player himself does not have any control over his mind. A sense of belongingness starts fading away and loneliness sets in as they are away from their dear ones, gradually messing up their mind. “The idea of immediate rewards is very, very relevant to these people,” said Dr. Celeste Napier, head of the Center for Compulsive Behavior and Addiction at Rush University. Failure even after rigorous practice could mentally torture you.


Players who lived through mental illness:

  1. According to court records David Katz, as an adolescent was twice hospitalized in psychiatric facilities and was prescribed antipsychotic and antidepressant medications. After a loss in a Madden NFL tournament, he killed two people and then himself.


  1. Remember Justin “Plup” McGrath’s recent tweet about his first ever panic attack during the Evo 2018. The title contender was defeated right before the final leaving his fans nervous and confused. He has started taking medications and would probably return back in action at the earliest.


  1. Juan “Hungrybox” Debiedma, also a Melee player from the Florida region and former duos partner with McGrath was diagnosed with social anxiety and clinical depression as a child, “the situation seemed bizarrely akin to past experiences I’ve had, even though I’ve never competed on as large of a stage as McGrath”.


  1. Ashley “Rifty” Mayes, UK League of Legends top-laner for MnM Gaming suffers from BPD and Schizophrenic Tendencies and he says it has caused him a fair amount of harm.


  1. Dan “Aux” Harrison, League of Legends support player, exceL Esports was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder at the age of 19 and started to miss a ton of school. He missed classes and his grades suffered heavily. He reveals those times when he suffered from terrible mood swings and felt suicidal during his lowest points.


  1. Jamie “Tundra” Duthie, UK League of Legends veteran, coach and streamer had severe depression, self-harmed, suicide attempts, and days without being able to leave the bed.

These are just a few players who came forward in reporting these moments of hardship. There are pro gamers and non-players who are not confident to speak out their sufferings. Organizations like MIND, the Mental Health Foundation, and Anxiety Gaming connects players with therapists to assist competitors with stress management, burnout and depression. Whatever you are going through, know that there are people to help you out.

A sportsman’s mental health status would always be better than that of an esports player. Research reports establish a strong link between physical activity and mental wellness. The more you get active less are the chances for depression. Sport involve physical movements that have a positive impact on mental health regulating chemical serotonin, helps in releasing endorphins, prevents insomnia and acts as a mood stimulator. Whereas esports demands the players to be seated with less or no physical movements that is associated with development of psychological disorders.


Realise before it’s too late:

Prevention is better than cure. Look out for any symptoms of mental illness like muscle tension, migraine, asthma, heart diseases, high blood sugar and blood pressure, insomnia, poor judgment, confusion, detachment and difficulty in thinking. Teach the players to promote prosocial behavior, handling healthy competition, managing anger, stress, money, and life outside the game. “Compared with non-players, children who typically invest less than one-third of their daily free time showed higher levels of prosocial behavior and life satisfaction and lower levels of conduct problems, hyperactivity, peer problems, and emotional symptoms,” said Andrew Przybylski, an experimental psychologist based at the Oxford Internet Institute.


Esports as an industry is the involvement and commitment of children and youngsters who focus solely on winning highly competitive mentally taxing games. Therefore it is equally vital, just like any other sport, to create norms and taboos that benefit this community, for mental health issues not only affect pro gamers but every other non- gamers too.  Let’s hope the next Mental Health Awareness Week would be one to celebrate.  And as the saying goes “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” let’s change it to “all work and all play makes Jack a smart boy”.

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