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Anti-Doping Rules – should eSports be concerned about performance enhancing drugs?

November 11th, 2013 Leave a comment


Recently some of the big names in American sports have been under fire for using performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).  From A-rod to Armstrong, PEDs are starting to look so common that many argue that to compete without them sets one at a disadvantage. Yet in eSports, the issue is almost never mentioned. And while the idea of taking steroids to enhance your video game playing performance seems pretty pointless (do you even lift?), I want to make the argument in this article that there are PEDs that ought to be discussed, if not regulated, in eSports.

I’ve divided this article into three parts: First, I want to look at PED policies and regulations in the Physical Pro Sports to provide some context. Second, I will argue that there are some PEDs that may impact the performance of Professional Gamers. Finally, I’ll tie it all up by applying the analysis of the physical Pro Sports PED policies to the context of eSports, and exploring what solutions might work better than others.

Before beginning I want to quickly point out that I’ve limited the scope of this article to performance enhancing drugs as opposed to recreational drugs. While there’s obviously a lot of overlap, the analysis tends to be pretty different and would warrant its own article.


PED’s in Physical Sports – Regulating ‘Roids.


Historically, of the four major American physical Pro Sports, Major League Baseball has had the most issues dealing with performance enhancing drugs. Just after the mid-90s MLB player strikes, there was a significant boost in anabolic steroid use (that strangely correlated with a number of record-breaking streaks).

But despite baseball having the most association with steroids historically, all of these sports have dealt and continue to deal with PEDs. In fact, the issue was gaining so much attention that Congress threatened to start regulating PED testing themselves, as well as reevaluate the antitrust exceptions sports franchises have so liberally enjoyed. Why are PEDs such a big deal, one might ask. Amongst many safety and image concerns, the driving motivation behind PED bans is: to preserve the spirit and integrity of the game.

In response to the threats from Congress, different leagues instated different policies. In the NFL (arguably the least-restricted league), all players are tested at least once a year, never during a game, and almost always in the off-season. In the NBA (arguably the most-restricted league), players are often tested frequently during the season, and sometimes even in the locker room right after a game.  The MLB and the NHL are somewhere in between.

Penalties for PEDs are very league-dependent, ranging from a slap on the wrist “name and shame” to years of unpaid suspension. The type of PED and the number of prior offenses all weigh into the penalties given. Unfortunately, these policies may not be as effective as the leagues would hope. MLB’s “Mitchell Report” indicated that most PED use is going undetected.  Most recently, sports leagues have been going after the producers and suppliers of PEDs for tortious interference with the player-contracts.

Steroids in particular are extremely difficult to combat. Teams and coaches have every incentive to “look the other way” because of the benefits the drugs bring. Anabolic steroid chemists are staying ahead of regulations, with a huge demand to change the drug enough to avoid detection, but not enough to lose its effects. Finally, the leniencies of league policies allow many drug tests to be duped or avoided completely.


From Physical Sports to Virtual Sports – Are PED’s an issue?


While steroids aren’t exactly an issue for eSports, they are not the only performance enhancing drug on the market. For example, in 2012, almost half of the NFL’s PED-related suspensions were due not to steroids, but to Adderall (that’s right, PED-related, not recreational related). Many prescription drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin are banned by most sports leagues (the notable exception being the NHL), although leagues do hand out exemptions on a case-by-case basis.

Adderall is considered a performance enhancing drug for many reasons – the effects combat fatigue, allowing players to train longer and harder. The mental stimulant allows for heightened awareness both during competition and during practice. The enhanced focus enables play-learning and other strategic aspects to be more easily retained. In fact, the amphetamine class was specifically tailored by the US military during World War II for these very reasons – fighter pilots in particular showed great benefits from amphetamines during combat. And ask 1 out of any 3 college students, and you’re sure to get a similar response.

But Adderall is not the only issue. Several over-the-counter energy drinks (albeit requiring an over-18 or over-21 ID, depending on the state) are prohibited by many major sports leagues. Dozens upon dozens of prescription medicine, from stimulants to painkillers, are heavily regulated in sports. Anything that gives a player an unfair advantage is an issue – and many of these drugs have serious potential for eSports, where mental acuity and stamina are some of the most important skills a Pro Gamer can have.

Here’s my point: as eSports progresses and professionalizes, as it has been doing in great leaps and bounds over the last decade alone, should league officials start to be concerned with performance enhancing drugs? I think they should. When players are able to gain significant advantageous over each other for non-medically related substances (or abuse of those substances), we start facing threats to the spirit and integrity not only of the game, but of the industry.


Crossing Over – What can eSports learn from its physical companions?


The first lesson is clear: don’t wait until it’s too late. By the late 90s, players associations had such control over drug testing and had so many privacy policies in place, it has been an uphill battle for leagues to get control over PED usage. While having enhanced performance certainly attracts more viewers, it does so at a very high cost – the integrity of the game.

Of course, how regulation should occur is difficult to say. What should or should not be regulated? Illegal drugs? Prescription drugs? Over-the-counter PEDs? And Should teams agree to urine tests periodically during worlds? Or is once a season enough? These are all questions that will need to be dealt with, and there are no easy answers.

