This was not an easy post for me to write. I love gaming and I’ve loved watching esports grow. I spend most of my effort trying to advocate for esports. There are, however, some negative effects to gaming and esports.
What are the top 10 negative effects of gaming & esports?
- Health Risks
- Mental health
- Performance enhancing drugs
- No players union
In my opinion, a lot of the negatives on this list can be applied to most sports. If you want to do your “due diligence in research”, check out my post on the 10 Positives of Esports and Gaming (opens new tab).
1. Health Risks
In case you haven’t noticed, this website is all about bringing better performance to esports and gamers by improving the health and fitness of players.
It wouldn’t be a CyberAthletiks list if it didn’t include health at the top.
Unfortunately, gaming comes with some significant health risks. I want to point out, however, competition is not about health. If you want to be healthy, don’t compete.
Trying to be the best at anything in the world is going to come with inherent risks. Marathon runners might mess up their knees, baseball pitchers might destroy a shoulder, and powerlifters might ruin their back.
This doesn’t mean gamers should just accept the risk and remain complacent.
If you are a competitive gamer or want to be, acquiring an injury or illness that could have been prevented is just laziness and your performance will suffer.
Too much sitting
Ever heard “sitting is the new smoking”? Well, there is some truth to that. People weren’t meant to sit on their glutes and hamstrings all day.
So while I’m a believer in proper ergonomics while gaming, you’ll still be sitting.
Being sedentary for too long is starting to be linked to numerous health complications such as:
- Heart Disease
- Diabetes (Type 2)
- Weight gain
- Mental health
- Metabolic syndrome
- Back/Neck pain
- Muscle degeneration
Don’t believe me? Check out the compiled research over at getamericastanding.org.
While I’m a huge proponent of standing desks, I don’t necessarily recommend them for gamers. In my post on standing desks for gamers, I discuss more on my rationale for why gamers may not want to completely switch to a standing desk.
Although gaming comes with the health consequences associated with being sedentary, there are always opportunities to move more and sit less.
Also, learning how to maximize your practice so that you can spend less time gaming and more time in training, recovery and activities you enjoy, will enable a longer and healthier gaming career.
Yes, esports athletes and competitive gamers get injuries. You’ve probably heard about Repetitive Stress Injuries, but there are other surprising injuries associated with gaming.
For a longer discussion on injuries in esports, check out my post: Pro Gaming Injuries – What Gamers Need to Know.
Repetitive Strain Injuries
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is probably the most known about and feared repetitive strain injury for esports athletes and competitive gamers.
I want to make clear that carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive strain injury are not synonymous terms for the same injury.
Repetitive strain injury is a term for many different cumulative trauma disorders that include carpal tunnel syndrome.
So, if you have CTS then you have an RSI, but if you have an RSI, you do not necessarily have CTS (it could be tendinitis, epicondylitis, cubital tunnel syndrome etc.).
In a nutshell, the Carpal Tunnel is located around your wrist. There’s a small tunnel in your wrist made up of ligaments and bone.
Within this small tunnel run tendons that allow you to flex your fingers. Also in the Carpal Tunnel is the Median Nerve, and its job is to communicate with your brain so that you can move and control your thumb, and feel things on the thumb side of your hand.
In case you haven’t guessed, the Carpal Tunnel is very small and limited. Any sort of swelling or inflammation of the tissue surrounding it can put pressure on the nerves.
Basically, the symptoms associated with CTS (tingling, numbness and burning) is a result of the breakdown in communication between the nerve in the carpal tunnel and your brain.
Back in 2011 Lee “Flash” Young, one of the greatest Starcraft 2 players ended up getting surgery for a wrist problem he had.
Things were so bad he ended up staying in a sports rehabilitation centre.
This may sound like a dramatic injury that shouldn’t be associated with gaming. Collapsed lung, or ‘pneumothorax’, is defined as “the presence of air or gas in the cavity between the lungs and the chest wall, causing the collapse of the lung”.
