The ‘Gamer’s Health Guide’: Managing Care for Esports Athletes

Developing healthcare resources for the nontraditional athlete

Electronic sports, or esports, have surged in popularity in recent years. In fact, some reports estimate that viewership of competitive video gaming will soon exceed nearly every professional sports league in the U.S., aside from the National Football League.1

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As the competitive video gaming industry continues to grow, so too does the need to address the health of esports athletes. This led Dominic King, DO, a sports medicine physician who leads the Esports Medicine Program at Cleveland Clinic, and his team to develop the “Gamer’s Health Guide,” a comprehensive framework for clinicians to manage care for this nontraditional — but growing — group of athletes.

The team aimed to develop resources along the healthcare continuum for esports athletes, as is done for sports medicine patients. Dr. King and his collaborators proposed the following areas for further development and clinical application.

They published this framework in Current Sports Medicine Reports.

Hazard awareness and management

They define primary hazards in esports as musculoskeletal injuries linked to aberrant posturing and repetitive micro-trauma, injuries associated with prolonged inactivity, central neurological and psychosocial hazards as well as surface contaminant infection hazards.

Within his own practice, Dr. King says he treats esports athletes who have developed chronic neck and arm pain, eye fatigue, lower back injuries due to poor ergonomic support and dominant gaming hand injuries due to overuse. He and his team also counsel these patients on physical activity, nutrition and ergonomic strategies to help prevent future injuries.

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Opportunities for health promotion

The authors argue there is an opportunity and imperative need to develop mental health resources for esports athletes as is done in traditional athletics. There is also a need, they say, to understand the relationship between gaming and improvement of neurocognitive and psychomotor skills. Some studies suggest the potential value of both in the context of healthcare education, specifically within surgical training.

Additionally, the integration of motion-based games through virtual and augmented reality platforms adds a physical activity component to competitive gaming. This may offer new opportunities to improve cardiovascular health for esports athletes.

Performance enhancement

Finally, the authors discuss the potential for optimizing gaming performance through evidence-based conditioning programs. This could bolster player aptitude by offering tailored programs in the following domains: musculoskeletal, vision, auditory, psychomotor, cardiorespiratory, nutrition, neurocognitive and psychomotor.

Cleveland Clinic Esports Medicine Program

Since its launch in 2019, Cleveland Clinic has partnered with collegiate and professional esports teams to counsel and manage care for their athletes. The program includes a multidisciplinary team of experts, ranging from sports medicine physicians, sports psychologists and rehabilitation specialists to sports vision specialists, nutritionists and ergonomic specialists.

In addition to treating patients, the team is focused on leading research efforts to better understand the needs of esports athletes. Dr. King is hopeful that this framework will help bring awareness and legitimacy to this growing industry.

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“Esports is a sport, not a fad, and these gamers are athletes,” he says. “In fact, the industry is growing exponentially to the point where it is outpacing different types of traditional sports in terms of viewership and number of competitions.”

He predicts that as the games evolve, so will the injury patterns in athletes, particularly with the rise of augmented and virtual reality-based games and competitions. “From our standpoint in sports medicine, it is our duty to provide comprehensive care to these athletes to improve their health, wellness and performance.”

References

  1. More People Watch ESports than Watch the World Series or NBA Finals [Internet]. USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network. 2014. Available from: ftw.usatoday.com/2014/05/league-of-legends-popularity-world-series-nba.