Esports Doping

A guide to esports doping and how esports players use nootropics and prescription drugs to enhance their reflexes and reaction speed.

It’s no secret that the world of eSports is a competitive one. Players have to be at their best to win, and this sometimes means taking risks, including doping. Esports doping has been in the limelight since the early years of eSports tournaments.

In this article, we explore the intricacies of this phenomenon.

Doping in eSports Explained

While some are still trying to figure out what eSports are, it’s been well-established and profitable for years now. One thing that has not yet become common knowledge to all is eSports doping.

eSports doping and traditional doping have the same definition. According to the American College of Medical Toxicology, it’s the “use of prohibited medications, drugs, or treatments” to boost performance. Doping is synonymous with performance enhancers. The most common drug used in traditional sports is steroids and Adderall for eSports.

Different performance enhancement drugs have varying effects on the body. In football and basketball, doping results in increased endurance, muscle mass, and sometimes a decrease in recovery time. On the other hand, eSports professional players use prohibited drugs to be more focused on the game.

Using prohibited substances like Adderall in eSports Is inherently incorrect and damages eSports’ reputation and overall spirit. Different eSports organizations like the International eSports Federation and ESL have made steps for doping incidents.

They have discussed this issue with various anti-doping agencies like the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). More so, the eSports community has developed its anti-eSports doping, the Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC).

ESIC has adopted WADA’S Anti-Doping Rule Violations and revised it a bit to fit eSports. They are as follows:

  1. When any prohibited substance is found in any of the player’s specimen
  2. A player using or attempted to use a prohibited substance even if it was a failure
  3. Declining or failing to give a sample collection after being informed to do so
  4. Tampering or attempted to tamper with anything considered vital to an anti-doping investigation
  5. Possession of a prohibited substance, unless established as an exemption
  6. Trafficking a prohibited substance
  7. Individual applying or attempted administration of a prohibited substance to a player
  8. Revealing or confessing that they did numbers 1 to 7
  9. Acting as an accomplice or encouraging a player to take a prohibited substance
  10. Association with a player who took part in a doping incident

Although the regulation in eSports doping was swift, there are some aspects up for improvement. In an interview, Michele Verroken, an anti-doping expert, stated that she works closely with teams to iron out anti-doping policy.

Another difference she noted between anti-doping procedures in traditional sports and eSports is the testing. Anti-doping tests in eSports are done orally to catch those using Adderall or even marijuana. She got this idea from the players. She added that “there’s [a] huge engagement with the players,” unlike those in basketball and soccer.

Drugs & Nootropics For Esports

When playing video games professionally, chemically enhancing your performance may be tempting. eSports doping can take many forms, and governing bodies have a list of these prohibited substances. Here are some of the famous ones:

Amphetamine & Dextroamphetamine Salts

The most common drugs used by professional gamers are Amphetamine & Dextroamphetamine Salts. One of the common kinds is Adderall. It is often prescribed for ADHD and commonly taken as a study aid or performance enhancer. It makes players stay up late practicing without feeling tired while giving them the focus they need during competitions.

Adderall in eSports is not a new thing. According to Adam Sloss, 2013 champion of Call of Duty World, “nobody talks about it because everyone is on it.” Another pro gamer Timo Kettunen also said that there were “20 players or so” who use Adderall in Overwatch League.

Another Adderall eSports incident is a recent one. LA Thieves player Cuyler Garland, or better known as Huke, admitted in a 2021 video that he used Adderall. Although he won the Call of Duty 2020 World Champion, he didn’t feel good because he used a prohibited substance.

Methylphenidate

Methylphenidate, a drug commonly used to treat ADHD, is as common in eSports as amphetamines. It is also known as Ritalin and other brand names. This drug also gives players the same benefits that Adderall has.

The only difference between Ritalin and Adderall is that Ritalin has longer-lasting effects than Adderall. Gamers use it to reduce anxiety and provide focus. There haven’t been any eSports doping incidents where a pro gamer was caught using Ritalin or other Methylphenidate brands.

Modafinil

Modafinil is another prescription drug that esports players use as a stimulant to increase focus and attention. Like Adderall & Ritalin, it helps gamers stay up late and practice intensely without feeling tired. Unlike other drugs mentioned above, Modafinil doesn’t have side effects such as addiction or withdrawal symptoms.

Also known as Provigil, Modafinil can make eSports players perform better by allowing them to train longer and harder, which leads to more strategic preparation before tournaments.

