ESL to drug test e-sports athletes

Following the exponential growth of electronic sports over the past decade, it was only a matter of time before anti-doping measures, such as those found in traditional sports, would find their way to e-sports. ESL, the world’s largest e-sports tournament organizer and producer, announced Thursday that it would partner with internationally recognized anti-doping organizations to create a performance enhancing drug prevention policy that all of its tournament participants would have to adhere to, a first in e-sports history.

While the anti-doping policy may take several months to craft, ESL intends to implement screening procedures as early as next month by administering skin tests on players who attend ESL One Cologne in August and all subsequent tournaments. Although its unclear what the actual panel of drugs tested for will include, it’s assumed that Adderall and its analogues, powerful stimulants that raise alertness and boost concentration, will be among the primary substances officials look for. The penalties for a positive result are presumed to include instant tournament disqualification, fines and mandatory rehabilitation, and possibly a lifetime ban for repeated offenses.

An open secret

Despite ongoing rumors of e-sports athletes using stimulants to improve their performance over the past years, the catalyst for ESL’s policy is believed to have emerged during a player interview with Counter-Strike: Global Offensive player Kory “Semphis” Friesen, who, during ESL One Katowice in March, nonchalantly proclaimed that everyone was doing Adderall. “I don’t even care,” Friesen said, “we were all on Adderall...it was pretty obvious if you listened to the comms .” Friesen’s devil-may-care-attitude about performance enhancing drugs, coupled with CS:GO’s less-than-admirable reputation for match-fixing and cheating, were apparently enough for ESL to take the offensive in cleaning up e-sports.

With hundreds of thousands, and sometimes even millions of dollars on the line, it’s easy to see why players like Friesen would take to psychoactive stimulants to give them an edge over their competition. Practice routines often consume upwards of 16 hours of daily practice, and long weekend tournaments, such as the one in Katowice, quickly drain players’ energy. In games where a split-second error may make the difference between winning and losing, drugs such as Adderall easily trump legal alternatives like coffee and energy drinks, which are more prone to causing undesired effects like caffeine crashes.

One of the key issues raised by ESL’s anti-doping announcement is the status of players who have valid prescriptions to psychoactive stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin. Should a person who suffers from an attention deficit disorder be banned from participating in e-sports tournaments because of their medication? What about players who live in countries like the United States, where obtaining a prescription to Adderall is considerably easier than in European countries?

It’s worth noting that virtually every major traditional sport bans the use of Adderall and similar substances, and, in instituting their policy, ESL has to choose how lenient they want to be toward players with valid prescriptions.

Ultimately, ESL’s deployment of anti-doping measures represents the further convergence between e-sports and traditional sports. It’s important for e-sports to take active steps to curb illicit behavior, especially when it seeks to attract bigger sponsors and wider audiences. There will come a time when these early years will be considered the lawless, Wild West days of e-sports, but those days look to be coming to an end.

What do you think about ESL’s decision to implemnt an anti-doping policy? Let us know in the comments below!