Can video gamers be athletes? Discover the world of “ethletes,” and find out how they train.
You may not associate professional video gaming with grueling training regimens or physical endurance. If anything, gaming tends to be seen as a mostly sedentary activity. Yet, the esports industry is making big waves. In fact, it’s breeding a new form of athlete all together: the e-athlete, or “ethlete”. The e-sports industry is on track to reach $1.8 billion in 2022, with approximately 29.6 million esports viewers tuning in to watch each month. The worldwide expansion of esports has fostered an increased sense of dedication to the craft and the drive among pros and amateurs to promote physical fitness among ethletes.
A sport for the digital generation?
The booming success of live esports tournaments has put to rest the idea that this traditionally geeky pursuit lacks mainstream appeal. Generating audiences of millions and offering lucrative prize pots to the victors—The 2021 International Dota 2 Championship offered a prize pool just over $40 million. Ethletes all over the world are focused on their mission to elevate the status of professional gaming as a true sport that is worthy of recognition and respect. Esports enthusiasts have even founded the charitable Esports Foundation, which is using competitive gaming as a platform to promote awareness and provide relief to children affected by poverty or other negative conditions.
What type of training infrastructure is in place for professional gaming?
Although professional gaming isn’t as physically taxing as basketball or football, it still requires a level of physical proficiency that can only be achieved through intense, highly-structured training regimens. We spoke with Clément Thillier, Head of E-Performance at GameWard, a trailblazing esports club based in Europe that Withings has recently partnered with. When asked how the esports community differs from that of traditional sports, he commented on the more pressing need for cognitive skills, such as accurate information processing and the ability to quickly redirect attention to different tasks.
It is clear professional esports teams invest an enormous amount of effort into training their ethletes. The headquarters of Spanish esports organization Movistar Riders features four training rooms as well as a mini-stadium for up to 70 spectators. The staff includes a trainer, sports psychologist, physiotherapist, medical director, and manager. While the on-site training is oriented towards professional gaming, the ethletes are advised to work out in the nearby gym.
GameWard is also working to prioritize the health of its players. Players and staff are utilizing smart devices to closely track their performance indicators. Thillier personally uses devices to determine the effectiveness of his training protocols, and make corrections if necessary to boost his game. In fact, a “Performance Room” decorated using Withings color scheme has been established at GameWard’s headquarters in France. Ethletes can use this space to train and create gaming content, with the aim of inspiring other players to improve their skills and health simultaneously through the use of smart devices. Thillier’s favorite part of the room is the cognitive training section, which allows players to sharpen their minds and get ready to play at their best.
The president of GameWard, David Laniel, spoke about the mission of the organization, saying “We have always been convinced that esports should be part of a healthy lifestyle, both for the enjoyment of an amateur player and for the high-level performance of a professional ethlete.” Brice Naranassamy, head of partnerships at Withings, agrees that the two companies share many ideals, and “by focusing on the health and sports activities of its players, GameWard is a club whose values are in line with those held by Withings. We are convinced that regular monitoring of players’ health combined with a healthy lifestyle can contribute to their well-being and performance.”
In this way, organizations like Movistar riders and GameWard are pushing the boundaries of professional gaming, and in essence, are mirroring the structure and scheduling that is seen within traditional professional sports teams.
How do ethletes train?
To get into optimal condition, ethletes need to follow a gaming training regimen that is suited to their specific needs. For example, a player’s regimen might include key areas such as coordination, posture, dexterity and core/arm strength. The emphasis is not on benching massive weights, but rather on a routine that highlights the most physically demanding aspects of professional gaming. Players at GameWard tend to focus on high intensity interval training (HIIT), resistance and cognitive-motor training.
Quick reaction times and fine motor skills while using controllers are crucial for competing in esports, so many exercises are focused on ergonomics and agility. For a pro-gamer, stretching can also help prevent common gaming injuries. Potential injuries could include carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, or muscle pain. To help with other reported issues like trouble sleeping or general burn-out, practicing yoga can be beneficial for developing mindfulness and focus, as well as correcting posture. Simple activities like catching medicine balls or even playing cards are other simple ways that ethletes can improve their reflexes.
How long do ethletes spend playing video games?
A massive part of training for professional gaming revolves around practice- that is, playing the game itself. In fact, many ethletes are forced to retire much earlier on average than their counterparts in other sports organizations, like the National Football League, due to the intense toll practice regiments can take. Team Liquid—a professional League of Legends team (one of the world’s most popular competitive video games)—practices for a minimum of 50 hours per week. Both Clément Thillier of GameWard and Brandon “Seagull” Lanard (former player for the esports team the Dallas Fuel) report practicing for upwards of 10 hours per day. Although this is at the upper limit of time spent gaming, it demonstrates just how dedicated many ethletes are.For the most part, ethletes find ways to incorporate their gaming practice into their everyday lives. In a piece by Intel on the daily habits of professional gamers, Lynnie “artStar” Noquez, a pro-player of the game “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” described how she focuses on working, time with friends/family, and household activities like cooking/cleaning during the day, before she begins his 6-8 hour period of gaming. She is able to prioritize other important areas of his life until the evening when her team practice with Dignitas begins. The team will usually work on their game until 11:00 pm, with a break for dinner, after which Lynnie will head right to sleep and repeat this process 5 days a week! A lack of sleep or too much blue-light disturbance from screens can be detrimental to precision and reaction time, so it is crucial to rest and maintain balance with any pursuit!
Joysticks and carrot sticks: feeding pro ethletes
When asked to think of a gamer, many people would probably picture someone hunched over their chair surrounded by half-empty pizza boxes, soda bottles and candy wrappers. However, many professional ethletes do not fit this stereotype at all. Nutrition and hydration for gamers plays a critical role in the proper functioning of all cognitive processes and keeping up energy levels, which is why we have seen that many professional teams strive to promote health and wellness among their ethletes. Not only is Clément Thillier head of GameWard E-Performance, he also serves as a dietician/nutritionist for their players. His goal is to monitor food intake, and adapt player’s diets to the mental/physical needs required by competitions and training protocols. He told Withings a good gamer diet will be made up of a “variety of protein sources like chicken, salmon, eggs or cottage cheese, complex carbohydrates like rice or quinoa, unsaturated fats from olive or walnut oil, and of course, the many vitamins and minerals that come from fresh produce”. It seems Thillier is on the right track–since GameWard began implementing their health initiatives over the past year, they were able to document a 16.9 % improvement in reactivity speed in just 8 weeks.
Are ethletes and athletes truly the same?
The world of esports certainly differs from that of traditional sports, and they don’t typically cross over. Most ethletes are totally dedicated to their craft, and only play external sports as casual bonding activities. Yet, ethletes and athletes alike will need discipline, training, and endurance to succeed. The competitive excitement and spirit that drives millions of fans to follow their favorite teams is ever-present in the esports sphere. As gaming becomes progressively more mainstream, the wellness of players becomes even more vital. There is no doubt the organizations and individuals mentioned in this article, among others, will continue to find new ways to encourage the gaming community to place the mental and physical health of ethletes at the center of their mission.
Special thanks to Brice Naranassamy, David Laniel, and Clément Thillier for providing their insight!