Aniracetam

Aniracetam is a drug eSports players use to improve their memory and make them more alert. It also improves a player’s social skills and relieves depression, anxiety, and stress. There hasn’t been any esports doping scandal about this drug, but it can help esports players’ gaming performance.

Nootropics

According to the Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation, Nootropics are cognitive enhancers. They may improve a player’s memory and increase their energy levels. Nootropics, also called ‘smart drugs,’ are better than energy drinks.

A 2016 interview by Motherboard to two members of a team sponsored by a Nootropics company had shed some light. Motherboard’s interview was right on time when eSports doping was a hot topic.

The two pro gamers interviewed, Ben Watley and Alex Novosad, have said that their team ingests Nootropics. Geoffrey Woo, the CEO, and Co-Founder of the sponsoring company said a controversial statement: “Nootropics are the steroids of eSports as they work.”

Known eSports Doping Scandals

There are a lot of eSports doping scandals. However, the one that started the anti-doping regulations and mandatory testing was the Kory Friesen doping scandal.

In an Esports World Convention interview, Friesen declared that his team was “all on Adderall during the ESL tournament.” The interview effectively revealed doping in eSports and sparked a revolution. Also, other instances of the use of performance-enhancing drugs would follow.

In response to SEMPHIS’ statement, ESL introduced a list of banned substances and implemented a strict policy. ESL’s Vice President of Pro Gaming, Michal Blicharz, stated that ESL was already developing an anti-doping policy and that the interview with Friesen prompted them to act quicker. Players were tested for performance-enhancing drugs for the first time at the ESL One: Cologne 2015 tournament.

Kory’s confession was the catalyst behind ESL’s implementation of banning certain substances in tournaments. Though the policy may seem solid, problems related to eSports doping persisted.

eSports Industry Size

Even though there’s a threat of eSports doping, the industry doesn’t slow down for anything. Statistics show that the eSports industry is strong now more than ever.

eSports rakes in huge amounts of money every year. The industry was valued at around $1.1 billion in 2019. However, data shows that eSports will garner almost $1.8 billion by 2023.

The reason behind this upward trajectory is mostly due to sponsorships, media rights, and advertisements through streaming. Another key factor in Esports’ popularity in pop culture. Most personalities nowadays have collaborated with games like the Ariana Grande concert in Fortnite. Instances like these push eSports into the limelight.

Other statistics show that the industry will grow up to $1.62 billion by 2024. It’s also evident that the industry’s 2021 value will be just over $1.08 billion. Still, these numbers can go up even more as more and more people are getting hooked.

Three regions in the world make up the most audience and revenue: Asia-Pacific (APAC), North America, and Europe. APAC consists of 57% of the total world global esports viewership.

With the rise of players, more people are watching the tournaments. eSports audience size will increase from 397.8 million in 2019 to an estimate of 577.2 million by 2024. 285.7 million of these users are eSports enthusiasts, and the majority are casual viewers. As of this year, 474 million people have tuned in to some kind of eSports tournament.

As of December 2020, TSM (Team SoloMid) has the highest estimated value among professional eSports teams. In 2020, Forbes named the team as the most valuable esports company worldwide. The team’s worth has reached a total of $410 million with only $45 million in revenue.

The growth and success of the industry largely play on the use of Adderall in eSports. Performance-enhancing drugs create a notion that using them will keep players within the top ranks of each major tournament.

Impact of Doping on eSports

In the past few years, eSports has escalated in popularity. Today, it is estimated that eSports is watched by over a hundred million people. It uses various elements from physical sports, such as strategy, teamwork, and reaction speed. Pro gamers can improve all these elements through doping.

When it comes to eSports doping, there’s big money on the line. Especially when players are competing for prize pools of over $1 million. The potential consequences of doping in sports games could destroy the industry as we know it.

According to IESF, eSports doping is essentially wrong and harmful to the spirit of the sport as a whole. Drug abuse can be hazardous to an athlete’s health and the health of other competitors. Whether or not the motivation for using drugs boosts performance, it significantly affects the integrity, image, and value of sport.

As eSports is becoming more popular, doping will become a bigger problem. eSports professionals have to prove their mettle against other players that may also be doping. In turn, it will impact the industry’s performance which might make it less attractive. The larger impact would be on the integrity of eSports with its stakeholders, including sponsors and viewership numbers. 

When eSports doping makes headlines worldwide, the industry could lose ties with major sporting events like the Asian Games.

Another large impact eSports doping can have is the toll on a player’s health. Different eSports have different requirements. Strategy games like Dota require quick reaction speeds, whereas FPS shooters like CS:GO require aggressive play. eSports doping isn’t just used for these reasons but also to mask pain experienced while playing and increase concentration during long matches that can last up to 7 hours.