The penalties are easy enough to cross over from the physical sporting world – suspensions are already the prime form of punishment in eSports, and would likely be the preferred sanction for PEDs as well.

Fortunately, the amount of control eSports leagues in general have over the players and teams is high enough that any problems with PEDs can be easily squashed – important, no doubt, to maintain a certain image for eSports. But as eSports grows, and as the money involved starts piling higher and higher, how much more incentive will players have to use PEDs to gain that competitive edge?  In physical sports, regulation is very difficult. It does not have to be that way with eSports – if eSports leagues can get policies in place and cooperate with sponsors, team owners and venues from the get-go, detection, punishment and prevention should never be an issue.


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  • klaffylol

    Athene extreme OP

  • http://www.tec60.com biancablanca430


  • adderall is a hell of a drug


    good for you now you’re playing like everyone else since you got your adhd under control. Adderall for people without add/adhd is like slamming a couple red bulls and chasing that with caffeine pills.

  • Anonymous

    I play better drunk lol

  • VCDragoon

    This is a great point to make, and it can’t be emphasized enough – using certain drugs as learning aids or as part of some mental health treatment is distinctly different from using drugs to enhance competitive performance. There can be serious debates on where the line should be drawn (should “corrective” surgery allow the use of certain steroids, even if the end-result yields higher-than-baseline performance?), but ultimately, that decision lies with the leagues.

    Often, simply having a prescription is not dispositive – leagues employ their own doctors to conduct higher-standard evaluations. Sometimes exemptions are granted, even for Adderall. However, since the nature of a competitive industry is to weed out the weaker players in order to determine the strongest, performance enhancing drugs serve to counteract the very purpose of the industry. A player will need to show either a severe detriment without the drug, or a compelling, non-competitive purpose for its use in order to score a medical exemption for something like Adderall.

  • Cdizz1e

    Prescription, or medical necessity aside, any supplement to enhance (or normalize) ones performance is generally unacceptable to any sports organization. That’s what separates the “hard working gifted” from the “hard working”. Is it unfair for some to be set at a disadvantage from the get go? That’s really the only “controversial” part of the argument. But in the sake of fairness all rules need apply to all participants equally.

  • Stickith

    @Connor The reason you were prescribed Adderall is because you have ADHD (I imagine) and therefore you were already at a disadvantage. Most people don’t have ADHD, and therefore don’t start out at this disadvantage. There are several DISADVANTAGES to taking Adderall and playing LoL as well. Due to the nature of hyper-focus people taking Adderall experience, you may find yourself focusing on what you perceive to be the most important, but really isn’t; Or you may just be so focused on what you’re doing in the game you may not see something else going on.

    Additionally, people without ADHD can have really negative affects when taking Adderall because their bodies become overwhelmed with dopamine. I’ve seen a few people in college start involuntarily twitching after taking Adderall to stay up and help them study. The other problem with this is that it doesn’t factor in what is called “state based learning,” wherein your brain has a better chance of remembering things when it’s in the same state as when it learned it, and a harder time when in a different state. Taking Adderall to learn something, and not taking it when needing to actually recall it, would make it much more difficult.

    It should also be pointed out that taking Adderall without a prescription is already ILLEGAL! The generic name for Adderall is “amphetamine salts,” which puts it into the same class of drug as methamphetamine! Should drug testing be done for eSports? Hell yes! But just like in any sport, drugs found in a player’s system should require a prescription from a doctor.

  • VCDragoon

    I think this is a really good issue to bring up. The only reason I didn’t address it is because, generally, I wouldn’t consider alcohol to be a performance ENHANCING substance, but more of a recreational one. Recreational use of drugs and alcohol (is there any other use of alcohol? lol) has a different type of analysis. I might do an article directly addressing this issue later on, if there’s more interest.

  • http://www.newsoflegends.com/ Pnut

    @HowAboutTwoDrinks Tons of Money

  • HowAboutTwoDrinks

    @HowAboutAdrink, its not about to restrict someone, its about fairness in a competition where u can win tons of money. I think nobody would care if u are just sitting home doing drugs and just playing your game. Same with real sports.

  • HowAboutAdrink

    So, what happens if a pro has got an alcoholic attitude while gaming?
    Also, do we have the right to know he/she boozes a little? Or rather do we really want to know about it? What if some teams are a little more carefree and could not give a F because when we’re talkin’ about eSports we’re basically still talking about being sit in front of a screen for a while? Will I still have the right of doin the F I WANT in front of a screen?

    This planet is free no more. What a dreadful ’80 melancholy I’m suffering now.

  • http://www.newsoflegends.com/ Pnut

    tl;dr: dont do drugs, and if you do them, dont try go pro under the influence. Its not a good ‘combo’

  • Nick

    Without having read the article (other than the first paragraph), I’m going to say that only drugs then enhance focus, stamina, reaction time, and/or hand-eye co-ordination need to be regulated (if at all). Other traits (physical strength, cardio, etc) generally aren’t important. The reason I include stamina is that playing competitive video games for extended periods of time can really take a lot out of you. I personally think these drugs would only need to be regulated DURING the competition. If you choose to abuse PED’s during practice hours, generally they won’t help you during a competition. You’d be putting yourself at a disadvantage by practicing with more capability than you compete with.