Now, before you start taking some long deep breaths, be aware that over the last decade, there have been less than a dozen reported cases of the collapsed lung in esports athletes.
It is much easier to prevent this from happening than to actually have it happen.
In esports athletes and gamers, a collapsed lung is most likely the result of a combination of bad habits, such as:
- poor posture
- unhealthy diet
- inactive lifestyle
- poor breathing techniques
3. Mental Health
A gamer’s mental health is just as important as their physical health. Physical injuries in esports come as no surprise—they happen in every sport, but gamers experiencing challenges with their mental health may see a big dip in their performance during competition.
It’s hard to say what mental health challenges are most prevalent in esports, but the two big ones I’ve read about in the media are anxiety (especially in the form of panic attacks) and depression.
Anxiety can present itself in many different forms. Justin “Plup” McGrath, who competes in Super Smash Bros. Melee, experienced anxiety in the form of a panic attack; LoL pro Diego “Quas” Ruiz retired from esports after being suspended and spoke out about his battle with depression.
Just do a quick search about mental health in esports and you may be surprised to find that competitive gamers are having a lot more to contend with outside of physical injuries.
I wrote a post on tips for mental health in esports which you can check out here. The combination of being sedentary with little priority given for recovery will take its toll on competitive gamers mental health.
Gamers will benefit both in health and performance if they put some priority into their mental well-being.
Anything with the potential to be addictive will typically get 10% of a community addicted to it. So, for alcohol, roughly 10% of people in societies where alcohol is prevalent will end up struggling with alcohol addiction.
Gaming, according to the ‘World Health Organization’ (WHO), can lead to ‘gaming disorder‘. Gaming disorder is described by WHO as:
Gaming disorder is defined in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.
For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.
For most of you reading this will probably shrug off any warnings about gaming and addiction, and that’s ok. But don’t deny it, people become addicted to all sorts of things.
It’s bad for the gaming community to turn a blind eye when outsiders point to the negative effects.
And there was Neil Roberston, an elite snooker player who stated gaming and almost ruined his career when he became addicted.
I remember watching this documentary when World of Warcraft was sweeping over the world:
I think it’s safe to say with the above examples that gaming addiction absolutely exists.
However, things get murky with esports and competitive gaming. Some of the guidelines and warnings state that anything over 20 hours a week is problematic.
Well, that’s like saying an NBA player who practices for over 20 hours a week is addicted to basketball. Sometimes, or a lot of times, outsiders just don’t understand.
If you suspect yourself or someone you know has a gaming addiction I would recommend checking out this website: gamequitters.com.
5. Performance Enhancing Drugs
Athletic competition at an elite level will always have performance-enhancing drugs.
I’m sorry to burst anyone’s bubble, but if you think drug testing in sports stops athletes from using drugs, you are very mistaken.
Where there are fame, honour and finances to be earned, the temptation to get an edge over the competition is often too alluring for many competitors.
In esports right now, performance-enhancing drugs usually take the form of stimulants like Adderall. Back in 2015, CS:GO player Kory “Semphis” Friesen had stated that his entire team was using Adderall.
It was around this time that the esports community started to question just how rampant performance-enhancing drugs were among the players.
Using and abusing stimulants such as Adderall come with a risk to a players health. Some of the side effects from abuse can include:
- Dry mouth
- Digestive issues
- Reduced appetite
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Pounding or fast heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty sleeping and staying asleep
- Excessive fatigue
I really wouldn’t recommend risking any of these side effects for a short term gain, especially considering how devastating they could be on performance. I’ve also written two other posts on the subject of performance-enhancing drugs for gamers:
Should esports drug test athletes?
I’m often on the fence about this topic. I believe the use of performance-enhancing drugs is going to occur whether or not athletes are being tested. It’s like a bike lock, it keeps honest people honest.
My problem is on the costs associated with drug testing. The Olympics, for example, spend over $300,000 a year on testing.
Athletes, however, are constantly searching for designer drugs that pass these tests or learning ways to manipulate variables in order to pass a test.