Many esports players are young and still developing, which puts them at an even greater risk of drug addiction. The negative effects of abusing these drugs include major psychological issues, cardiovascular problems, gastrointestinal problems. It can also increase a pro gamer’s risk of addiction and drug dependency.

Esports Doping Drugs
List of Esports Doping Drugs

eSports Integrity Coalition

After the Kory Friesen interview in 2015, ESL began to act on eSports doping. The eSports league began developing the eSports Integrity Coalition (or ESIC) and debuted in 2016.

Its main mission is to be the “recognized guardian of the integrity of esports.” The coalition has a keen eye on issues like the use of substances, hacking, and match-fixing. It’s also responsible for the investigation and prosecution of these issues.

Esports Integrity Coalition has listed on its website the different substances usually used in eSports doping:

  • Generic substance – examples are Amphetamine sulfate (Evekeo), Dextroamphetamine (Adderall and Adderall XR), Methylphenidate (Concerta, Daytrana, Ritalin), and Modafinil and armodafinil.
  • Non-stimulant Medications for ADHD – most common examples are Atomoxetine (Strattera), Clonidine hydrochloride (Kapvay), Guanfacine (Intuniv).
  • Anxiety Medications – Bupropion (Wellbutrin) and Venlafaxine (Effexor) are some of the examples.

Players can still take the drugs mentioned above only when they obtain a Therapeutic Use Exemption. The exception should be in line with Article 4 of the ESIC Anti-Doping Policy.

Since its development, numerous stakeholders have been recruited. Some well-known stakeholders are Dreamhack, Mettlestate, The Gamer Agency, Sportradar, Intel, Plantronics Gaming, Esports Middle East, and GameCo. The stakeholders and people behind ESIC created a program consisting of 5 key elements:

  1. Principle – a set of principles that each member of ESIC must agree upon joining.
  2. Code of Ethics – it is a code that binds the people running ESIC.
  3. Code of Conduct – that looks over the behavior of eSports participants.
  4. Anti-Corruption Code – a code addressing match and spot-fixing. 
  5. Anti-Doping Code – addresses physical doping and electronic doping or e-doping (i.e., software hacks).

In a 2017 interview, Ian Smith, ESIC Integrity Commissioner, was asked what ESIC has done after a year of operating. He responded, “we’re implementing the Anti-Corruption code into the terms and conditions of our members and their tournaments.”

Smith was also asked about the similarities between ESIC and WESA or the World Esports Association. He replied that WESA oversees eSports’ tournaments while ESIC regulates and checks every player, league, team, or anyone concerned.

Doping In Esports: FAQ

Here are some questions about eSports doping.

What is eSports doping? 

eSports doping is an act of administering any type of drug that greatly enhances one’s cognitive capacities. The term is loosely synonymous with performance enhancers and is quite similar to doping in traditional sports like professional wrestling.

Which drugs do eSports athletes use?

There are several drugs or prohibited substances banned from eSports. Some of them are Dextroamphetamine (Adderall), Bupropion (Wellbutrin), and non-stimulant Medications for ADHD like Guanfacine (Intuniv).

Is Adderall common in the eSports world?

Adderall in eSports is very common. In fact, it’s the first drug that made headlines in the eSports community. Moreover, it’s very easy to acquire, and it lasts longer than other drugs.

Is Adderall banned in eSports?

Among other prohibited drugs, Adderall is banned in eSports. However, players can apply for the Therapeutic Use Exemption. Still, the exemption clause only states that a player can apply only with a doctor’s consent and the regulator’s approval.

Why is doping harmful to the industry? 

Doping in eSports puts too much strain on the integrity of the industry. Too many eSports doping scandals make the games less attractive. It will also lessen the sponsors and viewership.

Why are eSports athletes taking drugs? 

Performance-enhancing drugs help eSports pro gamers in winning. These substances can make them focus and lessen the anxiety they feel during tournaments. Adderall and other medications can help them train all night and not feel tired in the morning.

What is the ESIC?

The acronym stands for eSports Integrity Coalition. It was formed to make sure eSports competitions are fair and regulated. The regulating body strictly imposes the anti-doping code for eSports tournaments and investigates any incidents.

Do eSports players take Modafinil?

Some pro gamers use Modafinil as their choice of drug. However, there is still no evidence of players using it. The most used and well-known drug is Adderall.

With eSports’ rapid growth and popularity, it’s not surprising that there are questions about eSports doping. It’s always better to be aware of anti-doping policies in place for it and other useful information.