Obviously, I need to get out more. And obviously, I am not as in with the cool kids as I thought. I had no idea that there were professional video gamers, let along professional video game leagues. It’s kind of like waking up and discovering that you’ve been peeling bananas from the wrong end your whole life.
But sure enough, there is an Electronic Sports League (based in Cologne, Germany) that dates back to 1997. It has 5 million members on 1 million teams. There’s prize money involved — a tournament of the first-person shooting game “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” had a $250,000 prize pool.
In fact, there’s some serious money to be made. One kid named Sumail Hassan will never be called a nerd after winning $200,000 in one month; his winnings are not related to the ESL.
Where money is involved, there is cheating (one of the things we humans do best). The practice of “over-clocking” has been banned by the ESL, and it has developed software to prevent it. OVC is basically using software or hardware to make your machine run faster. If your computer responds faster than the other players’ devices, you don’t have to be a better player to win. It’s like a race between a Formula 1 race car and my Mom’s 1977 AMC Pacer.
Another issue in the ESL is the use of “performance-enhancing drugs.” Apparently, the use of amphetamines (what we used to call “uppers”) is not unheard of. Reuters reported on Kory Friesen, “who now plays Counter-Strike for the team Nihilum Gaming, spoke about his performance with a former team at a recent $250,000 tournament.” Mr. Friesen stated that “we were all on Adderall,” he said with a laugh. “Tons of people do it.”
That same Reuters report said, “The ESL said it will partner with the World Anti-Doping Agency and Germany’s anti-doping agency to develop a policy on the issue and aims to perform tests at all of its major events once the policy is established. … The ESL said it has long banned players from using drugs or alcohol at its events, like many other organizations, but that it will be the first to test its cyber athletes.”
OK, let’s all take a couple of minutes to laugh at the term “cyber athletes” just to get it out of our systems. Better? Good. The article now continues.
The use of drugs without medical supervision is, I believe, just dumb (I include in this alcohol and nicotine). At the same time, I don’t have a problem with people who disagree taking whatever they want. The government needs to stay out of it. But if a private group, like the ESL, wants to ban the use of various substances, that’s their business.
Does Adderall make you play better? Who knows? What is beyond dispute is that the U.S. military has been drugging our troops to keep them awake, and stimulants actually help you learn by aiding the formation of long-term memories. ESL participants may benefit from the same thing.
There may well be a placebo effect, too; if you believe a pill makes you better, you might just perform better thanks to increased self-confidence. Clearly, if there are people winning money while on it, it doesn’t distract from the game very much.
What is most troubling to me is the risk that stimulants are correlated to post-traumatic stress disorder (correlated does not establish a causal relationship, but that’s another issue). Just what we need, cyber athletes with PSTD.
Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.