Health experts and pro players tell why ergonomics, building stamina slowly and physical exercise can help eSports athletes stay healthy and achieve tournament success.
In traditional sports like football or basketball, injuries remain not only common but expected. And while most of the action in an eSport like League of Legends takes place in a digital world, staying fit in the real world is becoming integral to the longevity of any competitive gaming champion.
Proper conditioning can be essential to counter balance an eSport athlete’s intense focus and the repetitive movements required for back-to-back, day-long tournaments.
“Most players I know that are competing at the highest level are already exercising or doing things to lead a healthy lifestyle, but if they weren’t I’d say definitely start as it really does improve the quality of practice you have and also your mindset as a whole,” Starcraft 2 player Samayan‘BlinG’ Kay of Team Dignitas said in an interview with Red Bull.
It’s not uncommon for team players to practice between 12 and 14 hours per day, leaving little time for a healthy meal and good night’s sleep. This lifestyle can even lead top-tier players to suffer serious injuries.
In 2011, Lee “Flash” Young Ho underwent surgery to repair his tendonitis. In 2014, Clinton “Fear” Loomis, one of the best DOTA 2 players in North America, was benched by tennis elbow, a condition that comes from overtaxing the hand and forearm muscles.
“Continual rapid movements over prolonged periods of time can cause inflammation,” said Dr. Daniel Polatsch, co-director of the New York Hand and Wrist Center.
Polatsch has treated plenty of injuries caused by the excessive hand and wrist movements associated with professional gaming.
“The fingers are controlled by tendons, which connect muscles to bone. With repetitive use, you can get inflammation, which can cause pain and a constriction in tendons,” he said.
While these injuries can be painful, they aren’t serious — unless they’re left untreated.
Polatsch said injured players who push themselves too hard can make things worse, going from pain that can be treated with anti-inflammatory medications to something that requires the player to see a hand surgeon or specialist.
Fortunately, there are ways for players to protect themselves. According to Polatsch, the secret to staying healthy while following an arduous training schedule is to ramp up slowly.
Just how runners train for a marathon, competitive gamers need to train and build up tolerance and stamina over time.
“As long as you advance slowly and have proper ergonomics—sitting in a proper chair, with your back straight and your feet on the floor—it’s usually not a problem,” Polatsch said.
Daily physical exercise can do wonders for protecting competitive players, even giving them a competitive edge.
“Tendons that receive proper nutrition are less likely to have problems,” Polatsch explained. “So weightlifting and cardiovascular exercises help keep us more limber and reduce the likelihood of repetitive stress syndromes.”
Breaking a sweat even sharpens the skills needed to compete, according to An “Balls” Van Le, current substitute and former player for the League of Legends team Cloud9. Le is a dedicated gym rat, defying the typical image of the sedentary gamer. Despite his intense training schedule — and the extracurricular gaming he enjoys during off-hours — Le almost never misses a day at the gym.
“It gives me more energy,” he said. “After a gym session, I feel more awake for the scrims [practice games the team plays together]. I can think more clearly.”
Clarity is critical to competing in eSports, especially League of Legends.
“In League, you have to think fast,” he said. “You have to be really smart.”
Le played tennis throughout high school before taking up professional gaming. Learning how to train and compete on the court helped him prepare for a career in eSports.
Racket sports and eSports share a lot in common, according to Le. Both require mental jousting and quick reflexes. They require players to think about what it takes to out-maneuver an opponent.
Before any serious match, Le insists on a healthy dose of exercise in order to working off pre-competition anxiety.
“I think it helps me play better,” he said. “I biked around Santa Monica beach once for two hours before an LCS match. It keeps your blood flowing.”
So far, Le has avoided sidelining wrist injuries. He attributes that to years of developing a strong grip on the tennis racket. Le said that his physically active lifestyle isn’t just improving his game, it’s keeping him out of the doctor’s office and in more tournaments.