Its competitors might not be faced with the exhausting mountain climbs of the Tour de France or the rigors of Major League Baseball, but that doesn't mean professional video gaming is free from the grip of doping in sports. The world's largest esports organization ESL, which hosts a US$250,000 Counter-Strike tournament in Germany next month, is partnering with anti-doping authorities to clamp down on gamers resorting to performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) to gain an edge.
The initiative is a first for the world of esports, but that doesn't mean drug use was exactly permitted before. The ESL (Electronic Sports League) rulebook states that "to play a match, be it online or offline, under the influence of any drugs, alcohol, or other performance enhancers is strictly prohibited, and may be punished with exclusion from the ESL One."
ESL One is a series of major tournaments with big money involved, drawing players from all over the world to battle it out in the wildly popular virtual worlds of Dota 2, Counter Strike and Battlefield 4. As competitive gaming has grown and attracted more dedicated professionals, sponsors, broadcasting deals and global audiences, so too has the pressure to perform.
Adderall, the apparent drug of choice for elite video gamers is a far cry from anabolic steroids or human growth hormones found in more physical sports, but has come to be indispensable for some all the same. This stimulant is normally prescribed for people with narcolepsy or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but is also used as means of boosting concentration. The properties and those of similar medications like Ritalin have seen them labeled "study drugs", for their attractiveness to college students pulling all nighters ahead of exams.
Things boiled over when an off-the-cuff comment from a prolific Counter-Strike player earlier this month painted a picture of rampant Adderall use among the esport's elite. During an interview, Kory Friesen was speaking about his team's chaotic communications during a recent competition when he said, "I don't even care, we were all on Adderall, I don't even give a f*ck, like it's pretty obvious."
This has set the wheels in motion for a clampdown on drug use in ESL competitions. The organization has teamed up with Germany's anti-doping agency Nationale Anti-Doping Agentur (NADA) to draw up an PED policy that "is fair, reasonable and conclusive while also respecting the privacy of players." This will mean that players attending next month's Counter-Strike tournament will be subjected to PED skin tests in an effort to sniff out those playing outside the rules.
The ESL will then consult the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which is based in Montreal, Canada, to roll out similar approaches for other regions around the world.