  • Atone


    If weed isn’t allowed, I’m pretty sure all of team Dignitas are losing their jobs.

  • http://abc.com TrololMonty

    Let them take this if they feel they need something to compete at my level.

  • Twiztedwun


    Fuck yeah bro, if weed’s allowed im in :D

  • Connor

    any one who says aderall doesn’t help out people in game are full of shit. I recently got prescribed for aderall for my adhd. When i started taking it i was silver 5, its been 3 months of taking my medicine and have notice a huge change in my focus in my regular life and gaming i am now currently in plat 5 because i was able to focus alot more on the game mechanics and smaller things like csing and come up with ideas for certain situation. So i believe that it helps out a lot.

    I did a redit post 4 months ago on it here it is


  • Haarfagre

    and dat name..

  • Bruce Lee

    Did you write this article because S3 is ending and you cannot come up with something better? or did you need to meet a quota? People can take drugs or smoke substances before taking entrance exams (MCAT, LSAT, SAT, etc). Just because someone takes Aderol or Ritalin does not make them an instant pro. @Adam – you do not need a “superscription” from a doctor. It is called a “prescription.” Sometimes I wonder if it is monkeys writing the articles or responding in the comments.

  • Astia

    As long as there are adequate systems in place to excuse players who actually need drugs like adderall, im all for there being bans. The reality is, player with ADD and ADHD come with a disadvantage, one I can attest to. Having ADD makes it harder for me to remain focused in a game, and although these things can be overcome without drugs, players with ADD and ADHD should be able to get the same returns for effort and work put in like players without.

  • This is really funny l0l
  • This is really funny l0l

    So, from every angel i see it this is a ridiculous idea. Not only would this put people who require Adderall to function properly in a horrible situation. You’re also ignoring the fact that anything with caffeine heightens your mental strength… So what were going to ban caffeine from e-sports? That’s a joke. There are tons of drinks energy, relaxation, coffee, soda, or anything of the sort that can give a “benefit” albeit possibly just a little edge. So i personally think its ridiculous.

  • ninetyone

    im taking speed while gaming, got me from bronze 5 to gold 3 in 2 weeks soloq, ur way better on speed

  • Angry

    sorry dude u are wrong that shit aint helping in lol. Tested myself u will suck more than usualy :( gg m8

  • Squee311

    Michael :
    People who think Adderall is the only drug that can benefit an esports player is woefully uneducated on the vast variety of drugs, both over the counter, medicinal and illegal that are available.
    However in order to regulate these drugs, you need studies, tests, proof that these drugs give a performance edge. So far, research into this area is insignificant and needs to be expanded in order to be able to properly regulate drugs that could potentially give an individual or team an edge.
    One that springs to mind are amphetamines and Ethedrine and other drugs known to increase the heart rate. Amphetamines were a big problem in baseball, and they’d certainly (in theory) give an edge to anyone playing a videogame.

    you realize Adderall is an Ampetamine right? Besides the small thing to point out. Anything that enhances performance would be fair game to test and should be tested for. Leveling hte playing field is what you want you also don’t want to promote teams suppulying their players with ADHD meds and tey way that will trickle down into the masses.

  • 420

    As long as weed is allowed idc :D

  • Humberto

    What if you have a disorder that needs you to take this type of medicine, It’s different from Physical PED’s .

  • Michael

    People who think Adderall is the only drug that can benefit an esports player is woefully uneducated on the vast variety of drugs, both over the counter, medicinal and illegal that are available.

    However in order to regulate these drugs, you need studies, tests, proof that these drugs give a performance edge. So far, research into this area is insignificant and needs to be expanded in order to be able to properly regulate drugs that could potentially give an individual or team an edge.

    One that springs to mind are amphetamines and Ethedrine and other drugs known to increase the heart rate. Amphetamines were a big problem in baseball, and they’d certainly (in theory) give an edge to anyone playing a videogame.

  • IloveAdderall

    This is literally the dumbest thing to mention. Honestly if 90% of the retards in solo queue took Adderall League Of Legends would be a better place.

  • Macedturkey

    Aw..me and Qtpie are screwed. How will we focused without a haze around our monitors?

  • ConflictSin

    ESports most certainly need to start testing and regulating. Testing at the beginning and end of each season or split, as well as before and after each major tournament (as decided by the hosting company) will help eliminate and curb mental acuity PEDs before they can even get a foothold in esports.

  • AIphakennybuddy

    Sim :
    yo qtpie is gonna have to stop blazing it up


  • Exntrik

    There goes BoxBox’s dreams of becoming a pro player.

  • Adam

    Personally I think its relatively simple. In my opinion the only PED that could give you any benefit in e-sports would be adderall. All teams should be subject to random drug testing and if you fail you pay the consequences. (unless say you have a superscription from a doctor)

  • Emil

    Drugs are bad, mkay? You shouldn´t do drugs mkay?

  • Sim

    yo qtpie is gonna have to stop blazing it up