When defining esports performance, the question of whether esports competitors are, in fact, athletes is still a point of contention. With regards to clinical practice of esports medicine or esports performance, whether or not esports is “real sports” and whether or not esports athletes are “real athletes” is less relevant–the most important thing is that esports competitors have unique performance and medical demands that we are well-equipped to address. However, that definition is more important in a number of other areas, including policy-making at a local and state level, research funding, and school-based support (e.g. decisions of whether an esports team falls under the jurisdiction of the athletics department, and therefore has access to a college’s athletic trainers, or the student life department).
The primary research question of this study was “are esports players comparable to traditional athletes?”. To assess this, researchers compared competitive, physical, and cognitive characteristics of the two groups. The study used a cross-sectional, observational design and recruited participants from ten organizations participating in the Liga de Videojuegos Profesional (LVP) during the 2018-2019 season. A total of 46 elite male esports players completed an ad hoc questionnaire, which included questions about their training habits, participation in competitions, other physical activities, and injury history.
The results of the study indicated that professional esports players have characteristics that are similar to those of traditional athletes with regards to the performance of complementary training, involvement in other physical activities, and the risk of injury. However, there were some differences between the two groups, such as the lower frequency of supervision by qualified professionals in the complementary training practices of esports players and the lower frequency of injuries reported by esports players compared to traditional athletes. The study concludes that professional esports players should be treated as traditional athletes and recommends that esports organizations adopt strategies similar to those used in traditional sports to prevent and manage injuries.
NB: It is important to note that while there are differences in REPORTED injury rates, this does not necessarily mean there is a difference in ACTUAL injury rates, given the extent to which esports injuries are underreported, as established in other literature.
There are several key considerations that coaches and support staff should take away from this study in order to effectively support and manage elite esports players.
First, it is important to recognize that professional esports players face similar physical and mental demands to traditional athletes, and may therefore be at risk for overuse injuries. This highlights the importance of implementing strategies to prevent and manage esports injuries, such as load management and proper warm-up routines.
Second, the study found that most of the participants engaged in some form of complementary training, such as physical, visual, or psychological training, in order to improve their performance. However, these practices were rarely supervised by a qualified professional. This suggests that there is a need for interdisciplinary teams of professionals, including exercise professionals, to design and oversee complementary training programs for esports players.
Third, the study found that most of the participants engaged in regular physical activity, including resistance training, cardiovascular activities, traditional sports, and mobility exercises. This suggests that esports players may have higher levels of physical fitness than the general population. However, as with complementary training, these activities were rarely designed by exercise professionals. This highlights the need for exercise professionals to be involved in designing and implementing physical activity programs for esports players.
Fourth, the study found that a minority of participants reported sustaining essports injuries that required medical attention during the 2018-2019 season. These injuries were primarily overuse injuries affecting the upper extremities, and were often preceded by discomfort in the affected area. This suggests that coaches and support staff should be vigilant in monitoring players for signs of discomfort or potential injuries, and should implement strategies to prevent overuse injuries, such as proper load management and rest periods.
Overall, this study suggests that professional esports players face similar physical and mental demands to traditional athletes, and may therefore require similar support and management strategies in order to optimize their performance and prevent injuries. This includes the involvement of qualified professionals in designing and overseeing complementary training and physical activity programs, as well as implementing strategies to prevent and manage injuries.
Carrani, Lucia & Baena-Riera, Arnau & Altarriba-Bartés, Albert & Gil-Puga, Beatriz & Piedra, Aitor & Piniés-Penadés, Gerard & Casals, Martí & Peña, Javier. (2022). Are eSports players comparable to traditional athletes? A cross-sectional study. Aloma: Revista de Psicologia, Ciències de l’Educació i de l’Esport. 40. 83-92. 10.51698/aloma.2022.40.2.83-92.
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