My thinking is, why bother spending the money if it barely works? Additionally, drug testing is extremely invasive, just read this article: Drug Tests Treat Athletes Like Extraterrestrials.
Anytime I discuss this topic I can’t help but think of Daniel Tosh’s joke:
I think pro-athletes should be forced to use steroids. I think we as fans deserve the greatest athletes science can create! Lets go! Anything that will make you run faster, jump higher! I have High-Definition TV! I want my athletes like my video games! Lets go! I could care less if you die at 40. You’ll hate life after sports anyways. I’m doing you a favor.
Where’s there’s money there will be cheating and corruption, and esports is no exception. What is match-fixing in esports? It’s a competitive match played with either pre-determined results or partially pre-determined results.
That is, the outcome of a game is known before it even starts.
Match-fixing is often fueled by gambling or other financial reasons (e.g., one organization bribing another).
Esports has had its fair share of match-fixing scandals and it’s probably been happening ever since competitive gaming existed.
I remember the CS:GO 2014 match-fixing scandal. It was between iBUYPOWER and NetcodeGuides.com, and it was the first of its kind. Evidence began to surface that some of the iBUYBOWER players had bet skins against themselves.
The result was some hefty bans for the iBUYPOWER players who were involved. If you watch some of the match highlights, it’s pretty obvious something suspicious was going on.
In 2010, StarCraft was the centre of match-fixing scandals. Players were being approached by online betting websites and some made deals to throw games for financial gains.
There were 11 players that got banned and some even faced criminal charges and possible jail time due to Korean law.
Money corrupts. Corruption is even easier when there’s no organization that governs esports, it’s sort of the Wild West out there.
Probably the most famous example of esports corruption is in the story of the League of Legends, well, legend, Cheon ‘Promise’ Min-Ki. Promise’s sad story is full of lies and deception by his management.
When it was realized that everything was on loan (salaries, computers, housing) pressure was then put on the players to fix matches in an effort to recoup spent money.
Unfortunately, Promise was the victim of his manager’s corruption and even attempted suicide after the incident.
The promise has since recovered and appears to be living out of the spotlight, I hope he is doing well and enjoying life.
Esports match-fixing and corruption have something in common, gambling. And not just any type of gambling, but an unregulated, non-age restricted gambling catastrophe.
What makes esports gambling such a catastrophe is the use of skins. Skins are a huge micro-transaction in many esports games.
Children, yes, literally a child of any age, can earn skins and use them to bet. If they win, the skins can often be traded in for real money.
To make matters potentially worse, the United States Supreme Court took away the federal law that prohibited states from legalizing many forms of betting on professional and collegiate sporting events.
While I’m not against betting on sports and esports, the current issue is with underage children having the ability to gamble in a seemingly unregulated environment.
With more opportunities to gamble, more websites for esports gambling will pop up, many of which will entice underage users to bet with skins.
9. No Players Union
Player unions for sports are organized associations that aim to protect players and further their rights and interests.
Currently, this does not exist in esports. That means organizations have no rules or laws to abide by how they treat their players.
Unions help give its members a voice. Organizations, team owners, tournament/league organizers currently have the biggest say when it comes to decisions in esports. In theory, a union in esports would help protect players from being taken advantage of or being treated as a commodity.
There are, however, some big barriers for esports players unions. Some of them include the numerous different titles/games in esports. In professional baseball, there’s a baseball players union.
But in esports, do you have a union for each game? What happens when games fall out or when new games become an esport?
Additionally, esports players can live anywhere in the world and still compete and be part of a team that competes all over the world. It would be very difficult to enact a union that stretched the globe.
An esports players union is a bit of a touchy subject. Some argue it’s necessary, some argue it’s not, and that it would, in fact, be detrimental.
Due to the legal challenges in creating a union for esports players, it’s probably not going to happen anytime soon.
Well, this is just an obvious negative side of gaming and esports. Nobody likes a cheater.
Players have been caught cheating in almost every major esports game and there doesn’t seem to be any sort of guaranteed solution in sight.